In 2002 Fox cancelled a television show, and two decades later the geek world has still refused to forgive them. Firefly is now one of the biggest cult hits out there, and the fans refuse to let it die, as do those who were involved. Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk (Mal Reynolds and Hoban Wash respectively) decided to make a web series that was loosely based on their experiences since the show. To raise the money to make it they went to the audience, launching an Indiegogo campaign, which ended up breaking numerous crowd funding records, raising over a million dollars in 24 hours, and ending up with over $3 million after a month. The result? Con Man, which has recently finished its first season on Vimeo for backers and is now available to the general public.
So how much does the post-Firefly world influence this story? Well Alan Tudyk plays Wray Nerely, an actor who played a pilot in science fiction series (tick) alongside Nathan Fillion’s character Jack Moore, who was a captain of the ship in that show (double tick). That show, called Spectrum, was cancelled after half a season (basically a tick) but is beloved by a segment of fans (tick) who, along with Jack, want to see a movie made from the show (just so many ticks). Part of the show’s allure is the thinly veiled resemblance to everything that happened. The story follows Wray as he deals with his less than satisfying life, dealing with conventions, crazy fans, peers and managers. While the show is called ‘Con Man’ only part of the show is actually set there, providing more of a backdrop to highlight Wray’s struggle.
The original goal of the Con Man Indiegogo campaign was to raise money for three ten-minute episodes. With enough money earned to stretch it out into a run of thirteen episodes, the series is split up into four mini-arcs, each running for between 25-35 minutes. Part of the beauty of a web series like this is there are no real constraints on time. It doesn’t need to fit a network TV slot, so the episode lengths vary (though they average out at ten minutes). As a result, each idea is fleshed out as it needs to: big concepts aren’t rushed through and a short idea isn’t needlessly stretched out, which helps the show’s pacing.
It would have been easy for the show to slip into insulting the very fanbase it is targeted at. The show weaves in and out of situations where Wray is dealing with fans, whether it is at conventions or in the restroom. But Tudyk and the writing team should be commended at straddling the line between funny and attacking. It mocks some of the ruder elements of fandom, but at the same time treats the average fan with respect and love. Jokes fly both at the fans and the stars and the result makes it all the more interesting and entertaining. While discussing the show on a panel Tudyk actually explained part of his concerns when he was originally pitching the idea to networks was that it would end up being written as more insulting that he wanted it to. It took someone who was immersed in that side of the industry, as well as someone who appreciates it, to find that balance between the two sides.
Part of the what makes Con Man shine is the parade the cameos across the thirteen episodes. Most of the Firefly main cast appear at one stage or another, and then there is everyone else. Nolan North, Felicia Day, Amy Acker, Seth Green and Sean Astin are just a few of the many names and faces you’ll spot roaming the Con Man series, and sometimes they even play themselves. Even Joss Whedon makes an appearance during one of the most hilarious cameo moments. Here’s where it gets weird though: Firefly/Serenity exists in the Con Man universe, which we find out when Wray meets Sean Maher, who was Simon Tam in Firefly. He plays himself in the show, and is recognised as being from that series by Wray. We don’t however get a multiverse style meet-up between Wray and the actual Alan Tudyk who would have played Wash in that universe’s Firefly (maybe they’re saving that for season 2).
It is incredibly obvious how much fun everyone has on the show. As you watch it you just know as soon as ‘cut’ was called there would of been laughter amongst the cast. This was basically made by a bunch of friends who were given money to have fun and film something, and as a result it feels a lot like Dr Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. The fun the cast are clearly having is infectious as a viewer, and as a comedy it is an easy show to sit back and laugh at. Not all the jokes land perfectly, the second arc in particular is a little weaker than the other three in this regard, but Con Man feels like an inside joke that you’re a part of. Nathan Fillion is a definite stand out, which is understandable as he gets the most screentime next to Tudyk and Mindy Sterling. His role as Jack Moore is as lovable as every other Nathan Fillion character, and acts as a nice contrast to the more glum Wray Nerely, and Felicia Day is adorkable in her role as Wray’s dedicated volunteer assistant.
This was the first time I’ve ever gotten involved in a crowd funding campaign, but contributing to its development was an easy decision given the people involved and the idea. The show is currently available on Vimeo for around $20, which unlocks it so you can stream it whenever you want. At that price, you get 2 hours and 44 minutes of genuine comedy. It is an easy watch, both in its structure and direction. You don’t need to be a Firefly fan to appreciate the show, but those who consider themselves Browncoats will inevitably feel closer to the vision of Con Man than the average viewer. The peak of this comes when they show parts of the fictional show Spectrum. Seeing Tudyk and Fillion interact again as pilot and captain of a space ship after all these years is surreal but amazing. The show itself is a proof of concept for where the future of crowd funding lies, and also proof that as long as there are people who remember, they will never be able to take the sky from us.