Review: Alan Tudyk's 'Con Man' Is As Funny, Bizarre, and Weirdly Touching As Ever
Like most people, I've never been a big fan of watching shows on subscription web services I don't know—why pay for anything else when Netflix and Hulu have everything under the sun? But after watching the second season of Alan Tudyk's Con Man on Comic-Con's video subscription service (it's called Comic Con HQ), I was so glad I took the chance. "Con Man" is dark, clever, and painfully humorous, with spot-on jabs at the weird nerd-world that is the convention circuit. Wherever it's hosted, drop whatever you're doing and watch it.
For those not up to speed, Con Man is a more-or-less fictionalized version of Alan Tudyk's life and experiences in the aftermath of Firefly: he plays actor Wray Nerely, whose big role was in a cancelled sci-fi show that became a cult classic, called "Spectrum." He spends his days touring cons, doing signings and trying to get roles that will let him escape his sci-fi steretype, all while dealing with obsessed fans and a cast of recurring characters who are borderline sociopaths.
Episode 7: "Pin Cushion" starring Lou Ferrigno and Felicia Day
Episode 7 of the new season features former body builder Lou Ferrigno as himself and Felicia Day as Karen (playing Ferrigno's body double, despite being a petite little person). The episode starts with Wray at a convention called the Long Con, hearing that Ferrigno is putting on an off-Broadway play of "Of Mice and Men" and wants Wray to have a role in it. The two get lost on the way to their respective signings, enamored with trying to figure out the logistics of the play, and eventually get trapped in a boiler room with a door that locks from the other side, where a trickle of lost convention-goers join them as they, too, take the same wrong turn. The band of misfits eventually begin putting on their own rendition of the play, which Lou has turned into a musical and renamed "I'm With Stupid." Here's a clip from the episode:
Like a lot of Con Man episodes, this one goes from kinda weird to straight-up absurdist real fast: a Hispanic guy in a pink tutu and Lazy Town wig gets locked in the boiler room early on, sees Wray, and screams "I'LL SEE YOU IN HELL!" for no adequately explained reason. By the end of the episode, he is building a barn for the set. It's a particularly tragicomic episode because Wray goes into this whole thing with Ferrigno because he wants to get back to the "art" of acting, and break out of the "business" of sci-fi and the tedious hell of the convention circuit. After learning just how stupid the play is, however, he gives in to despair and breaks down. But then Lou delivers the most wonderfully tender, lisping speech I've ever heard:
When you're an artist, there's no way out except through art. We're all here, at this convention, to celebrate the echoes of past creation. But that's no way out. Right here, right now, anything is possible. We could fly out, on the wings of imagination. But we need you...and each other...and maybe a horse, for the barn scene."
That speech in the episode, as they say, is worth the price of admission.
Episode 8: "I'm With Stupid" starring Lou Ferrigno and Felicia Day
While Episode 7 teased an actual musical with Alan Tudyk and Felicia Day, we never really get to see the actors sing in earnest, which was profoundly disappointing. Episode 8, however, delivers in goddamn spades, with wonderfully melodic songs from Tudyk and fantastic choreography from all the trapped convention-goers. Episode 8 still takes place in the boiler room, but now it's been transformed into a fully furnished stage, complete with a campfire and costumes:
One of the best moments is Nolan North's character Jerry Lansing. Jerry plays the dog in the production, which is shot by one of the farmhands. North drags himself around the stage, howling and barking before slumping over, then interrupting the next song four times with his death throes, requiring the farmhand to shoot him again and again until the farmhand is running around the stage, making gunshot noises while North tries to escape. Jesus. Second best is "Turn Around," the emotional song Wray sings before shooting Lenny (Lou Ferrigno). The tears are real.
The episode ends with the production being streamed on a bunch of video sites, rocketing Lou and Wray to national fame and snagging them a real spot as an off-Broadway production, at which point Lou breaks the bad news: they're replacing Wray with an English actor to play George. As Lou goes back on stage and leaves Wray alone, Nolan North's dog starts howling, over and over again, reflecting Wray's shattered dreams.
God damn it, it's sad.
Holy damn, go watch Con Man. For $5 a month, you can start on Comic Con HQ. It's everything you needed, but didn't know you wanted.