Debuting a brand-new show is difficult. That’s why, if your brand-new show stars the kind of breakout celebrity who can spin social media into pure chaos with just two sentences, you’re going to use that to your advantage. They’ll be in every trailer, every talking point, and every interview they can find time for. That is why we all believe Tiffany Haddish is the female anchor of TBS comedy The Last O.G., which premieres Tuesday night — because TBS basically told us as much.
But, if you go into the upcoming Tracy Morgan vehicle looking for a tour de force from everyone’s favorite new movie star and late-night TV guest, you’re going to be sorely mistaken. Unfortunately, the basic cable comedy could seriously use some of Haddish’s much-beloved magic.
We all probably should have figured The Last O.G. wouldn’t be Haddish Fest 2018 from the premise. The series follows the extremely likable Tray Barker (Morgan in his first role following the 2014 highway collision that put him in a coma), who is leaving prison after 15 years behind bars for dealing crack cocaine. Tray immediately returns to his native Brooklyn, but his neighborhood is no longer the place he remembers. Gone are all remnants of the working class Black folks, and in their place are countless high-priced coffee shops, well-off white people yelling at babies about the powers of seaweed, and the kind of young Black guys Tray assumes are drug dealers… until he realizes they’re actually brunch-bound hipsters dressed like the “slingers” of yore.
Soon enough, Tray realizes the invisible hand of gentrification has even gotten to the person he loves most, his ex-girlfriend “Shay” (Haddish), who cut all ties with her beau the moment he was arrested over a decade ago. “Shay” now goes by Shannon, is married to an affluent white man named Josh (Ryan Gaul), lives in a pricey brownstone, and hobnobs with the wealthy thanks to her high-powered career in philanthropy. In essence, Shannon created a fantastic, happy life for herself through Tray’s absence. Oh, and she gave birth to a pair of twins, Amira (Taylor Mosby) and Shazad (Dante Hoagland), who are 100% Tray’s children.
Despite Tray’s years of separation from Shannon, and his understandable lack of any foundation for life after prison, he’s desperate to win his “goddess” back. This should be an interesting rub, considering all the possible tension between the true love The Last O.G. wants us to see between its core exes and Shannon’s perfectly crafted existence, which protects her children very well.
While that would be a possibly addicting show — who wouldn’t want to watch Haddish use her boundless talent to work through that kind of conundrum with someone of Morgan's charisma? — the TBS comedy rarely is that show.
Instead, it mainly follows Tray through his many adventures adjusting to the new world. That makes sense, since the comedy is called The Last O.G. and not The Tiffany Haddish Show. That means the Jordan Peele-produced series spends a lot of its time exploring how Tray deals with swipe-right dating, finding a job, and the sometimes legitimately jarring cast of characters in his halfway house. That’s why you’ll quickly feel like you know the ins and outs of a man like Mullins (Cedric The Entertainer), who runs Tray’s landing pad of a home, long before you understand the inner life of so-called “female lead” Shannon.
Since it takes roughly five episodes to see any of Shannon’s layers, it’s difficult to really feel invested in the romance that’s arguably the center of The Last O.G. Before the season’s midway point, Shannon is mostly limited to scolding her ex, hanging up on her ex, and dodging her ex’s FaceTime calls. This emotional handicapping would be fine if we saw her in a passionate and loving marriage with Jeff, which would make sense since they have a wonderful life together, but, that’s not exactly the case either. Instead, Shannon and Jeff act like roommates who also have two children living in their house.
Speaking of the twins, Shannon’s relationship with Amira and Shazad — and how she handles explaining their previously unknown biological father’s return — is also skimped on in favor of more scenes between Tray and his kids. All together, it often feels like we hear about Shannon far more than we see actually her. That choice would be fine if Shannon wasn’t the ultimate obsession of the show and wasn’t played by one of comedy’s most hysterical stars; but, Shannon is on both accounts, so, narratively, there needs to be more to that story.
At least The Last O.G.’s tendency to have Tray endlessly pine over his lost love gives us a rarity on television: an ex-convict of color showing relentless, emotional love for his lady. Tray bristles when people call Shannon “his bitch,” he continuously talks about his appreciation for her personality over her physical attributes, and he stands up for her when no one else will. Although men like this obviously exist in abundance in real life, former convicts like Tray are usually reduced to a stoop-sitting cat caller or “Thug #5.”
While The Last O.G. might be sweet on Shannon, she still deserves better from it — much like her failed relationship with Tray. When she gets that amped-up respect, both the comedy and the co-parents will be better for it.
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