On the face of it, "T.I.'s Road to Redemption: 45 Days to Go" seems like the ultimate PR move. Arrested last year on federal weapons charges, rap artist T.I. (born Clifford Harris) reduced his sentence from a possible 30 years to an expected one year by agreeing to house arrest and logging 1,000 hours of community service. Much of that service was working with high-risk kids, which is, conveniently, also the theme of "Road to Redemption." Counting down the days to his incarceration -- "45" will change to "44," and so on -- T.I. attempts to scare straight a handful of these youngsters.
So it's tempting to view the show with a cynical eye, as a final attempt to polish up his seen-the-light image -- but "Road to Redemption" quickly rises above its vanity-project status, giving viewers a compelling glimpse into a world too often fetishized on television. The Street and its colorful denizens are mainstays of police dramas especially, with characters running the range from Huggy Bear of "Starsky and Hutch" to Snoop and her companions on "The Wire."
Likewise, the drug dealer turned law-enforcement-challenged rapper has become an American icon. But T.I. brings neither glamour nor pathos to his version of The Street. Charismatic and confident, he has no trouble acknowledging both his mistakes and the very real societal forces working on him in and out of jail. He was arrested by federal agents while attempting to buy a cache of weapons because he and his entourage had recently been fired on and one of his best friends had been killed.
"That grief, that anger, that paranoia . . . is what got me to that parking lot," he says. "Is it right? No. Do I regret it? Yes. Did it make sense at the time? Absolutely."
It's impossible to gauge the sincerity or long-term effect of such moments of clarity. But T.I. is admirably clear-eyed about his decision to change. And Lil' Pee Wee, the young man who is the show's first "case," could certainly do with a little help. His father was shot by his brother in a fight over his mother. Watching him peel off some bills as his mother asks for more, it's as if you're watching "The Wire," except it's real.
T.I. is just as comfortable in Pee Wee's squalid home as he is in a television studio. In fact, it's hard to imagine anyone easier in his skin than T.I., whether he's clapping the young hustler in jail with only a dictionary to keep him company ("He needs to improve his vocabulary") or escorting him to a mortuary, where a technician testifies to the grim end so many street hustlers meet.
T.I.'s message is simple: Hustling leads to two things, jail and death.
'T.I.'s Road to Redemption'
When: 9 tonight
Rating: Not rated