TBS made a smart decision when they said “yes” to “The Last O.G.,” the new series starring Tracy Morgan, which premiered April 3. This marks his return to a series and is approximately four years after a 2014 traffic accident that nearly ended his life.
It’s his show and he owns every frame. “The Last O.G.” is co-created by Oscar-winner Jordan Peele, who is executive producer with rising star Tiffany Haddish.
Only six episodes were sent but it’s easy to tell that with a strong writers’ room it has space to grow.
The story begins in 2002, on the night of the very first “American Idol” finale. Here, a careless Tray (Morgan), leaves his girlfriend Shay (Haddish) to make a quick “corner-store run” before the Justin/Kelly vocal showdown. Making yet another bad decision in the company that he keeps, he’s arrested on a drug charge and, after refusing to dime on his friend Wavy (Malik Yoba), spends 15 years in prison. Fast-forward to 2017 and Tray gets out of jail a changed man charged with determination to change his life, with cooking being the larger goal. He’s mandated to a live in a halfway house operated by Miniard Mullins (Cedric the Entertainer), a sad character who, despite not having much comic timing, aspires to be a comedian. Inside his new home, Tray shares the space with a number of ex-cons all with the same goal. One of the best “characters” in the show is his native Brooklyn shown in the uncomfortable situation we call gentrification and, as with many pockets of this city, the Brooklyn he once knew is now unrecognizable. To rub salt into his fresh wound, he discovers that the love of his life, Shay, has gotten married to a white man—a limp but well-meaning wanna-be hipster Josh (Ryan Gaul), and is raising two teenaged children (Taylor Mosby’s Amira and Dante Hoagland’s Shahzad) that Tray didn’t know existed. Yes, they are his kids.
Tray slowly explores the new Brooklyn while trying to determine which of his old “skills” coupled with his newly acquired prison aptitudes are still relevant. You feel for Morgan: He’s at home but far, far away from home, if you get my drift.
As the series progresses, there is a significant and welcome turn-down on the over-the-top comic shtick. The show becomes about opportunities missed with Shay and his kids, and when it focuses on his struggles to fit into a world that kept going without him, there’s a great story that wasn’t necessarily there before. There is the great potential to shape this show into something wonderful and timely.
One interesting and comedic moment occurs when Tray joins Tinder and goes out on an unexpectedly good date with a kind, single mother (Heather Simms), even though he doubts he’s really ready to give up on Shay.
Another great episode shows him desperately trying to avoid the sexually hungry prison fling with a character named Pooh Cat, played to the nines by “This Is Us” star Chrissy Metz. If Pooh Cat gets her own series, Mr. Jordan Peele, I want in on that writer’s room.
Hopefully, in season two, future episodes will give the actor Maldonado (Bobby), a versatile actor and writer, more scenes—a definite possibility since he’s joined the series writers’ staff.
“The Last O.G.” makes a herculean effort to convey Shay’s frustration and conflict at Tray’s return feel authentic. Haddish is containing herself, letting the script work for her and making her character a strong, complementary and necessary part of what will help this series thrive.