New series The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey opens with Samuel L Jackson looking as cool and sophisticated as usual, if a little older.
As Jackson’s titular character pours himself a drink and loads a gun, he leaves an eloquent message to Robyn (Dominique Fishback) telling her he’s about to go and seek revenge, only for him to suddenly be interrupted by a loud knock at the door. The show then rewinds two months, to when Grey was dishevelled, living in filth and suffering from dementia.
Jackson’s incredible transformation between these two versions of the same character is one of the main reasons why The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey is so fascinating to watch.
Unfortunately, while all of its performances are superb, the latest Apple TV+ miniseries is held back because it goes on for too long. Rather than each instalment being an hour, they should be 40 minutes, and you could even argue there should only be four episodes instead of six.
After its intriguing opening, the rest of The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey’s opening episode, titled Reggie, does a great job of establishing Jackson’s rapport with his loveable nephew Reggie Lloyd (Omar Benson Miller). When Reggie is murdered, Robyn steps in to care for Ptolemy. Not only does she clean his house, she takes him to the doctor’s appointment made by Reggie.
This is where the pair meet the mysterious Dr Rubin (Walton Goggins), who informs Ptolemy that he’s been chosen as the recipient of an experimental new drug that will cure his dementia. More than that, it promises to make his memory even stronger. The catch is that, after a month, the user usually dies. Grey decides to take it, and uses the time he has left to investigate Reggie’s killing.
There really isn’t a lot wrong with The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey. Despite having four different directors — Ramin Bahrani, Debbie Allen, Hanelle M Culpepper and Guillermo Navarro — over its six episodes, there’s a strong and consistent visual style to the show.
When Grey is struggling with his dementia, the camera tightens in on his face and goes out of focus on the edge of the frame, which helps to place the audience exactly in his mindset. Each episode is full of smart techniques and affecting sequences that keep you connected to Grey and his plight. Especially when it dives into his past in Mississippi, which unfolds in a dreamlike manner.
It also helps that this is yet another example of how powerful and affecting Jackson is an actor. While there’s no denying his popularity, it's sometimes forgotten how incredible he is at performing. Grey gives him a chance to once again show off the strength and humour he’s famous for. At the same time, though, he’s vulnerable, scared and genuinely moving all the way through, too.
Jackson is aided by his co-stars. Miller might only be in one episode, but he’s still incredibly watchable, while Fishback wrestles plenty of scenes away from Jackson with her own unique blend of dynamism and charisma.
Most of Walter Mosley’s scripts, which he adapted from his own novel, are excellent, too. His dialogue is sharp and it explores the impact of racism, memory and living in the moment in a thoughtful fashion.
Ultimately, however, the series is stifled because it tries to do too much. Episodes are too bloated, and while Jackson and Fishback stop the show from ever being dull, it doesn't quite reach the heights it was clearly capable of.
The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey will have its premiere on Apple TV+ on March 11