TV

Charlotte Nicdao On ‘Mythic Quest’ Season Two And Finding The Limits Of Poppy’s Ego

Ted Lasso holds the crown for the most surprisingly heartwarming Apple TV+ show, but Mythic Quest certainly came for the king with its Quarantine episode last year. Filmed almost entirely from the homes and apartments of its on-camera talent, the bonus episode was one of the rare pandemic-inspired forms of entertainment that actually worked. So it perhaps should have been no surprise that the follow-up between seasons episode, Everlight, shined bright as well.

The second pandemic-themed episode, which had the entire cast back in the office to hold a celebratory LARPing competition, did all the things a bonus episode should. It added some slight character wrinkles and progressed the plot a bit, but it also reminded viewers just how enjoyable Mythic Quest has been to watch in the first place.

If the episode looked like a joy to film, it’s because it was. And more importantly, as Charlotte Nicdao pointed out, it brought the show back to the office and cut out all the Zoom jokes we’re already tired of.

“The whole team really wanted Season Two to put the past year-and-a-half behind us and make the kind of television that is actually comforting to watch when you’re going through troubled times,” Nicdao told us.

Season Two finds the Mythic Quest staff back at work on another expansion to the wildly popular game. Poppy is now (spoilers) an equal to Ian, at least on the org chart. But actually progressing to the point where she’s comfortable being a boss is another story entirely. Uproxx talked to Nicdao by phone a few days before the first two episodes of Mythic Quest’s second season hit Apple TV+ to break down what’s different for Poppy, how the show tackles some big issues in gaming, and why it’s so much fun to melt down on camera.

I know you’ve done a lot of press for Season Two already, so I have to ask — what is it like doing press in a pandemic, for a show that you filmed during a pandemic?

I have to say, I hadn’t done a lot of press before Mythic Quest. So I did press for the first season. And then after that, the press was done for the quarantine episode. And then this year Everlight, in season two, it’s all been remote. So I don’t know a lot about what it’s like to not do press remote. It’s definitely working for me.

I want to ask about the two bonus episodes. Personally, I don’t think I’m ever going to have any appetite for pandemic-themed entertainment. I don’t want to relive this, but the Mythic Quest episodes are a very big exception because they were wonderful and really fit what the feeling of this past few months and year or so have been.

Thank you so much.

When you were making them, did that storyline of isolation resonate with you personally? Because I know you’ve documented some of your experience on Instagram, very similar to mine, I think. Did you know that it was going to really connect with people?

I think that the intention with those episodes was to never exploit the times that we were in, it was always to try to tell stories that we felt were going to help people watching. I think when we made the quarantine episode, we didn’t want to just be like, “Oh, I guess everyone’s on Zoom now. So let’s make some Zoom jokes.” I think we did make some funny Zoom jokes, but ultimately, we were also trying to connect to what a lot of people, including myself, were feeling at that time. That sort of … We’re being afraid and feeling isolated and not knowing what was coming next.

And then when we did Everlight, similarly, I think Rob (McElhenney) and Megan (Ganz) and David (Hornsby) and the whole team really wanted Season Two to put the past year-and-a-half behind us and make the kind of television that is actually comforting to watch when you’re going through troubled times. But obviously, because we’d addressed the pandemic with the quarantine episode, we needed to bridge into that, which is the purpose of Everlight.

And we were a team of people that were, I mean, yeah, we filmed during the pandemic, but there was definitely still that sense of like, we’re going back to some sense of normal after being in our houses for months and months. And that felt strange and exciting. And we were very excited to be around each other again. Everlight was about, for me anyway, it was about capturing some of that feeling.

Yeah, that was a really good way to transition back into what the plot points were that you left Season One with. I wanted to ask about that. Poppy’s first couple episodes in this new season are about the struggle with her new role alongside Ian. How would you describe what’s different about her, from maybe the first few episodes of Season One to now?

I think that throughout Season One, we get a few clues as to how big Poppy’s ego is. It’s just that it’s never been allowed to grow to its full size before, for various reasons. And then when we meet back up with her again in Season Two, she’s now got as much technical power as Ian does. And so, her ego is no longer having to be contained. It’s allowed to run rampant. So you see this whole other side of her that is a little bit more obnoxious and maybe a little bit more toxic, which is really fun to play with.

But the other thing that I was really interested in was this idea of, someone can be excellent at the job that they’re doing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be a great manager in their job. And so, Poppy is this prime example of this absolute genius programmer, that then gets put into a position where she’s leading teams of people toward her vision, doesn’t really know how to be a leader yet. So a lot of Season Two is about Poppy figuring out how to be a leader, what kind of a leader she wants to be, what’s effective, what doesn’t work.

It’s a really interesting exploration of the Peter Principle. But also, because in Season One and oftentimes even in the first couple episodes of season two, Poppy’s always asked to be the adult in the room compared to Ian. He has these big visions, and Poppy’s character is more practical. The shovel episode from Season One, I’m thinking about. And even early in Season Two where she says “Well, we need caulk in the game to do these things.”

Yes! (Laughs)

That’s a really interesting thing, because there are little granular things that make games happen, and then push the show along. But there’s also the push and pull of her ego as well.

Right. And then I think what’s interesting is throughout Season One, and then the beginning part of Season Two, you do see how she’s focused on these technical things that are about making the game work. But then as the season progresses, you realize that her vision is actually much, much bigger than that. And I would say much, much bigger even than Ian’s vision has ever been. And I think she sees it grow underneath her as it’s happening, and in many ways it doesn’t know how to handle it.

I wanted to ask just how into games you are. The show does a great job of addressing things in gaming, but it’s not a show about games. It’s a workplace drama, it’s about emotions and people and relationships. That balance is really well done here, but I wonder, what is the secret sauce to making that work and not be overbearing?

I mean, I think when I came into Season One, I wasn’t a gamer, and I was really concerned with understanding that world, especially because of the role that I was playing as the lead programmer of this company. I was like, I never understand how games work and what that community is like. And I imagine that a lot of our audience felt that way, coming into Season One as well, this feeling of like, “Oh, I have to really understand games or like gaming to be into this show.”

And coming into Season Two, after filming Season One, I think I had a much better understanding of … I’m still really fascinated by the world of gaming, because I really did get introduced to it through Mythic Quest. And I’ve gotten really into a bunch of different farming stimulators, and Ashly Burch has really gotten me into that world, to some extent.

But I think besides that, coming into Season Two, my perspective on what the show was changed a lot. I think there’s so much inspiration that comes from the gaming world that hasn’t been mined for story yet. But I also think, as you say, at its heart, it is a workplace comedy. It’s about a dysfunctional found family. And that was really what I was focusing on in Season Two. The stories of power dynamics, professional relationships, leadership, teamwork, and that kind of thing. And so, that was my creative process when I was approaching the character and the stories this season.

I think the show addresses a lot of maybe big problems in gaming, with crunch and burnout. And the push and pull with your character and Ian, but also the art staff during Season Two, is really done well. It’s done for comedy. It makes light of a very serious problem, but it’s not glib. It’s not preachy. I thought maybe, to your point, about the mining really interesting areas of gaming, that’s one where it’s a very easy example of how well the show works.

Yeah. Yeah. I think, we never want to be the kind of show that’s like moralistically wagging our finger at the audience. And so, we hope that you’re never watching anything like, “Oh, I’m supposed to be learning a lesson here.”

But at the same time, as you say, when you see the way that Ian and Poppy treat the art department, as though they don’t have lives and exist purely to serve Ian and Poppy’s vision, you definitely aren’t on Ian and Poppy’s side with that.

I wanted to ask about your speech in the second episode, but it seems like it’d either be really fun, or a nightmare to shoot, to get it right. Was it somewhere in between there?

I think, yeah. Look, when I got that scene, I was so excited, and then immediately after being excited, so nervous. I think that’s like the blessing and the curse of having such amazing writers on the show, is that you’re constantly getting material, that you’re like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe they want me to do this.” And then you’re like, “Oh no, I can’t believe they want me to do this.”

And so, going onto set that day, I was definitely, like, wanting to bring my all. And I think one of the things that I really love about the way that we filmed the show is there’s a collaborative process at every stage. So we were workshopping that speech, even as we were filming it. Megan and Rob and David were all calling out things to try and being like, “Why don’t you just ramble here? Or you should start crying there, or like kick your shoes off.” And I feel like that sense of movement as you’re working, for me, I love working that way, because it keeps the scene alive. And then I feel like you’re having fun with the entire thing, rather than overthinking it. So I hope that turned out well. It was really fun to shoot.

Oh yeah, it worked really well. I just watched it again a few minutes ago, and I was just thinking maybe about just how many takes that would take to get the timing right on everything. It seemed like there was a lot.

I feel like often when we’re filming, we don’t necessarily do multiple takes, but we’ll roll into another version, without cutting. I love working that way because it means you build this momentum with what it is that you’re building in the scene. And so, yeah. I mean, honestly, the filming of that speech was kind of a blur, because I was trying to pull on all these different fun emotions. And also in the most glamorous outfit that Poppy has ever worn, which I was very grateful that, that is not what I have to wear every day at work.

Rob has spoken a lot about evolving and being willing to learn lessons from things that he’s already made. And I think Mythic Quest is a really good example of the growth of just him as a person and the way that he’s viewing the world. And I think a lot of characters are seeing change happen within them, in different ways. I thought maybe you would have some insight into seeing that happen on screen and seeing actors take that step as well.

Yeah. One of the things that I love about the show is that it’s got all the comfort and warmth of the familiarity of a sitcom. We understand what we’re watching, in terms of it being this group, this ragtag bunch of people that get into funny adventures and antics. But it’s not the kind of show that resets its characters at the beginning of each episode.
You’re really watching every character in the ensemble grow episode to episode and change and learn. And that’s a really exciting challenge as an actor.

And then I think what makes it even more fun is that, as you say, Rob, as a showrunner, is so open to conversation and people’s own experiences. And so, I think each character is imbued a little bit with the actor’s experience and ideas. I don’t think that every workplace works that way. And I’m really grateful that, that’s how ours does.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the show in the first season and I think when you look back on it, you’ll be able to point to it and say, “Yeah, that’s how it was like to live in that time.” I think about the Nazi episode, with the server a lot. I wonder if you feel the same way in the light of how things have gone online and in real life in maybe few months, or the last year?

Yeah. I mean, I guess the show tries not to shy away from the discussions that the world is having at the moment. But again, it’s never meant to be … I don’t think as a TV show, we’re trying to say people, “Hey, we have the solutions.” I think that we’re more interested in reflecting on what those conversations are and using the characters’ voices to getting different things out.

You got to do a voice and sing on Adventure Time. Were you a fan of the series? What was that like?

It was so much fun. And I think that show … I mean, talk about comforting television. That show is the embodiment of comfort television. And to get to go in and play a princess, which is like, surely, every girl’s dream is to get to voice an animated princess. Right? It was a lot, a lot of fun.

You got to go home to Australia in December. It was fascinating to see your quarantine procedure, but I wanted to maybe let you give the rest of the world a preview of what life can be on the other side of this, in a world where things are a little more contained, because you got to experience it already.

Yeah. I mean, in Australia at the moment, the world is more or less, 100% normal. There’s very little mask-wearing even because we’ve had zero cases for so long. And one of the things that surprised me was how quickly and naturally I slipped back into the way that we used to socialize. Feeling close to people, like physically close, being spontaneous with spending time with people, without having to ask, “Have you been tested? Or how many feet apart do we need to be? Or have you been vaccinated?”

It feels very natural and very normal. And it was a real reminder of how difficult the past year has been, not being able to operate that way. So I’m looking forward to the rest of the world, hopefully, getting to get back to that soon.

Absolutely. I’m a week out from being fully vaccinated, and I’m driving home immediately, to hug my mom, who I haven’t seen since Christmas 2019. It’s going to be good.

Oh, my gosh. That’s going to be amazing. I’m very excited for you.

Well, thank you.

When I hugged my mom for the first time, when I got back to Australia, I absolutely bawled my eyes out. So have fun with that.

‘Mythic Quest’ is currently streaming via Apple TV+.

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