A lot has changed over 15 years. That’s the basic premise behind “The Last O.G,” TBS’s new show. While that may seem simple enough, the show has many more tricks up its sleeve. Marking Tracy Morgan’s return to scripted television, the show delivers both laugh and heart. That’s mainly because creators John Carcieri and Jordan Peele treat the characters and the conflict with real sincerity. Peele is currently at a high point in his career after his Oscar win for “Get Out” this year. This show proves that he has plenty more ideas and stories to tell.
Tray Barker (Tracy Morgan) gets arrested in the early 2000s on a quick drug bust gone wrong. Fifteen years later he is released from prison, a changed man ready for a new beginning. However, the Brooklyn he returns to is very different than the one he left. No longer the same hood he once ran, Tray struggles to adjust to the bougie new place it has become. The neighborhood isn’t the only thing that’s different. His girlfriend, Shay (Tiffany Haddish) has become a high powered charity owner who is married to a white guy (Ryan Gaul) and lives in a brownstone. Tray teams up with a kid from the old neighborhood, Bobby (Allen Maldonado), to win Shay back.
Right off the bat, the concept really shines. Creators John Carcieri and Jordan Peele blend backstory and jokes in equal measure. From the opening moments, as the “American Idol” intro plays, we are transported back in time. Jumping into the present day, the show expertly dramatizes how gentrification has made Brooklyn this new, foreign place. Director Jorma Taccone (“Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping”) displays good visual wit. He makes Brooklyn both a vibrant cartoon and also something new and scary. The foundation of the show provides a long runway for great material. This makes it easy to wash away some of the more easy and predictable jokes, particularly around prison rape.
Tracy Morgan exudes a confidence that really works for a character like Tray. He tosses off jokes every which way. He also never fears being the butt of the joke as Tray navigates this new world. The narrative propulsion of the pilot finds Tray trying to win back his old girlfriend Shay. This story has been done before and often times can come off creepy and entitled. Morgan, luckily, shows us Tray’s good intentions. There’s a supportive quality to him that makes him an endearing character to follow.
Morgan too is a giving actor, having chemistry with everyone he shares a scene with. It helps that the supporting cast is great. Cedric the Entertainer comes off particularly well as the head of Tray’s group home. He trades jokes with Morgan with great ease, but isn’t afraid to acknowledge the challenges Tray faces as an ex-convict trying to re-enter the world.
Tiffany Haddish once again proves herself as a star. Shay gives Haddish new beats to play and shows her range. She’s a woman who starts out the show content to watch “American Idol” with Tray in a pre-gentrified Brooklyn. However, as the area changed, so did she. She’s the head of a charity organization to stop homelessness. She gives speeches at big donor events. Her professionalism shines through. Haddish refuses to play into the conventions of an ex that has moved on to bigger and better things. Her hardened edges and spitfire personality present in the early millennium serves her well in her professional career. She’s not afraid to clap back at Tray when he shows up back in her life. There’s a construction of the past 15 years of her life that will be exciting to explore in the coming weeks.
Already the show has become a big hit for TBS, and it’s easy to see why. The jokes land at every turn, but there’s incredible dramatic potential. Tray compares himself to Rip Van Winkle waking up in gentrified Brooklyn. The show demonstrates great potential to be both funny and enlightening on the plight of ex-cons in America. With talented people like Peele at the helm, “The Last O.G.” more than earns its place in the DVR as we see where it goes.