A powerful tale of dementia in ‘Ptolemy Grey’


Ptolemy Grey | Apple TV+ Press

James Galan

Apple TV+’s new limited series, “The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey,” premiered its first two episodes on March 11. The six-part series is expected to release subsequent episodes on a weekly basis. The series is based on Walter Mosley’s book of the same name and stars Samuel L. Jackson in the title role. For Jackson, who also serves as executive producer, this is his first lead role in a live-action television series.

The show revolves around a 91-year-old African American man named Ptolemy Grey who struggles to live with rapidly progressing dementia. When Grey is offered the opportunity to temporarily regain his memories, he investigates his nephew’s murder and come to terms with the ghosts of his past.

The show has been a passion project of Jackson’s for more than a decade. He originally purchased the film rights to the book in 2010, and tirelessly hunted for a studio to help adapt the project.

While he is renowned for starring in some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters, Jackson’s latest project holds a special place in his heart. The actor himself has first-hand experience with dementia as both his grandfather and mother were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

In an interview with People Magazine, Jackson and his wife, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, spoke on their family’s experience.

“It’s such an insidious disease. It’s a horror to watch. And we watched his mother go through it,” Richardson Jackson said.

Speaking on the opportunity to adapt the novel, Jackson added that he was “creatively interested” in sharing the story of someone with Alzheimer’s who had the opportunity to get their memories back with a “fantasy drug.”

“It’s a chance that people don’t have in real life and I thought it was a powerful vehicle to share Ptolemy’s story,” he said.

Given that this series deals with such an important topic, it’s hard to ignore the emotional message that the show seeks to share. It immediately tugs at our heartstrings by introducing Ptolemy in his cramped apartment, littered with trash and infested with bugs, where he watches cable news and struggles to hold on to his memories.page1image52419712 page1image52419904

The show continues with the sudden death of his nephew, who also served as his caregiver. This unfortunate event, however, brings Robyn into Ptolemy’s life and the two bond immediately.

Robyn, an orphaned 17-year-old, is played by Dominique Fishback. Although Robyn is a supporting character, she shows her determination and honesty by cleaning up the filthy apartment and caring for the ailing man. Fishback’s performance as Robyn brings a combination of intellect and sensitivity that makes her stand out from other characters.

Meanwhile, Jackson immediately captivates audiences with his charisma and ability to switch between playing two different personalities. The first is a depressed Ptolemy who Jackson brings to life with visual acts of frustration and crying. Later, the actor switches to a confident and empathetic man who has regained his memories.

As a result of these two actors’ amazing performances, the highlight of the show is the love and respect that is built up between these two characters. Their budding relationship is further emphasized by just how well Jackson and Fishback complement each other.

However, there is another side to Ptolemy’s story, an aspect that is not as well received by audiences. When Ptolemy visits his doctor, played by Walton Goggins, he is offered an experimental drug that will restore his memories temporarily, but also drastically shorten his lifespan. Ptolemy ultimately chooses to take the drug with the side-effects being periods of lucidity in the form of flashbacks.

While the importance of the flashbacks comes across, the scenes are too long and take away from the relationship between Ptolemy and Robyn. Moreover, these flashbacks distract from Ptolemy’s quest to find his nephew’s murderer.

Overall, “The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey,” is a tenderly written coming-of-age story, a murder mystery and romance all in one. While the show can feel dreary and slow at times, there is no denying how effective it is at tackling such an important issue.