‘The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey’: Samuel L. Jackson lowers the volume as a man getting his memories back
Playing a dementia patient in Apple TV+ series, the prolific actor provides a reminder of his range.
You’d be hard-pressed to name a more visible actor than the great Samuel L. Jackson, who has nearly 200 acting credits on his IMDB resume and is forever popping up and adding his unique signature style to billion-dollar franchises, action films and amusing commercials that make us really want to believe Jackson takes road trips with Charles Barkley and Spike Lee. Jackson is such a ubiquitous presence we can almost forget he’s a gifted actor with a lot more in his tool kit than f-bombs and high-decibel line deliveries.
The six-part Apple TV+ series “The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey” serves as a valuable reminder of Jackson’s versatility, with the 73-year-old veteran playing a 91-year-old man battling dementia and trying to right the wrongs in his life — and a much younger version of that man, thanks to some startling but effective digital de-aging wizardry.
Adapted by Walter Mosley from his novel of the same name, this is a beautifully shot, well-acted and warmhearted modern fable, with Jackson leading a stellar cast that includes Omar Benson Miller, Walton Goggins, Cynthia Kaye Williams — and Dominique Fishback, continuing to build an impressive resume with her work as the teenage girl who becomes Ptolemy’s unlikely caretaker, friend and partner in crime.
Two episodes available now on Apple TV+, with an additional episode posted each Friday.
Jackson’s Ptolemy has advanced dementia and lives a hoarder’s existence in his second-floor Atlanta apartment, where he receives regular visits from his loyal and loving grandnephew Reggie (Omar Benson Miller), who does his best to make sure Ptolemy is safe. and his needs are tended to. After Reggie is murdered, Ptolemy’s niece, Niecie (Marsha Stephanie Blake), kicks Robyn (Fishback), the 17-year-old daughter of a family friend, out of her house and sends her to clean up Ptolemy’s apartment and look after him.
At first resentful that she has no place else to go and she’s stuck with this addled old man, Robyn eventually takes a shining to Ptolemy and becomes his protector and protégé as we learn Ptolemy might be in possession of buried treasure worth millions and must plan how to distribute that fortune. Enter one Dr. Rubin (Walton Goggins), a boundaries-pushing clinical researcher who offers Ptolemy the chance to undergo an experimental procedure that will restore Ptolemy’s memories — but only for a very short time, after which Ptolemy’s condition will relapse and most likely worsen. (Ptolemy takes the deal but continually refers to the doc as “Satan,” noting the Faustian nature of this agreement.)
As Ptolemy plays detective and tries to solve Reggie’s murder while fending off the greedy and nefarious efforts by various extended family members to separate him from his money, we often toggle back in time to when Ptolemy was a little boy and his beloved father figure and guardian Coydog (Damon Gupton) was lynched, and to Ptolemy’s days as a young man, when he fell in love with his beloved, long-deceased wife Sensia (Cynthia Kaye McWilliams). Stretched over six episodes, the series sometimes gets bogged down in repeating itself, and tacks on a few too many epilogues after a classic contesting-the-will sequence that would made for a most satisfying ending. Still, this is a richly written, wonderfully acted series with a heartfelt, searing, tender performance by Samuel L. Jackson that ranks among his very best.