Rob McElhenney: "The Mythic Quest quarantine episode is by far the most difficult production I've ever been associated with"

A still from Mythic Quest: Quarantine (Image credit: Apple TV)

As we all exhaust our quickly diminishing watchlists, there are a couple of entertainers striving to keep us busy. The Community cast got together for a script read-through, the Parcs & Recreation cast reformed over Zoom, and now Rob McElhenney has assembled the Mythic Quest team for a special quarantine episode. 

Running just under 30 minutes, the new special has all the laughs you would expect from Mythic Quest, which centres on a development team working on the eponymous video-game. All the main cast – Charlotte Nicdao, David Hornsby, Danny Pudi, and Ashly Burch – are involved, and the ending of the episode is particularly heartfelt. We caught up with McElhenney, who plays Ian on the show, to discuss the quarantine episode, as well as briefly talk about his other major show, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. (Q&A edited for length and clarity.)

GR+: Hey Rob, how are you?

McElhenney: I'm doing pretty well. I'm excited about getting this episode out there.

I watched it this morning and think people will be touched by it. What was the hardest logistical problem about making something like this?

I don't know where to begin. It was by far the most difficult production I've ever been associated with, in almost every way. We wrote, shot, and delivered the episode three weeks. That in and of itself is difficult, even if you're doing that on a stage with the full resources at your disposal, that's tricky. But doing it remotely and having no one leave their house? The only person that ever left their house was me. And that was when I went out onto the street – my own street – to shoot that one particular scene. So those kinds of challenges, the fact that all of the actors were shooting and operating their own cameras, that sequence at the end, the Rube Goldberg machine, that was just an absolute nightmare. But, I really truly believe this, it is the production of which I'm most proud of in my entire career.

It's coming at a time when people are after heartwarming stuff and it's going to be delightful for many. Plus, your house is now immortalised on Apple TV, which must be quite weird. It must seem quite strange putting something that's so personal out there for everyone to see?

Yes, and honestly, I discussed this with [It's Always Sunny co-star and wife] Kaitlin [Olson], obviously, quite a bit. I mentioned it first to David Hornsby because I wanted to be respectful of his and Emily [Deschanel]'s privacy. And he was like, "Yeah, you're right, let me have a think about it a little bit." And then I mentioned it to some of the other actors, and asked "Are you comfortable with possibly showing your living quarters on a worldwide global platform?" And they were confused by the question. And they said, "Why? What do you mean?" And I said, "Well, we're just going to see your space." It just went almost went over their head and I realised, right, I'm an old man. The idea of blasting your personal life out to the world – that privacy has been ripped from the culture and nobody cares. Nobody cares anymore. And it's evident by looking through Instagram and Twitter that we're blasting our personal lives anyway. Once I got wrapped my head around that idea and I brought it up to Kaitlin, she was like, "Oh, yeah. All right. Fuck it. Let's do it."

It's funny because I was watching The Last Dance with Michael Jordan. I didn't realise all his interviews are filmed in other people's houses because he doesn't want people seeing his house. But he's fucking Michael Jordan. He can do what he wants

That documentary was incredible. But what was interesting was, when you see him sitting out on that beach, or you see him sitting in that house – I didn't know this until you just said, I just assumed it was his house anyway. At the end of the day, what difference does it make? I assumed he lives pretty well, he's Michael Jordan. Yeah. Maybe he doesn't want people to see that. But we don't know he does. As far as I know, that's his beach house.

And now we know that that's your hot tub in the episode and I'm incredibly jealous.

I do tend to get in there from time to time naked. So now you know that.

(Image credit: Apple TV)

Good to know! It's been a few months since Mythic Quest season 1 debuted. Have you had many reactions from developers? Anything that has surprised you?

Before we proceeded, it was difficult to get some of the game footage, because, for as much as we described what the show was gonna be, a lot of the gaming companies just didn't know. They didn't want to take a chance licencing some of their material because we could have been making fun of them or the show was lame or whatever it might be. And these are multibillion-dollar enterprises. I understood that and I never got upset about it. I said, "Okay, great. Look, just because we can't get it this year, doesn't mean that I won't be open to it next year, and I'll just ask you to do the same after the shows come out." So we were able to licence mostly just Ubisoft games and a couple of others. Since the show launched, I think every major game studio has said, "Okay, we're in." Which is great because they recognise that not only is it a cool show, and it's a fun show, and it's a well-reviewed show and respected, but it's also celebrating the gaming industry more than anything else, in all of its success, and also all of its foibles

That reaction and this episode – is that going to change the course of season two? Or do you think you are sticking on the same road?

Well, unfortunately, we've already written all of season two. And we're going to have to go back and rewrite all of season two. From an emotional arc and a comedic arc, I think we're still okay. But, just from an operational standpoint, none of our workplaces are going to be the same. And they're not going to be the same for a very long time. So we can't just pretend like we're in a dream world where this didn't happen. Obviously, we're doing a whole episode about it. So, as we return, we're going to have to figure out what office life even looks like. Because we don't know what that is. And we can't rewrite the scripts until then.

That also leads quite nicely into your other big shows, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. How do you think that show will change because of this? And will there be a storyline where they try and sell Fight Milk as a cure for Coronavirus?

I think we've come up with 20 different episode ideas sparked by this. And, the thing about Sunny is that we've done it for 14 years and every year we change things up a little bit. You have to evolve; you can't do the same episode over and over again for 14 years. But, every episode is still Sunny. To us, will that suddenly change? Kinda, but not really. It's always going to be exactly the same. And if we do it for 30 years, it'll be exactly the same. And we'll make some operational adjustments but other than that, I think Sunny's Sunny.

Mythic Quest: Quarantine is available now on Apple TV.

Jack Shepherd
Freelance Journalist

Jack Shepherd is the former Senior Entertainment Editor of GamesRadar. Jack used to work at The Independent as a general culture writer before specializing in TV and film for the likes of GR+, Total Film, SFX, and others. You can now find Jack working as a freelance journalist and editor.