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The Last O.G. gives TBS and Tracy Morgan a vehicle that could go far


Tracy Morgan is very much the main man in The Last O.G. TBS photo

Premiering: Tuesday, April 3rd at 9:30 p.m. (central) on TBS
Starring: Tracy Morgan, Tiffany Haddish, Cedric the Entertainer, Ryan Gaul, Allen Maldonado, Taylor Mosby, Dante Hoagland, Malik Yoba, Joel Marsh Garland
Produced by: Jordan Peele, Tracy Morgan, John Carcieri, Eric Tannenbaum, Kim Tannenbaum, Joel Zadak

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Nearly four years removed from a near-fatal car wreck, Tracy Morgan is newly freed from 15 years of other trials and tribulations as the front-and-center star of a bold new TBS sitcom.

It makes for both a welcome return and a coming out party, with The Last O.G. looking to be well-suited to Morgan’s out-sized talents while also fine-tuning and sometimes even sweetening his persona as an ex-con named Tray.

Busted and incarcerated for dealing drugs (while also taking the fall for a bigger fish named Wavy), Tray returns to his old and now somewhat gentrified Brooklyn neighborhood in hopes of re-hooking with girlfriend Shay (Tiffany Haddish). They last were together on the night of American Idol’s Season One finale, when Tray wanted Justin Guarini to win over Kelly Clarkson because “his voice is buttuh.”

But all these years later, Shay calls herself Shannon, has married a white guy named Josh (Ryan Gaul) and is the mother of 15-year-old twins Amira (Taylor Mosby) and Shazad (Dante Hoagland). Both are black and Tray clearly is the father, a fact that O.G. makes clear from the start. Can their blood dad become an integral part of the kids’ lives? Does Shay/Shannon retain any strong feelings for Tray? And might he really make something of himself, as he vows he’ll do this time? For starters, he gets a job as a coffee house barista who has some bawdy ways of making customers feel welcome.

O.G. (which stands for Original Gangster) has a 10-episode first season order from TBS, which made the first six available for review. What stands out is the letter-perfect ensemble casting, Morgan’s ability to perform as more than a caricature and the comfy fit of Tray’s adventures and misadventures.

There could also be potential creative issues down the road. One can root for Tray’s success but not necessarily for a second chance romance between him and the woman he still worships as the “love of my life.” That’s because Josh is portrayed as a genuinely good and caring guy whom Shay/Shannon clearly loves. Why unduly mess with that?

The cast also includes a self-important halfway house director named Mullins (Cedric the Entertainer) and Shay’s screwup sidekick cousin, Bobby (Allen Maldonado). Wavy (Malik Yoba) also periodically reappears, but in a new and seemingly legit line of work. Shay’s halfway house upper bunk mate is Big Country (Joel Marsh Garland), who’s big and country and sometimes foul.

Morgan is in good hands with co-creator/executive producer Jordan Peele, who won a “Best Original Screenplay” Oscar last month for Get Out and also has an Emmy as the co-star of Comedy Central’s Key and Peele sketch series. So while Morgan is hardly a subtle screen presence, he’s more dimensional than ever before in O.G.. This is particularly evident in Episodes 4 and 6, which sequentially have Tray going on his first post-prison date and trying to school son Shazad on how to be a man after an incident at his school.

There’s no danger of Morgan or his show going squishy soft, though. O.G. makes liberal use of f-bombs, some of them barely muffled, and also sprinkles its dialogue with the full version of the n-word. C the T’s character is fond of dick references -- “The phallus is the number one piece of universal comedy gold” -- and one of rising star Haddish’s better and funnier moments comes in Episode 3 when she explodes, “I’m about to light yo ass up!”

Episode 5 features a guest appearance by Chrissy Metz of NBC’s This Is Us, whose character, Pooh Cat, had something of a thing with Tray in prison. The claws are out after she’s surprised to learn that he got out without telling her. Tray’s at first on the run and then disposed to do a little noisy business with Pooh Cat. “You look like Beyonce mixed with Rihanna mixed with Nell Carter,” he coos. OK, enough.

One more thing. Tray learned how to cook in prison and now considers himself a gourmet chef. He can’t convince anyone else of this in the early going, but O.G. could step back up to the plates as the series progresses.

Morgan’s real-life recovery makes him well worth rooting for. And now he has a character that quickly takes root. The Last O.G. keeps his decibel levels up, allowing Tray to vent before he bursts. But it also occasionally turns down his volume, letting him hit a sweet spot now and then while making it all seem to come naturally. Perhaps Morgan never knew he had this in him. Maybe audiences didn’t either. Surprise, surprise.


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