What I’m Watching: Con Man

Sometimes, there’s an actor who just makes everything better. No matter the project, if this person’s involved, you know it’s going to be good, or at least better than it might’ve otherwise been.   

For my time and money, Alan Tudyk is one of those people. Probably best known for playing pilot Hoban “Wash” Washburne in Joss Whedon’s Firefly and Serenity, Tudyk is an actor you probably recognize from at least one thing, even if you don’t know his name. He’s played robots in I, Robot and Rogue One, Bruce Wayne’s cousin Van in Powerless, a stoned, naked funeral attendee in Death at a Funeral, a misunderstood swamp-dwelling ruralite in Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, a fake squire in A Knight’s Tale, and he’s done voices for Robot Chicken, Frozen, Big Hero 6, The Tick, and Halo 3. The man gets around, performance-wise, and he’s consistently brilliant.

One of Tudyk’s newest projects is a series called Con Man, and it’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time. In case you think that’s hyperbole, understand this: When my wife and I watched it recently, my stomach hurt from laughing, even more than the last time I got tricked into doing sit-ups. It’s also worth noting that we binge-watched the entire first season in one evening. That’s commitment.

Con Man is about Wray Nerely (Tudyk), a struggling actor best known for playing a spaceship pilot on a cult-classic sci-fi show called Spectrum. Wray isn’t doing much these days, other than recording voiceover work, making the odd comic book shop appearance, and attending lots of conventions. His Spectrum co-star Jack Moore (Tudyk’s Serenity and Firefly co-star Nathan Fillion) has found fame and stardom and wants Wray to join him for a new Spectrum movie.

There’s only one problem: Wray hates science fiction, he hates conventions, and most of all, he hates Spectrum. From there, things go nutty.

If the best thing about Con Man is Tudyk, the second biggest draw has to be its enormous cast. One way to describe the list of actors in Con Man would be to define it as “Everyone Who’s Ever Worked for Joss Whedon on Television, Including Joss Whedon,” but that would leave out the long list of other folks who appear throughout. Leslie Jordan, Milo Ventimiglia, Michael Dorn and Sean Astin play themselves in a few short but pivotal scenes, and Mindy Sterling features prominently in some of the series’ funniest bits as Wray’s fanatically driven booking agent Bobbie.    

Con Man is based on some of Tudyk’s real-life experiences, but the series takes those premises and spins them out into a coherent yet outrageous yet somehow entirely believable story. Some of the laughs come from the customary places—the obsessive fans and their homemade costumes, the angsty actors living at the mercy of a fickle entertainment industry—and they hail from the low, middle and high brows.

A large part of the humor in Con Man, though, is smart and even understated, so much so that the inattentive viewer might miss or misinterpret it. Humor is in the eye of the beholder, and parody can often be seen as ridicule. Criticism of Con Man often focuses on the way it portrays fandom, but that take misses the point. Sure, the show pokes fun at sci-fi fans, but only insofar as it pokes fun at people, with their vanities, insecurities, and aspirations. Every character in this series is delightfully off kilter, and there are no heroes or villains.

If you’ve ever been to a sci-fi/fantasy/comic con, or if you love the genres, or even if you just know Serenity and Firefly, give Con Man a look. While watching, you’ll also come to understand the true genius of Alan Tudyk. You can thank me at your convenience.

Con Man Season One is now available on SyFy On Demand and Amazon.