These are tough times, and great TV is helping a lot of people cope with them. So, even in quarantine, some shows are finding ways to get to work, at least one episode at a time, and one of them is the deceptively charming Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet. Today, the Apple TV+ comedy has released a new special episode, entitled “Quarantine,” to capture what life is like right now, as we all shelter in place from the invisible yet deadly threat outside.
“Quarantine” is a funny yet also heartfelt take on the emotional toll of the coronavirus era, as seen through the daily interactions of the staff behind the game Mythic Quest, working from home to keep their game working even though it feels like the world is falling apart. Filmed entirely remotely, it’s one of Hollywood’s earliest attempts to encapsulate what’s going on — while also giving us the chance to learn what Mac from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s house looks like. (The answer: really nice.)
Via (of course) video chat, Collider got co-creator/star Rob McElhenney to explain a lot of the logistical details behind how this incredibly complicated episode was filmed — from the beautifully executed 12-part Rube Goldberg stunt which ends the episode, to how cast member/staff writer Ashly Burch‘s real hair changed the script, to who was really hugging Poppy (Charlotte Nicdao) during the episode’s emotional denouement (and how it was filmed). Find the answers below, but only read after you’ve watched.
To begin with the end, let’s talk about the final stunt and how that came together.
ROB McELHENNEY: With a tremendous amount of patience and ingenuity on the part of about four or five different departments. It was one of the most challenging sequences of the most challenging episodes that I’ve ever been a part of producing. And it was also incredibly fun and satisfying.
The way it started was, we just loved the idea of thematically having something that some kind of a challenge that a group of people was tasked with achieving and had to work together to achieve it. And if one person messed it up, then it ruined it for everybody else. We thought that was an interesting thematic thread that we could put through the entire episode — obviously emblematic of what we’re all going through in the real world, but we didn’t want to do it heavy-handed because we’re a comedy, and we wanted it to be fun and light and silly, but ultimately in the end, triumph.
So we had this idea of connecting the boxes all together and demonstrating how we are all connected in some way, shape or form, and that each individual person is responsible for his or her own actions, and then how it would affect the group. So I called our production designer and our special effects house and our prop department. And I said, “This is what we’re thinking about doing, what do you think?” And of course, like all crew members always, they say, “great, that sounds great. We can do it. Of course.” And then they hang up, and then they go figure it out.
What we wound up doing was everybody remotely passing videos, back and forth, trying to figure out which machines we wanted to use and replicate based on things that we’d seen online and what we had come up with on our own. And then, eventually landing on the sequence that you saw of each individual machine.
Those were built by our special effects guy in his garage and by our production designer and their teams and our set decorators and then the property department. They also created videos on how to set them up and use them. [The machines] were then sterilized, packed up into boxes, picked up by a courier, taken to the actors’ residences, and left in a secure area. The actors then took them out of the box, sterilized them again, and put them together. So then once we had them, that was when we went into production on them and we shot them just like we shot the rest of the scenes. We had to go in sequential order to make sure that they all lined up — this happened over the course of two and a half weeks.
So, were are you actually able to execute it in real time?
McELHENNEY: No, no, no. So, each one of those boxes is in each individual actor’s house and they’re operating the camera. So I was able to essentially be on a Zoom call with the rest of the crew and my A.D. team and everybody. And we would just bounce from house to house, to house, to house, to house, and people would sign in and sign out and sign in and sign out. And then we would just go through and rip through it in order. Once you were up and running, the actual shooting of it was not that difficult. It was all the prep work that led up to it.
Do you have a favorite moment from it?
McELHENNEY: Well, yes. I mean, the moment you know from the very beginning when Lou says, “Oh, CW is not here, we’re waiting on him,” right? That he’s the missing box. And we know that he’s been struggling with technology the entire episode. You know, consciously and unconsciously, that he’s going to show up. He’s going to get there in time, right? You just know, because of course we’re making a TV show and there’s going to be a happy ending. And yet, I mean, I’ve seen it now. I edited it. I mean, I’ve seen it 50,000 times and I still am excited when he pops on. I know it’s going to happen. And it still excites me every time.
That’s wonderful. In terms of kind of broader production questions, I’m curious, does this episode count towards your Season 2 order?
McELHENNEY: This is technically a Season 1 episode. So it’s going to go up onto the system as a bonus episode of Season 1.
Gotcha. So, about the moment when Ian comes to Poppy’s apartment and hugs her — was that her hugging a body double?
McELHENNEY: Yes. That was her hugging her husband. I was the only person out of the entire cast that ever left their house. And when I say I left my house, I went onto my street. So when you see me at night there, that’s me walking on my street. And then I wind up going into my own garage. And then we cut the camera and we pick up [Nicdao’s husband’s] camera, and he is now standing in the doorway.
We used a little bit of visual effects help and added some elements of my silhouette to his, because we are structurally very different. He’s 6’2. He’s a strapping man. And I’m not.
One more logistical question about the episode — Ashly Burch’s hair. Is that something you wrote into the script because it’s what her hair looks like right now?
McELHENNEY: Well, it’s funny. It was not written in the script. She did have her wig with her, as well as Caitlin McGee, who plays Sue. That is not [McGee’s] natural hair either. That’s a wig. So the wig was shipped to each actress and then Abby Roll, who’s our lead hair department head, walked them through how to put on the wig and make sure it was all set up.
And then Ashley was set up and it was the very first thing we shot. And I spoke with her in the morning. It was like 8 AM. And she had the wig on and we Zoomed and I looked at it and I thought it looked great. And she said, “Yeah, by the way, a lot of people are struggling with this very thing. How is it that she’s getting her hair dyed?” And I thought, “Right, my wife [It’s Always Sunny star Kaitlin Olson] is cutting my hair. I’m helping my wife to color her own hair. Yes, wouldn’t it be great if we just addressed it and adjust to the reality of it?” And I’m like, “Fuck it. Take off the wig.” So she takes off the wig and her hair looks cool. And I’m like, “Great, let’s go with that.” So that happened five minutes before we started rolling.
That’s amazing. I have to wrap up, but I just wanted to say your house is lovely. It seems like a nice place to quarantine in.
McELHENNEY: Yes. I mean, look, that’s really what we were addressing headfirst in the show. So I felt like if we were going to do something like this, I wanted to explore all areas of peoples’ experience. And one of the things I find most fascinating is when I go to Twitter or I go to Instagram and I see affluent people complaining about having to clean their own toilets for the first time in their fucking lives and making their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as if this is the most difficult thing that they’ve ever had to go through. I thought there’s was just such an abject and profane tone-deafness to that, that I thought, “Wow, we should explore that.”
And so look, Sunny has been on the air for 14 years. I don’t think anybody thinks that I’m not doing pretty well, right? Television, right or wrong, pays pretty well. But I also thought it might be in poor taste to show how well I’m living, unless we can figure out a way to make sure that we’re being respectful of that — that I, as an actor and as a filmmaker, recognize how incredibly and insanely fortunate we are to be in the position that we are in and that this megalomaniac guy that I play wouldn’t recognize that, and would just think about this as being a great experience where he gets to just meditate in his garden and not really recognize how many people are truly suffering. So we just kind of lead all the way into it.
Mythic Quest: Quarantine is available now on Apple TV+.