To anyone who has never played Dungeons and Dragons, watching a bunch of people essentially sitting at a table playing D&D might sound like one of the most boring things ever and anyone that has played it would probably agree. But HarmonQuest is much more entertaining than you’d think. Each episode is an hour-long session that has been cut down to 20-minutes, this heavy editing, some railroading and overlooking a bunch of rules/rolls allowing the actors more freedom for some creativity lets HarmonQuest speed things along without losing the beautiful randomness that D&D can create.
This is at least in part thanks to Spencer who takes on the role of Dungeon Master, leading the actors through the epic campaign. He is a great DM and his comedic timing and delivery is perfect. His reactions to and story altering for the actors are perfectly played which is saying a lot considering how brilliantly creative and unexpected Jeff B. Davis can be. The story that Spencer creates is pretty damn good as well, it flows naturally from episode to episode, each of which are self-contained narratives, that are entertaining but don’t feel out of place in the overall story.
What I liked
HarmonQuest is perfect background television, the audio being the main pull of the show and strong enough to enjoy on its own merit but the animation also adds so much to the show, it stops it from being just watching people sitting around a table, and while the quality of the animation isn’t the best, it actually suits the style of the show very well. I doubt they had the budget for top notch animation, but even if they did, I think that if the animation were to improve, it could actually end up being less charming as a result. Animation bumps don’t really add to the quality of a show that much, countless shows have improved their animation, but without the content to match it’s just wrapping a box of shit in Christmas paper. (See the newer seasons of The Simpsons for an example)
Since the guest star changes episode to episode, the quality obviously varies. Only one or two disappoint but the majority add a lot to the series, the fellas from Silicon Valley, Thomas Middleditch and Kumail Nanjiani being particular favorites of mine. Thomas being the nerdiest nerd to ever nerd over the course of the show, bringing his own set of dice to the table and Kumail’s deadpan delivery and chemistry with the regular actors were incredible. Jeff is probably the strongest of the regulars, all of which have a strong history of improv and are all strong characters, they all have their strengths that people will attach to. For example, Dan’s character is practically the only one that shows any kind of actual emotional progression and adds just a little bit of heart to the adventure.
As edited as the show is, each of the actors will still occasionally attempt to make jokes that just don’t land, unfortunately improv allows for just as many duds as it does gems, that’s just how it works. As a precaution the guest stars are given “cheat sheets” so that they aren’t left completely in the dark, joining a story in the middle and having no idea how to contribute. Some of the stars that would be less familiar with roleplaying games are given more help than others, and it can come across as a tad scripted. Aubrey Plaza for example was great and her interactions with Jeff made her episode one of the best in the series, but at times her advancing the plot felt forced and somewhat out of place, although this could just be how it comes across post edit.
Existing fans of Harmontown will know almost exactly what they’re getting with HarmonQuest, and have almost definitely already watched this, but HarmonQuest is definitely great for newcomers as well. Overall, it’s a great way to kill some time, you’ll get a good number of laughs and since its pretty short and the audio is its main appeal it’s the type of show you can throw on in the background, time and time again.