This is the funniest show I’ve seen in a long time. The writing is really sharp with expertly crafted callbacks and amusing lampoons of pop culture. It kind of reminds me of Arrested Development, not only because of its approach to comedy but the fact that it’s about a family navigating the public eye. Plus, actor Drew Tarver totally feels like a young Jason Bateman. His reactions and delivery are perfect. So it sucks that he’s often given the worst storylines. In the first few episodes, his character, Cary, struggles to understand what his relationship is with his roommate, but it ultimately goes nowhere and provides zero laughs. Later in the season, Cary gets a little too fame hungry and pushes away the high school teacher he met earlier, a charming character I was hoping we’d get to see more of.
The best material is when Cary and his sister, Brooke, have to deal head-on with living in their younger brother’s celebrity shadow. Chase’s sweet naivety clashes so perfectly with Cary’s and Brooke’s jealousy that it’s a shame Chase isn’t in the season more. I get that the show is about “the other two,” but I’m more interested in what makes them “the other two” and not just Cary and Brooke as themselves. Like, Cary becoming somewhat famous because of Chase’s song about his gay brother and Brooke having to be Chase’s assistant are perfect plot points. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention Ken Marino as Chase’s manager, who is perhaps the best thing about the show. I love how incompetent and insecure he is, and I hope future seasons find ways to keep him around now that Chase is apparently off to college.
The only thing weirder than the story in Miracle Workers’ first season is the fact that the show overall is an anthology, and Season 2 has nothing to do with Season 1. That’s kind of a shame, because Season 1 sets up some interesting mechanics that would have been fun to further explore. Like The Good Place, though, it’s probably better to end when it’s meant to rather than unnecessarily drag a story out. And yes, I’m deliberately name-dropping The Good Place, because Miracle Workers shares a lot in common with it. They both paint a somewhat cynical view of heaven and have a similar sense of humor. The difference is that Miracle Workers’ version of heaven is run by sheer incompetence. I mean, God is played by Steve Buscemi; do I really need to say more?
It actually kind of bugged me how heaven used the same (albeit outdated) tech that we have on Earth, and the angels still had to sleep and eat like normal people. They didn’t play with the concept of celestial beings in the same way that The Good Place did. But then there’s an episode near the end where God’s family ridicules him for making Earth and lazily populating it with creatures that are just like him, and that one conversation cleverly explained/excused the show’s whole gimmick. The thing about Miracle Workers is that it has some really funny ideas. It’s the execution that comes across as a little cheesy. The Good Place could be cheesy, too, but made up for it with heart. Miracle Workers isn’t as sentimental but is just as funny… if you can look past some of the sillier effects and dialogue.
The Righteous Gemstones is a Danny McBride show, someone who I’ve never really found funny. After finishing Gemstones, I tried watching Eastbound & Down next, and McBride’s narcissistic shtick was pretty much the same. It actually works here, though, because it clashes so elegantly with the religious personas he and his family members are trying to put on. This initially felt like it could’ve been a “Breaking Bad for televangelists,” given that the first episode ends with Jesse (McBride) purposefully running over people with his car. That was a great hook, but the main thread isn’t the blackmailing storyline so much as it is just general family dysfunction. The Gemstones, as it turns out, aren’t necessarily criminals. They just don’t always practice what they preach.
Thus, the show is more about lampooning hypocrisy than it is lampooning religion. The season ending with Jesse in Haiti—picking up a shovel to help dig a trench without so much as a word—made me rethink the negative review I was formulating mid-season. It was a really strong finale that shows these characters do have room to grow. Well, except for Judy, who is maybe beyond repair. But I love that the wildcard character was given to an actress for once, as Edi Patterson does a great job in being so hilariously intense and inappropriate. She is definitely the highlight. I also thought Adam Devine was perfectly cast as the pastor meant to appeal to the youth. Like McBride, his usual acting doesn’t do it for me, but The Righteous Gemstones seems to be where these types of personalities can finally shine.
I don’t care for musicals, but I’ve always wanted to see a story where 1-2 characters know they’re in a musical and aren’t part of the act. That’s kind of what you get with Schmigadoon, at least in the early episodes. Keegan-Michael Key is particularly good at expressing annoyance whenever a song starts. There’s also a great gag where the other normie, Melissa, walks out on someone doing a song and dance number, and you can still hear him going at it inside. But that’s pretty much all you get in terms of anti-musical comedy, because this show is more of an homage than a parody. They still want you to like the songs that they obviously put a lot of work into. And you know what? The songs aren’t bad. My only complaint is that several of them go on for a little too long.
The other issue I have with Schmigadoon is how rushed the story feels in the end. The penultimate episode, for instance, is much shorter than the other episodes and ends so abruptly that I thought I’d missed something. Jane Krakowski shows up out of nowhere in the same episode and is never seen again. That might have been a joke itself based on her character’s Sound of Music inspiration, though I’m not familiar enough with The Sound of Music to get it. Clearly, I’m not the target audience here, but I was still invested in the humor and premise. So it was a pretty big letdown how quickly the normies got back together, even though things were going well with their own romantic interests. It really feels like 2-3 episodes are missing. That, or the brevity is another musical reference I’m too uncultured to understand.
Similar to Season 1, this season has another spin-off episode that takes place in a different time and with mostly different characters. This time around, it’s about a young CW becoming an author, so it’s not as out of place as A Dark Quiet Death, though A Dark Quiet Death is the better short. But I still enjoyed CW’s backstory episode. It reinvigorated what was turning out to be a dud of a season overall. I feel like Mythic Quest would have worked better as an anthology show that followed different people’s journeys through the video game industry. I honestly don’t care about Mythic Quest or its employees anymore. Like, the video game influences are bordering on the cringey side, and the office antics feel like a discount sitcom.
It doesn’t help that I hate pretty much all of the characters now. Poppy went from my favorite character in Season 1 to my least favorite. She’s started yelling every line and became a pretty mean boss to her subordinates. I don’t know why they went to the “wring comedy out of people being rude or pathetic” well, but it’s not a good look. I do commend the showrunners on playing it safe with F. Murray Abraham and COVID, even though it relegates his character to a bunch of “old people can’t use Zoom” jokes for the first half of the season. At least Backstory and Peter give him something more meaningful to do and are naturally the standout episodes. Those two episodes don’t feel like Mythic Quest at all, and that’s the problem. The core Mythic Quest story is just not that good.
Movies and TV shows about video games have historically come across as pandering, cringey, and/or totally out of touch. Mythic Quest might be the best game-themed media I’ve seen, but it’s still not quite there. While it’s obvious that the creators grew up playing video games, they seem to only have cursory knowledge of how games are actually made. This reminds me a lot of Silicon Valley, where the technobabble sounds ridiculous to anyone who works in the industry. I know TV shows have to speed up real-world events for the sake of story, but it’s hard to suspend disbelief when one of the game programmers can add a new feature to a million-dollar game without getting permission first, and then can re-tweak it overnight before the launch. That’s not how this works; that’s now how any of this works!
It’s also weird that they used real video game footage for scene transitions. I think the first episode used footage from Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which really took me out of the story since I had just finished playing that one. On the other hand, it is kind of cool that they’re able to use real licenses. I do get the sense that the showrunners are people who understand and appreciate playing games. There is a great episode early on that follows a dev team couple and how they struggle to keep creative control over their horror franchise as it grows in popularity. That episode is a wonderfully random side story. It has nothing to do with the rest of the Mythic Quest plot and features characters we never see again. One of those characters was played by Jake Johnson, and his presence in that episode sheds so much light on what the rest of the show is missing.
To put it bluntly, Mythic Quest needs someone like Jake Johnson to be permanently in the cast. Sure, Always Sunny fans will enjoy seeing Rob McElhenney and David Hornsby, but neither of them can really carry a show on their own. They’ve always worked better in supporting roles. I also like Danny Pudi a lot, but he isn’t given much to do here and is painted as more of a villain, which is an odd choice given what made him popular on Community. The best character is probably Poppy as played by Charlotte Nicdao. She has great energy and often acts as the frustrated intermediary between department heads. But that circles back to my original complaint: the company structure makes no sense. Like, why are two testers hanging out with the creative directors when there is supposedly a whole floor for testers? Maybe I’m just too close to the source material to fully appreciate this as a silly office sitcom.