Gentrification is perhaps one of the most divisive and prevalent buzzwords nowadays, representing a sort of reverse middle-class flight to once-scorned urban areas that have suddenly become trendy. In the crossfire stand minorities who have been calling the area home for decades, the kind of people Tracy Morgan wants to spotlight in his TV comeback, “The Last O.G..” While Morgan reaches his buoyant and insightful best at points in the premiere, the show’s fast and jarring pace makes for a somewhat uncomfortable watch.
Morgan plays a low-level Brooklyn street hustler named Tray. In the process of conducting a deal — despite repeated warnings from his girlfriend Shay (Tiffany Hadish, “Girl’s Trip”) — he is incarcerated for 15 years. A talented cook, he gains the respect and admiration of his fellow prisoners, but he is determined to rejoin society as a force for positive change when he is finally released.
What awaits him is a thoroughly unexpected surprise, as the tides of gentrification wash over his beloved neighborhood jaunts, rendering them virtually unrecognizable. Morgan convincingly pulls off Tray’s shock, but his reactions to different groups of people from back home seem over-the-top and unrealistic. At one point, he tries (that is, fails with comedic effect) to bond with some youth who he assumes are street hustlers before they are whisked away by their yuppie female friend. However, when he meets his little cousin Bobby (Allen Maldonaldo, “Dope”), he admonishes him against his current path as a hustler.
These interactions are just an example of the rather frequent changes in tone that occur throughout the episode. Tray switches constantly between being motivated to be a new force for good in his neighborhood and being frustrated with new developments that make him feel like Brooklyn has lost its character. For example, he finds out that Shay is married to a white man, Josh (Ryan Gual, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”). There is quite a bit of potential in exploring this conflict within Tray, but at the moment, there seems to be more of a distinct set of storylines rather than an actual internal conflict.
Nonetheless, the potential is there to explore this topic from a fresh, humorous perspective. Episode one’s purely expository nature prevents it from doing so, but there is hope that with all of the introductions out of the way, later episodes can introduce some insightful satire.
While Morgan’s exuberant personality and sense of humor are reliable sources of laughs, awkward moments, such as a ridiculously overwrought prison rape joke, undercut his more valiant efforts. To make things worse, a few sketches, namely an interlude with a halfway house owner (Cedric the Entertainer, “The Soul Man”), fall flat. The premise and Morgan’s screen presence can propel “The Last O.G.” into a decent show, but the rather poor execution of the first episode of “The Last O.G.” may hamper these factors. Like Tray himself, the show might just still be learning.