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Rob McElhenney: Mythic Quest & Always Sunny both deal with cancellation culture



Rob McElhenney has had the same conversation about ten thousand times over the last year. A fan will praise him for It’s always sunny in Philadelphia, his FX comedy that will be the longest running sitcom in TV history. Then they add, “I saw Mythic Quest, and … I can not believe I loved it! ” But why would not they love a fresh sitcom from the brain behind Always sunny? Well, it’s about video games.

“And I’m like, ‘Have you seen it?’ The office? ̵

6;”Says McElhenney. “And they are like, ‘Oh my God, the American Office? I love The office! ‘And then I say,’ Great. Do you love paper? Because that’s what they did in that office! ”

Mythic Quest, Apple TV Plus series McElhenney co-created with Always sunnyMegan Ganz and Charlie Day are set in a video game studio and focus on the team that develops, designs and markets a game. And even a season in, with another arrival on May 7, the actor-producer understands the hesitation; video games still have a hard-to-shake mainstream stigma, as if they are an all-or-nothing proposition where demanding lay people go all in or go away. But that is an obvious misunderstanding.

“You say you like it Sunny? He continues. “Great. Are you so obsessed with watching TV shows about bars? Of course not! It has nothing to do with it. You watch the show people. ”

A pattern emerges when we talk to McElhenney about his work: “Yes and anyway.” A character is an asshole, but neither is he. Mythic Quest is a show about video games, but not really. He will never lose sight of human complexity – even the comics he writes and plays – and he is forced to remember that his perspective as a white guy in his 40s is limited.

This awareness drives a sense of humor that is intoxicating, humanistic and, against the odds, funny.


When It’s always sunny in Philadelphia mentioned in the conversation, a question often arises: Why has no culture of cancellation come to the series?

Anyone Always sunny the viewer can relate to the struggle to describe what happens in a given episode without feeling anything resembling shame to enjoy it. The main characters are openly misogynistic, homophobic and horrible in all the ways a person can be horrible. Marathoning the show from the beginning in 2021 means waving through jokes that have been considered unacceptable due to changing social morals. But as Always sunny continues, the characters and scenarios that the band encounters lead the show’s creative team also considers these jokes unacceptable. The comedy has evolved because the filmmakers have grown, even while the characters have not.

Always sunny could easily be an animated series – The gang will never grow out of their habits. Which is fine by McElhenney; he happily tells stories of unbearable jerks that hang out and close plans at a Philly bar for another 20 years. But Mythic Quest gives him space to tell stories about, as he puts it, “real people.” It is a wart-and-all modern workplace where gender equality, creative egos and exhaustion of workers run rampant. These social problems become a springboard for big jokes. In an early episode, the team’s attempt to crush a neo-Nazi problem in the game quickly escalates into a debate over whether male spreaders should also be banned from the game. (Yes, they decide because they are as bad as the Nazis.) The key to Mythic Quest, says McElhenney, is that all these discussions make people change.

IN Mythic QuestSecond season, the characters struggle to evolve. It’s not easy for them – an ongoing gag sees Mythic Quest Studios employees ask if something they just said or did gets them canceled. As their study’s economic success leads to promotions and changes, some of the characters learn that their behavior does not necessarily translate into new contexts where they have more responsibility. This is especially true when it comes to Poppy Li (played by Charlotte Nicdao), an underdog engineer who fights for control of Mythic Quest‘s creative vision, only to learn that her pranks read very differently now that in season 2 she’s a boss alongside McElhenney’s big head Ian.

“I mean, she’s an asshole,” laughs McElhenney. “But she is not! Suddenly, she has been given this enormous amount of responsibility that she has always wanted and asked for. But what comes with this responsibility is not necessarily something she really thought or wanted, and then she needs to know how to act or react with zero role models. She has only ever had one job in her entire life and her role model was [Ian]. And it ends up being this self-fulfilling prophecy where you become your own boss, the boss you hated, but it’s the boss you know, so you think it might just be [people are supposed to] chief. And the cycle creates a toxic environment. ”

In this and other explorations of the toxicity of the creative process, McElhenney and Mythic Quest the team specifically satirizes the kind of behavior they want to avoid as advertisements. “This is the thing I think can and will continue to set us apart from other versions of this that I’ve seen that have made me insane,” McElhenney said. “Which is that there is a kind of character that is by moral center of a story like this that proves to the characters and the world that a particular behavior will actually not only be ethically and morally right within the context of the story and the world, but will also end up creating the best product as well. And that I think is some shit. ”

Many people have asked him about one Mythic Quest Especially a moment where Rachel (played by writer Ashly Burch) drives Ian to the office in a Porsche because her boss does not know how to drive a stick-shift car. Ian and Rachel are at the opposite end of the org chart as well as the ideological spectrum. She is younger, open liberal, queer and a person of color. She is also struck by anxiety about what she wants out of her career. So when Ian blindly asks her what she wants to do in the company, she panics and is unable to wrap her head around what she perceives as the right to be able to think in such terms. They ultimately argue about privilege and what it means to speak for yourself.

And I’m like, ‘Oh, not true! It hits a nerve, and the reason a nerve hits is because it was born out of a real conversation, ”says McElhenney. “And none of us were right about that. But none of us were wrong. And I think that’s the difference between pandering and actually showing real people having real conversations, and then an opportunity for growth. ”

Ian Grimm has a conversation with Poppy Li in Mythic Quest season 2.

Photo: Apple TV Plus

These conversations are the secret behind McElhenney’s success – and not at all his individual success. They are an honor to his practice of working with people who are different from him, and his willingness to listen to them and learn from their feedback.

“There is an altruistic effort there,” he says, “to help build and create empathy and passion. But there is also the very real and practical side of it, which is that it also happens to create the best show because the characters themselves also come from different points of view.

“Sure, I can sit down and guess what a 23-year-old black lesbian who grew up in LA could say in a given situation, and I can even get a little close! But outside on very at least having someone in the author’s room I can turn to and say, ‘Hi, I know we share a lot of things as human beings, but this very specific point of view I do not share with this character. Can you actually help me and I can help you and we can work together to make this feel like an authentic voice? ‘When you do that, when you create this environment, you start to have really fascinating conversations that are not poisoned by any judgment because we are all there for the same purpose. ”


Perhaps the most arresting thing about Rob McElhenney’s collaborative work these days is the way it seems to get viewers to reconsider the most problematic people they know. In the last half of season 2, Mythic Quest dives deep into the background of CW Longbottom (F. Murray Abraham), an HR nightmare with a mindset firmly rooted in the 1970s and cemented in place with faded eruptions.

Because he’s a product of his time, and he’s apparently not interested in adapting to current patterns, Longbottom may be the show’s easiest target. He probably should have washed out of polite company and professional space a long time ago. But for McElhenney, he is an important part of the broader project of Mythic Quest, an extreme example of the kind of empathy he explores.

“I think that’s what we’re really striving to show Mythic Quest, ”Says McElhenney. “That there is no person who is completely one thing. They are very, very complicated and complex people. ”

Ian Grimm and Poppy Li sit side by side in Mythic Quest Season 2

Photo: Apple TV Plus

He sighs heavily for this next part, noting that it makes him sound “incredibly soft.” But he inhales and goes after it:

“I think ever since I had my kids, I can’t help it – I do it with people in real life, I do it with characters too, because you kind of have to love every character you write. You can not hate them, you have to find something you love about them, no matter how disgusting they may be. I always imagine the character as someone’s son or daughter. They were once a little baby. They were once a year old, they were once two years old, and no one is born evil. And no one is born broken. Things happen whether it is biological or environmental, something happens during a person’s life that then pushes them in certain directions and then they make their decisions based on that. […] It’s hard for me as an artist to then judge you when you’re trying to figure out who you are. I’m just trying to present you as a real person. ”

But again: there is the warning, the one that is always present. Empathy, and yet:

“It’s a nuanced conversation, I’m not suggesting that there is any level of really heinous behavior, violent behavior that should ever be tolerated, but at the same time suggesting that their work cannon is ‘actually now rubbish’ is just objectively false. Does that mean we should celebrate it? No. Maybe we’ll just never talk about it again, maybe we will not continue to be condescending, absolutely.

But then to look back, or even at the moment look and say, “Well, now that I see that person is a monster, their art is therefore shit, or I’ll never stay in one of their hotels, or I will never have to – I just think it’s a dangerous way to think about humanity. We’re messy. We’re messy. ”


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