Ashly Burch has long been a fan-favourite actor in the gaming world, thanks to her highly engaging performances that include Aloy in Horizon Zero Dawn, Chloe in Life Is Strange and Tiny Tina in the Borderlands franchise. This made Burch’s casting in Mythic Quest, an Apple TV Plus sitcom that lovingly skewers the gaming industry, seem absolutely perfect.
With Burch reprising her role as Rachel in Mythic Quest Season two this week, and once again serving in the show’s writers’ room, RadioTimes.com jumped on a Zoom call to talk with the actor/writer about the new season and her lifelong love of gaming.
“I really loved a lot of games on the N64,” Burch says, thinking back to her earliest gaming memories, “so I loved Ocarina of Time and Harvest Moon 64. And then I was a big PlayStation head, so I played every Final Fantasy I could get my hands on.” But TV has always been one of Burch’s loves, too.
Sailor Moon was one of her early favourites, as was “anything that was on Cartoon Network” including Dexter’s Laboratory and Powerpuff Girls. “And then, I think something that actually ended up really influencing my sense of humour was when I watched [Simon Pegg sitcom] Spaced. We managed to get our hands on a copy of the DVDs of Spaced. And my brother and I were obsessed with Spaced. I watched it over and over and over again. Because that, to me, was like a really amazing blend of nerdy stuff and comedy. So that was an early thing that I really, really loved.”
Burch first made a name for herself in 2008, with a series of live-action comedy sketches about gaming – under the title Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin’? – which she made with her brother, Anthony Burch. “They had a little bit of a cult following,” she remembers, “and it became sort of the thing that we did that led to everything else. He started writing for Gearbox [developers of the Borderlands franchise], and I started voice acting. And so, this thing that was sort of more like a film school for us ended up [being] what kind of launched both of our careers, which is sort of wild to think about.”
Ashly Burch has since built a career that covers both live-action productions and voice-over work. “They’re different and they’re not,” she says, “because at the core, really all you’re trying to do [in either live-action or voice acting] is understand the character and give a good performance. People sometimes get hung up in terms of voice acting, like do I need to do a bunch of voices or, you know, ‘Do I really need to be good at accents and impressions?’ And all that stuff really helps. But at the end of the day, if you don’t have your performing chops down, if you don’t understand how to inhabit a character, then you may not be as successful, because that’s really still the baseline – can you give a nuanced and empathetic performance?”
Having Burch involved in a sitcom about the gaming industry may seem obvious in hindsight, but it certainly came as a surprise to Burch that Rob McElhenney (star of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia) wanted to work with her on Mythic Quest. “I was just stunned because I don’t know anyone involved in the project,” she remembers, and once again it was the Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin’ videos that had put her on the Mythic Quest team’s radar.
“I was very, very intimidated,” she says, remembering what it was like to turn up to work in a writers’ room full of major TV talent. “But what’s great is that they’re so supportive, and it’s such a warm group of people that I felt pretty comfortable pretty quickly,” Burch adds. And she notes that Rob McElhenney “always wants to be challenged. He wants to know if there’s a better idea out there. He wants to make the best show that he can make. So I feel really free to express my opinion and throw stuff out there. And even if it doesn’t get taken, it’s not about ego. It’s just about like, what’s the best idea?”
And so, Mythic Quest season one came to pass, launching in February 2020. Fans immediately reacted to the on-screen chemistry between Burch’s Rachel and Imani Hakim’s Dana, a pair of star-crossed video game testers who work together to spot the bugs and glitches in Mythic Quest (the fictional game at the heart of the series).
Fans will be pleased to know that they get on in real life. Thinking back to shooting season one in the pre-pandemic ‘beforetimes’, Burch says, “Getting to know the cast was such a big part of my experience on the show: Imani who plays Dana, and Jessie [Ennis] who plays Jo, and Charlotte [Nicdao] who plays Poppy, we’re all really close. And we’ve only gotten closer.”
After some promotional events for season one, work began on Mythic Quest season two, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Burch jokes, “We went to New York, and everyone’s like, ‘Everything’s great, we’re never gonna die!’ And we came back ready to film the second season.
“It was the first week of the second season. And I think it was that Friday. I remember being in the writers’ room – because the writers’ room was on the lot that we filmed the second season – and I came back from shooting a scene. And there are a few of us around the table. And Rob was like, ‘I think we’re gonna shut down for a couple of weeks, because the pandemic is just – it’s getting a little hairy.’ And I think all of us were like, ‘Yeah, a couple weeks. A couple of weeks.’ And then hard cut to us doing Zoom interviews to promote the next season. So yeah, we were raring to go. And we just everything shut down.”
“It’s a testament to our fearless leaders that we went to work pretty quickly after that,” Burch says, the result of which was the brilliant Quarantine episode which the cast filmed in their own homes. It would go onto air in May 2020, an absolute treat for fans stuck in lockdown.
Burch explains: “This was the brainchild I think of Rob and Megan [Ganz]. And I think Rob loves what he does. And I think as soon as we got shut down, and as soon as we sort of realised this is gonna be longer than two weeks, I think he was already thinking how can how can we get everyone back to work?
“And, you know, everyone was having pretty candid conversations about struggling with the lockdown and the uncertainty of the pandemic. And just the fear around it. And I think they saw an opportunity to make something that’s not only funny, and a reprieve from that tension and that intensity of especially those first few months – not only to make something funny and light-hearted, but also to speak to kind of the universal experience, a lot of us were having that sort of depicted through Poppy’s arc of that episode.”
Fans may have noticed that Burch’s hair changes colour for the quarantine episode, which is actually a case of art imitating life. Burch recalls, “We had actually made a wig for me that matched the hair that I had from the first season, with like blue streaks in it instead of pink.” But after a chat with McElhenney, they decided to write the fact that Burch “went grey really early” into Rachel’s story. The script was tweaked to include Rachel lamenting the impossibility of getting her hair dyed, and Burch remembers thinking, “That’s funny, that’s relatable. I like that.”
Now Mythic Quest season two has arrived, and as well as moving the Rachel/Dana story forward, it also throws up some interesting pairings. There’s one episode, for example, where Rachel ends up on a road trip with F. Murray Abraham’s cranky author character, C.W. Longbottom. “It was really fun,” Burch reflects. “I think that’s one of my favourites of the season.”
Between the quarantine episode and season two sits another Mythic Quest special, entitled Everlight, which dropped on Apple TV Plus last month. It sees the gang reuniting for a big celebration with shades of Dungeons & Dragons. The episode has ‘written by’ credit for Burch, who says, “I do see it as my baby.”
She adds, “It’s interesting because the first version of it was actually meant to be like eighth or ninth episode in the season. And then when the shutdown happened, I think Megan called me and Rob, and she was like, ‘Hey, we are gonna make Everlight the first episode. So we wanted to talk to you about, you know, what that would look like what the story would be.’
“And we ended up going through quite a few different iterations, particularly of that ending fight. And I think we got to a place eventually that was like: this is what we want to say, this feels satisfying. This feels like it speaks to where we hope people are going to be by the time this comes out. And I feel really proud of how it turned out. I think it does a really good job of balancing humour, with again, this sort of trying to capture this moment, and trying to give people something in this time that is uplifting.”
Mythic Quest season two is out now on Apple TV Plus. Looking for something to watch? See our TV Guide.