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Comic-Con 2016: Alan Tudyk's Meta Web Series "Con Man"

You might not expect a web series to end up opening a Friday morning at San Diego Comic-Con's infamous Hall H; Hall H is the place where people start their wait the day before. But "Con Man" is, in a sense, about those very people: it's a new series from Alan Tudyk, Nathan Fillion and PJ Haarsma about a guy who makes the convention rounds. Friday's panel included Tudyk, Felicia Day, Haarsma, Nolan North, Mindy Sterling, Liam McIntyre, Alison Haislip and Fillion.

Fillion is a Canadian actor best known for playing successful novelist Richard Castle on ABC's recently cancelled mystery series "Castle." But at SDCC, he is best loved for playing Captain Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds in Joss Whedon's 2002 science fiction series, "Firefly." That series only lasted one season on Fox (14 episodes), but the continued fan activity resulted in a movie, "Serenity."

Tudyk played Hoban "Wash" Washburne, the pilot of Reynolds' spaceship Serenity. Wash was married to the ship's first mate, Zoe (Gina Torres). The premise of the series, which crossed the Western with science fiction, was that China and the United States had merged into a single powerful diplomatic partnership called the Alliance. The planets that exist outside of the Alliance's control were lawless like the 19th-century American West. Reynolds' spaceship is named after the Battle of Serenity Valley, a decisive battle between the Independents or Browncoats who wanted to remain independent of the Alliance, but ultimately lost.

In the wilderness of this space opera, a cannibalistic tribe of savage humans, the Reavers, threaten the settlers, traders and other space pioneers. In the movie, Wash dies near the end, killed by the Reavers.

To understand "Con Man" and the "Con Man" panel, you have to know all this and know that each year at San Diego Comic-Con. There are also special meetings where Browncoats unite. 2012's Comic-Con featured a 10th anniversary panel reunion at SDCC with Joss Whedon, Tim Minear, Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk, Summer Glau, Adam Baldwin and Sean Maher. Yet references to "Firefly" go beyond gatherings of geeks. The CBS sitcom, "The Big Bang Theory," has referenced the show as did the NBC comedy "Community." "Con Man" set crowd-funding records by raising more than a million dollars in 24 hours through Indiegogo. 

Written and directed by Tudyk, "Con Man" is about a struggling actor named Wray Nerely (Tudyk) who once played a main cast member, a pilot, in a 2002 science fiction TV series, "Spectrum," and makes money by hitting the comic and science-fiction convention circuit because the canceled series has a huge cult following. His good friend Jack Moore (Nathan Fillion), who starred as the spaceship's captain, has been much more successful.

Wray may be a star at the conventions and comic stores where he appears, but he lives in a one-bedroom apartment hoping for guest-starring roles in any TV series that will take him. Wray's predicament isn't helped by his booking agent, Bobbie (Mindy Sterling), who finds ways of increasing her 15 percent take of all the money that Wray makes—usually by increasing his suffering.

Playing a vain variant of himself, Fillion, served as the moderator for the panel and began by training his loving audience. "When I say, 'I run a tight ship,'" he said, "You say, 'sir, yes, sir.'" One of the first panel announcements was that the fictional "Spectrum" was going to become a real digital comic strip. On August 24, fans can also have "Con Man: The Game." Fillion pretended to steal credit for the game, the comic strip and even the web series. Fillion claimed, "I remember when I first came up with the idea for 'Con Man.' Alan, I don't think anyone is arguing that you were the first one to say it out loud, but I had an idea ... first." He later added, "You nailed my idea, perfectly."

For season two, the big surprise was the casting of Lou Ferrigno ("The Incredible Hulk"). Tudyk and Ferrigno were constantly bumping into each other at various conventions around the world. Tudyk recalled that Ferrigno came to him and said, "You know what we should do? We should do: 'Of Mice and Men.'" Tudyk replied, "Oh, yeah? Also, no. But I have an idea about that."

Ferrigno wanted this to be different: "I hoped that I don't play Lennie." In John Steinbeck's story, George and Lennie are two friends who find work on farms. Lennie is a strong hulking man with a simple child-like mind who in moments of rage or even, affection, accidentally kills. George attempts to protect him as they travel from job to job. In "Con Man" season two, "Of Mice and Men" becomes a musical and the title is changed to "I'm with Stupid."

Felicia Day plays an overly earnest talent assistant who insists on dressing like the convention guest she is helping that day. During season one, she was dressed like Wray and able to act as decoy when enraged fans were chasing him. In the new season, she is shadowing Ferrigno and had to wear a muscle suit. Day revealed that while filming it was 110 degrees and the suit is insular. She explained, "People just kept shoving ice packs inside me. It wasn't sexual." That worried the producer, who on one occasion saw Day was as white as a ghost. "And that's pretty white for me," Day noted, showing the blazing whiteness of her arms.

"Con Man" also has this mysterious bartender, John Boutell (Casper Van Dien), who appears in every city where Wray is and had no dialogue during the first season. That might change during season two. Viewers began to wonder if Boutell was supposed to be real or imaginary.

Australian Liam McIntrye who plays Girth Hemsworth (the "lost Hemsworth") usually portrays Americans and commented how it was so weird using his natural accent. As a result, "I can't use my actual voice," he said, demonstrating, "I have to put on some kind of super Australian accent."

Another panelist quipped, "Australians are taking all our jobs because they are just more American."

During season two, there is a slight focus on hair. Actress Alison Haislip also confessed that she was somewhat chagrined that the script mentioned her very prominent eyebrows. The teaser for season two included a shocking clip of a bald Fillion. The writers were afraid to approach Fillion on that scene, to which Fillion noted, "I only have three things going for me and two of them are my hair."

Dangerous stunts were involved in the production. Nolan North related how he was told he had to kick Ferrigno and he really didn't want to, confessing, "I peed in my pants." 

The trailer for season two announced that "This is going to be a trainwreck but it could be fun to watch," but this was one of the funnier panels I've seen at SDCC. "Con Man" season one is now on Comic-Con HQ; season two is supposed to available at an undetermined date later this year.

Jana Monji

Jana Monji, made in San Diego, California, lost in Japan several times, has written about theater and movies for the LA Weekly, LA Times, and currently, and the Pasadena Weekly. Her short fiction has been published in the Asian American Literary Review.

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