The biggest problem with television as an art form right now is that it gives us too many new shows but too few new stories. Doctors. Lawyers. Cops. Wild teenagers. Families with Neanderthal husbands, harassed wives and a few cute kids. Series taking place in space or in a fantastic kingdom, where political conflicts echo our own. There is comfort in familiarity, of course. But it’s a rare treat these days to come across a premise that feels genuinely original.
Such a story is The Last Days of Ptolemy Gray, the thrilling six-part Apple TV+ miniseries that creator Walter Mosley adapted from his own 2010 novel. Samuel L. Jackson embraces vulnerability in his portrayal of the title character, an elderly man with dementia who lives in squalor city, surrounded by the detritus of a long and difficult life. Most of the time, he drifts aimlessly in his own memory, with only his visions of his surrogate father Coydog (Damon Gupton) and his late wife Sensia (Cynthia Kaye McWilliams) for company. Then, as his mental decline accelerates, Ptolemy loses his nephew and guardian, Reggie (Omar Benson Miller), whose murder he only records after falling on the open coffin at a gathering in honor. of the young man.
At the same event, Ptolemy is introduced to 17-year-old Robyn (Dominique Fishback from Judas and the Black Messiah), an orphan family friend who cared for her drug-addicted mother. She is to be his new home help, and she proves to be a great help, overcoming Ptolemy’s stubbornness and inconsistency to clean up his stinking apartment and restore some dignity to his existence. They form a bond so pure and fierce that it seems almost supernatural.
There is, in fact, only one sci-fi element to the series: one of Reggie’s last acts was to enroll Ptolemy in a mysterious clinical trial administered by a certain Dr. Rubin (Walton Goggins), which promises to temporarily restore Ptolemy’s memory and spirits. The experimental treatment would allow him to settle decades of unfinished business, but at what cost?
None of this is terra incognita for Hollywood. In many ways, the protagonist we meet in the first episode of Ptolemy Gray looks like Anthony Hopkins’ character in last year’s Best Picture nominee The father-lost in the quagmire of his own mind, still falling through trapdoors to alternate realities. Touching stories of intergenerational friendship aren’t that hard to find either. And the substance of Ptolemy’s quest, and the medical technology that enables it, addresses one of the most pressing and frequently explored issues of our time: anti-black racism.
What feels so fresh – and so successful, thanks to the stunning performances of Jackson and Fishback – is the boldness with which Mosley combines seemingly incompatible elements. It deftly weaves together the devastation that follows the betrayal and uplifting of found family, sci-fi and stark realism, character development and socio-political commentary. When Ptolemy dubs Rubin “Satan,” the Faustian nature of their bargain becomes undeniable; Goggins downplays Rubin’s reaction, complicating the white man’s role with dark self-awareness.
There’s more than one way to talk about love, grief, injustice, and hereditary trauma. Fiction offers the unique chance to interpolate old themes into new metaphors, reinvigorating crucial conversations bogged down by cliché. In Ptolemy GrayMosley uses this ability like the superpower that she is.
The Last Days of Ptolemy Gray debuts March 11 on Apple TV+