Entertainment

How Mythic Quest Is Putting Gray Hair On TV In A New Light

The Apple TV+ comedy offers a rare sight in Hollywood: 30-something women embracing their grays.

by Esther Zuckerman

Throughout my childhood, my mother used to dye her hair a dark brown — so dark it was almost black. I always thought it was beautiful, but when I look back on pictures of us from my high school and college days, it’s jarring. Years ago, she decided to let her hair go gray. Her short waves now are full of complex tones with streaks of white and black. She looks so much more like herself than she did with a color that just felt slightly outside of reality.

Even though my mom was in her 50s when she decided to show off her natural gray — and was on the receiving end of countless compliments — there was still a dash of stigma associated with the color. My grandma, at that point in her 90s, remained skeptical. She had kept dyeing her thinning hair a reedy blond. While my mother’s hair was stunning, to her mother, it showed her age.

I thought about my mom’s hair when I was watching the latest season of Mythic Quest, which premiered on Apple TV+ last month. Mythic Quest isn’t really a fashion-forward show. It’s about people who work at a video game company, so tees and hoodies are basically the uniform. But I was struck when I realized that not one but two of the women in the cast, both in their 30s, had visible grays. As Rachel, the former game tester turned monetization exec, Ashly Burch’s mane is a charcoal color peppered with white. On Charlotte Nicdao, who plays stressed-out genius programmer Poppy, it’s a little less obvious, but you can see the streaks.

“I want to honor what my body’s doing naturally,” Burch tells me on a recent call. “I like the way it looks.”

In doing so, she’s making a quietly radical statement. In Hollywood, men go gray and get to be “silver foxes.” Patrick Dempsey was still McDreamy in Grey’s Anatomy. Steve Carell launched a thousand thirst tweets. The Internet went wild for “salt-and-pepper” Chris Pine. And yet when Andie MacDowell unleashed her hair gray in her 60s, it was a major news story in the world of celebrity beauty — not just because she looked beautiful, but because going gray is still considered a daring choice for women in the entertainment industry. (At the time, MacDowell said her manager was worried the change might negatively affect her career opportunities.) Even as more and more women started embracing their grays during the pandemic, it’s rare to see an actress of any age, let alone one in her 30s, rock gray hair on a major television show. (And I'm not talking about that old lady-core gray that was a trend some years back for the likes of models, pop stars and Tavi Gevinson.)

Burch started to go gray in her early 20s and immediately welcomed it. “I actually thought it looked pretty cool,” she says. “I didn't really have any hangups about it, which I’m happy about. I liked the juxtaposition of very dark hair with very very light hair.” During the first season, Burch, who is also a writer on Mythic Quest, dyed her hair; she thought that’s just what you do when you’re on TV, but she also felt it made sense for the character at the time: Rachel seemed like the type of person who would play around with coloring her hair and adding streaks of pink.

The decision to let Rachel be as gray as Burch came when the Mythic Quest crew was making a quarantine episode that takes place largely over Zoom. The series’ head of hair had already sent Burch a wig when Mythic Quest showrunner and star Rob McElhenney asked if she would consider a storyline where she had let her hair grow in because she hadn’t been able to get it colored. Burch was game, and the writers put in a line where Rachel’s crush Dana (Imani Hakim) compares Rachel to Storm from the X-Men. “I was like, ‘Oh, well, there’s no world then in which Rachel ever dyes her hair again,’” Burch remembers.

Burch stresses that character choices take precedence over vanity. “You’re not going on Mythic Quest to, like, look sexy,” she says. Rachel would lean into the gray because her beloved Dana thinks it looks cool; the perpetually overwhelmed Poppy would never have time to go to the salon — she barely has time to feed herself. Still, Burch says it’s been rewarding to hear from women viewers who have gotten in touch to tell her things like “It’s nice to see women rocking their natural hair.”

Watching this season of Mythic Quest, I was envious, especially of Burch’s hair, even though I’m still ambivalent about my own incoming grays. I’ve spent hours in front of my bathroom mirror excavating the white curls tangled around my brown. I can’t decide whether I’m terrified or thrilled by their presence. During appointments to get highlights, I tell my hairstylist to make sure she traps them in foil with blond dye, but she shrugs me off and instead calls the grays my “sparkle.” I can see her point, but I’m still wary of that in-between phase where I'm just going gray and not glamorous gray.

Watching Burch, I realized what I can't wait for: Not my wispy nascent “sparkle,” but a full blown shimmer of exquisite gray. Just like Burch. Just like my mom.