Where to Watch: TBS
Premiere: April 3
Stars: Cedric the Entertainer, Tiffany Haddish, Tracy Morgan
Tracy Morgan couldn’t walk or talk after the 2014 car wreck that incredibly failed to kill him, but now, seven months from his 50th birthday, he triumphs in his first lead role on a successful TV show, The Last O.G. (The term, meaning “original gangster” — the criminal equivalent of “elder statesman” — was popularized by Ice-T's 1991 masterpiece rap album OG Original Gangster.)
Jordan Peele, who recently became the first black Oscar winner for original screenplay (Get Out), coproduced the show, featuring Morgan as Tray, who returns to his Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood after 15 years in jail for crack dealing. Tray is shocked by Bed-Stuy’s gentrification — it’s full of upscale moms urging kids to “eat the seaweed,” and his old drug boss (Empire’s rising star Malik Yoba, 50) now hawks a more profitable addictive product: $5 coffee.
Tray’s wife (Tiffany Haddish, the No. 1 breakout star of 2017 in Girls Trip) is happily and prosperously raising Tray’s and her teenage kids with a white husband, and Tray’s idea that she’ll take him right back proves unfounded. He bunks in a halfway house run by amusingly talentless comedian Miniard Mullins (the genius comedian Cedric the Entertainer, 53), lands a job, and struggles to adapt his gangster folkways to a place where the street’s main menace is soaring housing costs. “I feel like Rip Van Winkle,” laments Tray, “and I don’t even know who he is!”
Morgan doesn’t look impaired at all, and he still has some anarchic energy, but he’s gone way beyond the out-of-control persona that made him famous on SNL and more famous on 30 Rock. On the latter, he played a movie star with a gangster posse and zero impulse control, a guy inclined to run down I-405 in his underwear yelling “I am a Jedi!” or fall asleep on Ted Danson’s roof. On The Last O.G., he has to adapt to a highly controlled environment, and his anarchic impulses are funny, but it’s the poignance of his dilemma that’s the point.
Morgan’s gangster persona was popular because he radiates sweetness as well as unpredictable volatility, and he’s sweeter than ever now — while maintaining his street cred. He really did rise from the mean streets, and he retains his gift for malapropisms, telling one of Bed-Stuy’s white women, “Do you want to see another black man in the penile system?” He is definitely believable as a guy who’s come back from hell with an upbeat attitude and a new life that just might work out, against all odds.
Like the insanely successful Roseanne reboot, The Last O.G. starts out good, if a bit stiff and formulaic, then gets better in subsequent episodes as we get to know the hero’s circle and the cast gets into a new groove together. Tray’s attempt to fathom the new world of Tinder dating could have been played for broad, obvious comedy or wish-fulfillment fantasy. But it turns out to be a surprisingly touching encounter between a grownup single mom (Heather Simms, 48, of Law & Order) and an estranged dad who can offer more than horniness and poor impulse control. For that, Tray can turn to his old squeeze (Chrissy Metz of the smash show This Is Us).
Morgan proves two things in The Last O.G.: He hasn’t lost his comedy chops, and adversity has given him a whole new range as a dramatic actor.