Protagonist Tray Barker (Tracy Morgan) is an ex-con who has just finished serving a 15 year sentence in prison and is planning to jump right back into his old life in Brooklyn with his girlfriend Shay (Tiffany Haddish). However, he returns to a gentrified neighborhood completely different from the one he grew up in. Much to Tray’s dismay, Shay is now married to a white man named Josh (Ryan Gaul), prompting Tray to attempt to win her back. While Tray’s central motivation is not particularly original, the show’s focus on the effects of gentrification provides an interesting critique and angle.
One effect of gentrification manifests in the way Shay’s character develops in the time between Tray’s arrest and release. As Tray discovers, Shay has become the leader of an organization seeking to end homelessness, and in order to get donations she must present to a room full of rich, white people. Tiffany Haddish does a fantastic job altering her body language, tone, and vernacular between when she is speaking to an old white couple and when she is speaking to Tray one-on-one. Tray views this as an abandonment of her true self, while Shay, who goes by Shannon now, sees it as a necessary part of her success. Both seem to have a point.
Along with Morgan and Haddish, the show features other great comedians in the characters of Gaul and Cedric the Entertainer. While Gaul only has a cameo in the pilot, Morgan and Gaul show hints of comedic chemistry in a brief on-screen interaction. One of the funniest scenes of the episode is a conversation between Mullins, the halfway house owner played by Cedric the Entertainer, and Tray, as Mullins defends his right to make sex-related jokes. Even in scenes where Tray is not meant to be the main source of humor, Morgan’s delivery and demeanor are enough to maintain the energy of the show.
The show’s main weakness is its plot, a fault of its all too familiar central trope. While the pilot just provides a taste, it is still not evident that the characters will become sufficiently compelling to make up for this mundane objective. However, in the meantime, the social commentary and humor of the pilot are interesting enough to generate hope for the rest of the series. As a whole, “The Last O.G.” promises to be at the very least a watchable show, but without compelling characters, it won’t break through to greatness.
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