Wray Nerely is not having a good day, perhaps not even a good decade. It’s ten years since Spectrum was cancelled, and while the show became a cult favourite it is also the albatross which haunts him, a role which casting agents and viewers look on as defining him when he wants to move on, a goal hampered by his need to supplement his income by regular appearances at science fiction conventions.
This particular weekend is turning out spectacularly bad, as with his mind dominated by his upcoming audition for Clint Eastwood’s new film he is obliged to travel coach class long distance with a bad back for an event where his friend and former co-star Jack Moore has just cancelled his own appearance, leaving Wray the main attraction when he would rather be elsewhere himself.
Created, written, directed by and starring Alan Tudyk, there are obvious and intentional parallels with his own post-Firefly experiences although with dozens of film, television, theatre and voiceover credits since Serenity last took flight, his latest project being an unannounced part in Gareth Edwards’ Star Wars spinoff Rogue One, Tudyk’s career has not languished in the same manner as his alter ego.
Despite his packed schedule, Tudyk and his fellow Firefly cast have become regular convention guests across the world, their huge popularity no doubt having contributed to the decision to fund the initial episodes of web series Con Man via the crowdfunding website Indiegogo. With 46,992 backers offering a grand total of $3,156,178, the initial $425,000 target for three episodes was successfully expanded to a full season of thirteen.
Additional recruits for the project include Firefly and Castle’s Nathan Fillion as Jack Moore, Tudyk’s former captain playing his former captain, The Guild and Geek & Sundry’s Felicia Day, no stranger to creator owned web content herself, as his convention assistant Karen and Lord of the Rings’ Sean Astin as himself, another convention guest handling the situation better than Neary.
Now previewed to backers, the first four episodes Stalled, Cash Poor, Behind the Lens and Retarding It All Up see Wray make his painful way to the convention while accosted by ungrateful fans, endure an confrontational autograph session, rehearse his audition before blacking out on painkillers and then discover the consequences of his behaviour at the meet and greet while under the influence of the mix of drugs and alcohol.
Cameos in the opening quartet have included Starship Troopers’ Casper Van Dien and Star Trek The Next Generation’s Wil Wheaton with many more fan favourites expected in future episodes including Firefly’s Gina Torres and Sean Maher, Battlestar Galactica’s Tricia Helfer and Michael Trucco, Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Seth Green and Angel’s Amy Acker.
With the concept similar to Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s Extras, a show better remembered for celebrity cameos than its actual content, Tudyk has been keen to stress that while Con Man is inspired by his experiences on the convention circuit and in wider fandom that it is not in any way autobiographical, that this is a work of fiction and the actors who appear as themselves will be correspondingly exaggerated, the first episode consciously warning of those who cannot discern between character and actor.
Treading carefully so as not to bite the hand that has just fed him substantial funds, the targets are broad: fans who have no concept of boundaries or appropriate behaviour, agents who are more concerned with promoting themselves rather than their client (the brilliant Mindy Sterling as Bobbie), and the Tudyk has never been afraid to make a fool of himself in public as evidenced by Death at a Funeral or Tucker & Dale vs Evil but the question remains of how funny it would be if the performers did not have a pre-existing relationship with the audience to trade on.
With the enforced divisions of the ten minute webisode format feels like a series of somewhat over-extended sketches rather than segments of a structured whole it’s diverting rather than demanding. Tudyk and Day are incapable of being anything other than amiable company, and the script makes valid points about fandom (“science fiction is supposed to be about the future, why are fans so obsessed with the past?”) but the result borders on twee, lacking a caustic edge which would mark it out as “one to watch” other than for the parade of familiar faces.