Plenty of pop culture has tried to capture what it’s like to live through the covid-19 pandemic. The Michael Bay-produced “Songbird” played up the worst fears of a never-ending crisis. “Locked Down,” another movie, tried to make romantic comedy out of quarantine. And plenty of shows and specials have experimented with Zoom. But “Mythic Quest,” Apple TV Plus’s show about the making of a massively multiplayer online role-playing game feels like the first piece of art that might actually outlast the pandemic, by showing future generations what it was actually like to live through it.
Take “Quarantine,” the episode of the show that addresses the pandemic most directly.
Yes, it uses the standard Zoom-hopping format that so many shows and movies have used, to varying degrees of success, in order to represent what it looks like to work during this weird and stressful time.
More than that, though, “Quarantine” captured the vibe of what it felt like to be separated from our place of employment and human contact, or harried by trying to balance work with kids and Zoom schooling, or dealing with an older co-worker who can’t quite figure out how the mute button works. A reason the episode’s conclusion packed such an emotional wallop is because the writers were drawing from their own Zoom-based experiences.
“I think everyone’s had the experience of kind of having their home invaded by other people’s eyes. All of a sudden, they’re seeing inside your house, which may be for some people not so comfortable,” said Megan Ganz, “Mythic Quest” co-creator and executive producer, when I asked her about “Quarantine” and “Everlight,” the standalone episodes between Season One and Season Two. “So we had this idea that maybe the screen captures something that it wasn’t meant to see.”
The viewer becomes like a co-worker, though the role is still voyeuristic, since the seeing doesn’t go both ways. But the thing we see that no one is necessarily meant to is so sweet, and so touching, that watching it take place helps us process not only what we’re going through but what others might be as well.
Suddenly being forced to work from home, with children all around, presents its own set of challenges. Harried HR woman Carol’s (Naomi Ekperigin) adventures with teaching her kids “new math” left me feeling seen and understood. However, the plight of those living in isolation for extended periods resonated in a new way for me. It’s hard to imagine being, basically, alone, adrift, separated from work and friends.
But “Mythic Quest” made a wise decision not to set an entire season in the pandemic. In doing so, it didn’t just document the past; the show is helping viewers look toward the future.
“As a show, and as a workplace comedy, we really want people to see themselves in their workplaces,” Ganz said. “We didn’t want to be living in that world [of the pandemic] any longer than we were already living in it. But we also knew that we needed a bridge between what we gave them in the quarantine episode and what we wanted our second season to be, which was in the post-covid world, where everyone is vaccinated and back to work.”
Which is why “Everlight” is such a perfect way to get back into the swing of things. The name of the episode represents a holiday of sorts within the lore of the game, a moment when the light defeated the darkness and all in the land rejoiced. This resonates metaphorically for pretty obvious reasons.
Ganz said the standalone episode “kind of dealt with the joy and release of the first day back in the office. And we thought that that would provide a nice bridge for people, uh, to be able to enter the second season and kind of shake off what we've all been through and just be able to laugh and kind of enjoy it, even though we made those episodes during quarantine, we, we wanted it to feel like it was a post that time.”
As the world begins to get back to normal — as offices begin to fill again and work friendships are rekindled — we’ll want to see that normalcy reflected on the screen. We’ll want to feel post that time that we’ve all just experienced. But we don’t want to forget it, either, and “Mythic Quest” will serve as a reminder of what, exactly, we’ve all been through. It is the best and most important sitcom of our moment, and one that I believe will endure.