Con Man started life as a fan-funded project on Vimeo. In season 2, Con Man has moved to Comic Con’s new streaming platform Comic Con HQ. The move is a perfect one for Con Man as it is now surrounded by like-minded original programming such as the other comic convention comedy, Kings of Con, and other geeky shows like Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest. Con Man may have the perfect home but it might not be the perfect series quite yet. Con Man is an enjoyable experience but it is filled with inconsistencies, having some high highs and very low lows.
Leading Man Material
For those who are unfamiliar with the series, Con Man is a comedy webseries created by, produced by and starring Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk. The actors take inspiration from their real life and play characters somewhat based on themselves. Alan Tudyk is Wray Nerely, a character actor who desperately wants to be a leading man. Meanwhile Fillion fills the role of Jack Moore.
Like Tudyk and Fillion, Jack and Wray starred together on a TV sci-fi cult hit and Jack has had the more successful career afterwards. The interactions between Wray and Jack are sparse but delightful whenever they do occur, if for no other reason than the chemistry between the actors. Con Man is a labor of love for both and it shows on-screen.
Really, though, Con Man season 2, much like season 1, is all about Wray. Tudyk is the indisputable lead of the show and the real reason that Con Man works at all is because of him. The fact is that Wray is not that likable of a character. He is clearly meant to be the lovable loser archetype but often times he is too selfish or petty to be really sympathetic. Tudyk manages to take Wray’s more neurotic qualities and not necessarily soften them but at least make them work as jokes. A lot of the humor in Con Man season 2 is hit or miss but Tudyk is always able to produce chuckles playing Wray, thanks to his superb comedic timing and innate sense of humor.
Cameos Big and Small
Unfortunately, the other performances are not quite up to snuff. Fillion is fantastic in his brief appearances. He takes Jack, who like Wray is a thinly drawn character, and makes him amusing. The same goes for Mindy Sterling as Wray’s agent, Bobbie. Both Bobbie and Jack are cartoony but Sterling and Fillion are fully committed to their ridiculous roles. Even the lamest of jokes lands with their deliveries.
The rest of the cast, which is a revolving door of familiar TV faces, is not as strong. This has nothing, really, to do with the actors’ ability. Con Man sees everyone from Lou Ferrigno to Eliza Dushku appear. The characters are just one-note and it often feels like the acting talent is being wasted. Dushku in particular plays a completely bland character.
Too Much of an OK Thing
Con Man‘s greatest downfall is probably the format. The show is essentially a serialized sketch comedy show. There is a storyline — Wray trying to get onto the hottest new show of the year, Doctor Cop Lawyer (you can guess what it’s about) — but only the minimal amount of work is done. Each episode of Con Man is really just one long scene that crams as many jokes and celebrity cameos into it as possible. When Con Man works it is hilarious, and when it doesn’t it is kind of irritating.
The best example of this inconsistency is exemplified by Nolan North’s character, motion capture artist Jerry Lansing. North appeared in Con Man season 1 as the same character and in his first season 2 appearance North is incredibly hilarious. Every subsequent time Jerry pops up it is a case of diminishing returns. The joke is already exhausted after about 10 minutes of the first appearance. There is no reason to go back. Con Man does go back, a lot.
There are number of callbacks and running jokes in Con Man season 2. They are funny for the first two times and quickly grow dull. The most irritating one is the jokes about the aforementioned Doctor Cop Lawyer. As should be obvious from the title the show is about a man who is a doctor, a police officer and lawyer. It’s a funny meta-style joke about TV shows but Con Man pokes so much fun at the idea that it stops being clever almost immediately. Con Man doesn’t really know when the show has crossed the line from funny running joke to repetitive irritating gag.
Con Man‘s episodes typically clock in around 15-20 minutes but the strongest ones are usually on the shorter side. Some might find the web-series format frustrating but Con Man is designed to be taken in small doses. The show works when the set-up and punchline follow each other in short succession. Con Man really is like a live-action cartoon and its best not to think about it too hard. The easiest way for that to happen is to cut things off as quickly as possible. If you’re a fan of Tudyk or Fillion it is certainly worth a watch but there is nothing in Con Man to entice new fans.
Con Man season 2 is streaming now over on Comic Con HQ.
(Image courtesy of Comic Con HQ/Lionsgate)