Not content with creating and starring in 14 series of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia – the longest running US TV comedy of all time – last year Rob McElhenney, 43, decided he wanted to write a different kind of sitcom, one with a different vibe – and the only comedy about the video game industry, ever, to not completely suck. Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet is what he came up with.
Season one aired in February, exclusive to the suddenly getting serious Apple TV+, and pretty good it was too! What was clear from the off was that this was completely different to anything McElhenney had done before. It was a funny show, yes. But it was laced with kindness and community in ways its creator hadn’t considered before. Then COVID-19 happened and nobody laughed ever again.
Until now – today in fact! – where Mythic Quest returns with a surprise extra episode, explaining just what went down when lockdown took hold. It’s very moving – and just what the doctor ordered.
Hey Rob! Let’s start by saying the new episode made us experience our first actual emotion in about a month…
“That’s what we’re going for. We want you to feel stuff!”
How did the lockdown episode come about? Were you just bored and needed something to do?
“Well, number one was that I wanted to figure out a way to get people back to work, if only for three weeks. We have a couple hundred people that work on the crew and I thought if I could get everybody a paycheck for three weeks, then I’m going to endeavour to do that. Then we thought, ‘Well, what’s the best way to do that? How can we shoot an episode remotely?’ I saw that there were a few other shows doing their interpretations of what that looked like for them, but we wanted to do something that felt a bit more like it could have been shot on a stage. Then we jumped into what became the hardest production of my entire career…”
We can imagine. Tell us more…
“From conception to final delivery was three weeks. That would be hard under normal circumstances, but here nobody left their home. I left my house for a matter of minutes, just to walk into the street. The logistics of trying to execute something like that, and the planning, and the organisation that went into it and the prep was just infinitely more difficult than a regular episode would be.”
Some of it is shot in your house. It’s very nice. Is it the first time the cast have seen it?
“No, we’re a pretty close knit crew. We’ve had wrap parties there before. We’ve all got together to watch the episodes together at the end of a season.”
Your character, Mythic Quest Creative Director Ian Grimm, has a much nicer house than the other characters in the show – kind of like you and the rest of the crew…
“Well, I created one of the longest running television shows of all time [It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia], so there are certain spoils that come with success in television. That’s one of the things that we wanted to satirise in the episode. There is an insane amount of tone deafness out in the world right now, and I can’t believe how many times I’ll read a tweet or see an Instagram post with some rich person complaining about how they have to clean their own toilet. And I’m like, ‘you guys! Shut the fuck up!’ Like, what are you? What are you talking about? Sorry your maid couldn’t come around this week, but everybody cleans their own toilet!”
You’ve said that Friends is one of your biggest inspirations, and that Always Sunny… was created in contrast to that show. Is Mythic Quest the same?
“The thing with this show is… I’m fascinated with narcissism. I’m fascinated with egomaniacs. And I’m fascinated with extreme behaviour. But I also wanted to make a show about people that feel like real human beings. Sunny, to a certain extent winds up becoming, you know, [about] cartoon characters. They don’t really exist in the real world. Whereas these people truly, truly do. It’s fascinating to me that in crisis, you really do see the best and the worst of people. It’s all extremes. And what I’m seeing mostly, is that the vast majority of people are rising to the occasion and doing the right thing.”
And yet you you’ve got to find gags in there. How funny are people behaving decently?
“We don’t want it to be heavy handed. We want it to be funny. At the very least, we bring 25 minutes of levity to people’s lives or make them feel less alone.”
Video game developers are gods in their industry, but few of them are famous outside of that. It’s a great comic premise right?
“Exactly. There’s something silly about that but there’s also something truthful about it. You’ve got these virtual worlds where people from all over the globe are coming to commune and play and experience that world. But it’s still a world that was built by other human beings and so why not explore that? And we do that by showing you the world through the lens of this one particular narcissist – my character, Ian – who believes he’s Zeus.“
On-screen stories about video games can be difficult to get right – and often it feels like the industry is being mocked. How did you avoid that?
“Anytime I’d ever seen anything about the video game culture it always seemed to come from a derisive point of view. It was always making fun of people and marginalising them and the stereotype of the nerd living in his mum’s basement. It’s not even close to true. I thought, ‘fuck that, let’s do something that feels authentic and celebrates the industry, in all its triumphs and all of its foibles – let’s be authentic.’ The games industry has responded positively to it because they realised we’re celebrating them.”
We have to ask before we wrap up, where’s Always Sunny… at right now?
“Oh, Sunny very much still exists. We’re still in active negotiations for season 15 and 16 and we’re hoping that as soon as we get out of Mythic Quest season, we jump right into something new with Sunny…”
Do you ever think how long Always Sunny… can keep going for?
“How many years do I have on this planet? I’ll do it forever. If people keep watching it and we keep having fun, why would we ever stop? It’s my dream job. I never understand why people leave shows. I don’t. I never understand that. The show is what I dreamed of doing my entire life. I don’t take it for granted. And if they keep paying me and the audience keeps watching it and I still love it… why would I ever stop?”
Imagine COVID-19 had hit during filming for It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and not Mythic Quest. What would your quarantine episode for the former have looked like?
“Well, we actually do have an episode called ‘The Gang Gets Quarantined’ [season nine, episode seven] where we quarantine ourselves in the bar. I think there’s a big flu going around Philadelphia or something like that. When we come back, don’t worry, we will address all this in the way only Sunny can!”