SDCC 2016: ‘Con Man’ Goes Meta at Comic-Con

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 one where people start their wait the day before. “Con Man” is, in a sense, about those very people; it’s a new series from Alan Tudyk, Nathan Fillion and J.P. Haarsma about a guy who makes the con 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 Reynold’s spaceship Serenity and his character 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. The 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 Browncoats and special meetings where the Browncoats unite. In 2012, there was 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. The first season streamed on Vimeo in 2015. The second season is set to stream in late 2016.

“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 (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 way of increasing her 15 percent take of all the money that Wray makes–usually by increasing his suffering, and is a “free spirit” having sex with anyone.

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 2, 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, 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 2, “Of Mice and Men” becomes a musical and the title is changed to: “I’m with Stupid.”

Day plays an overly earnest talent assistant who insists in dressing like the Con guest whom she is helping that day. During Season 1, she was dressed like Wray and was able to act as a decoy when enraged fans were chasing him. For Season 2, 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, “So 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 2. Viewers began to wonder if Boutell was supposed to be real or imaginary.

Australian 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 2, there is a slight focus on hair. Haislip also confessed that she was somewhat chagrined that the script mentioned her very prominent eyebrows. The teaser for Season 2 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.”

There were dangerous stunts involved. North related how he was told he had to kick Ferrigno and he didn’t want to, he really didn’t want to, confessing, “I peed in my pants.”

The trailer for Season 2 announced that “This is going to be a train wreck but it could be fun to watch” but this was one of the funnier panels I’ve seen at SDCC.  “Con Man” Season 1 is now on Comic-Con HQ. Season 2 is supposed to available at an undetermined date later this year.



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