‘The Last O.G.’ Brings Back Tracy Morgan for a Tepid Laugh

The Last O.G.” is all about second chances. You can go to prison and come out a better person for it. You can find your ex and try to reconnect. Of course in the world of comedy (as in life) it doesn’t always go so smoothly. This is one of those sitcoms that has promise but deserves a better delivery. There are some jokes that begin with a decent premise, but the outcome doesn’t do it justice. The show has a notable comedy name in the lead, a relevant urban setting and lots of penis humor. These are elements which have been used and overused to impressive and unimpressive results. The trick is making the audience laugh while moving them at the same time. “The Last O.G.” tries hard to do the former, while clumsily trying to get to the latter.

Tracy Morgan plays Tray, a Brooklyn gangster who walks away from watching American Idol with his girlfriend Shay (Tiffany Haddish) one night to make a quick drug deal down the street. He’s arrested by the cops and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Once he’s out he is distressed to find the neighborhood has changed, gentrification abounds and Shay is now married to some white guy. He stays in a shelter run by the strict Mullins (“no fornicating after four o’clock”) played by Cedric the Entertainer. But as he settles in he becomes obsessed with one goal: Getting Shay back from the clutches of her Caucasian man. To do this he will need the help of Cousin Bobby (Allen Maldonado), who Tray lectured as a kid on the virtues of “The Godfather,” but will now school in the ways of making a fool out of yourself in chasing old flames.

“The Last O.G.” arrives at the tail end of some impressive TV programming centered on urban life in America. It wants to be the sitcom alternative to the big dramas but struggles with finding its footing. In terms of social commentary the season premiere opts for the lowest common denominator. Because Tray is played by Morgan the character has a naturally funny air, but he’s not written into anything other than a walking collection of bad punchlines. Much of the episode feels like a skit as opposed to a more fleshed out sitcom, with one liners that ring with the warning bells of trying too hard (“I want you to have a centaur booty”) or not trying at all. When Tray is let out of prison his big line is, “I never want to see another penis in my life, not even my own.” Surely there is a better way to do the classic prison shower joke.

Because the humor is so tepid, the show fails to generate much empathy for Tray. There’s not much reason to root for him other than the fact that he just got out of jail. The script never convincingly makes the case for how the guy expected Shay to wait a decade and five years for him. When Tray confronts her new husband, the very WASP Josh (Ryan Gaul), there is the potential there for some rowdy, provocative humor, but it’s wasted on more lame shots (“you’re a mangina”). Although Shay does have the hilarious line, “he’s a good guy, he writes voice overs for Anthony Bourdain.” Co-creator and now Oscar-winner Jordan Peele surprisingly keeps much of the material very lightweight. At times a wicked sense of satire pulls through, such as a scene where Tray walks up to two young black men standing by a corner with a gritty look and begins to lecture them on finding the right path. It turns out they are actually two gay guys waiting for a gentrifying white girl to pick them up. Some of the characters also feature cheerfully politically incorrect names like “Felony.”

The star of the whole enterprise is of course Tracy Morgan, who maintains a great sense of comedic timing in his technique, but delivers the jokes like Yo-Yo Ma being forced to perform “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” If the scripts get stronger he could truly take this material to rib-busting heights. Once in a while there’s a joke so dumb the delivery makes it funnier than it should be, like Cedric the Entertainer’s character telling a yarn about pulling someone’s dreadlocks and saying “hey brotha, looks like you outa locks.” Watch the scene, it’s all in that particular style that is special to Cedric.

“The Last O.G.” can find redemption if it makes Tray’s journey more interesting as the season progresses. It has the talent, now it has to give it worthy material. We want to care for the hero even as we laugh with him.

The Last O.G.”  Season 1 premieres April 3 and airs Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET on TBS.