It was a beautiful August evening in Brooklyn, and Tracy Morgan was in a lawn chair on the sidewalk, steaming his face.
“Just to open the pores,” his makeup artist informed me. (Morgan was attended by a flurry of assistants; talking to him meant talking to a half-dozen members of his entourage, too.) The star was wrapping up a full day of shooting. Our interview, on the set of his TBS show, The Last O.G., had been postponed by six hours. Morgans an executive producer on The Last O.G.—with Jordan Peele and John Carcieri, the shows creators—so hes not just talent; hes management, too. I had spent the day hovering in his vicinity, waiting for an opening—which was easier than it sounds, because The Last O.G. was filming in my neighborhood. (Its second season premieres on TBS April 2.) As trailers and traffic cones popped up, my neighbors grumbled about yet another shoot hogging precious parking space in Brooklyn.
The first season of The Last O.G. revived a niche once occupied by The Cosby Show and Living Single: the black sitcom set in Brooklyn. Rooted in the boroughs historic African-American community, a comedy set here offers a clear sense of place. But the last few decades have been transformative for Brooklyn; many of the people that made the Notorious B.I.G.'s “Spread love, it's the Brooklyn way” into an unofficial motto have been gentrified out of whole neighborhoods, thanks to the boroughs popularity with hipster millennial settlers (like myself). The Last O.G. takes on a precarious balancing act—looking to the future, while rooted in a sense of history that seems to be eroding like quicksand.
Morgan still walks with a limp after a near-fatal car accident in 2014, which put Morgan in a coma and killed his friend and collaborator James McNair. The incident affected his memory and left him struggling to talk. His recovery has been remarkable, but the entourage still takes utmost care with him. He gets driven the few blocks to and from his trailer. The first chair presented for him before our interview wasnt the correct chair—so we all waited, Morgan leaning against the trailer, until someone found the right one. Then the face steamer, a funny plastic device exuding a cloud of vapor out of a bowl-shaped aperture, was placed in his hand. The steam curled around his face, adding a tinge of smoke-machine drama.
“Lotta people take care of me here,” Morgan said, with pride. “We are a family.”
And Morgan is their patriarch. The action revolves around him; the gazes of pedestrians passing through are drawn to his distinctive features, made famous by seven years on Saturday Night Live and another seven on Tina Feys hit sitcom 30 Rock. Morgans great at delivering a line, and he quips and banters with anyone who stops to have a conversation. But the presence he radiates goes beyond words; its as if all the worlds attention bends toward him.
He holds court almost effortlessly, pulling passersby into his orbit and impressing the force of his personality on each of them. “Congratulations,” he nodded to an affluent-seeming white couple, passing by with a newborn in a stroller. The man joked that hes ready to hand off the baby to Morgan, if Morgans interested. “No way,” Morgan said firmly, amused while ending that line of thought. Hes got enough problems already.
In the first season of The Last O.G., Morgan introduced the audience to Tray, an ex-con who returns to his old neighborhood in Brooklyn to discover a markedly changed landscape. The coffee has become fancy, the food organic; his ex-girlfriend, Shay (Tiffany Haddish), has married a white man, and goes by “Shannon” now. Tray is stuck living in a halfway house run by Mullins (Cedric the Entertainer) and hanging out with his young, down and out cousin (Allen Maldonado) while trying to figure out what happens next. Thats kind of it: The Last O.G. doesnt bother with forward momentum. Each episode offers a little more story, a little more context; in a flashback in Season 2, the audience will watch an abbreviated version of the four years Shay struggled to raise twins on her own without Tray, before meeting her future husband, Josh (Ryan Gaul).
For Morgan, the shows appeal is in how it participates in the ongoing conversation about Brooklyn—and specifically, about the community he grew up with in the neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant. Last April, Morgan worked with TBS to refurbish his childhood playground at the Marcy Houses housing project. At the ribbon-cutting, he fought back tears. In November, the borough granted him a key to the city. Service to Brooklyn, Morgan said in his acceptance speech, is “my way to heaven.”
“The Last O.G. isnt a show about the community. Its a show starring the community,” Morgan told me. “When you see all these trucks and stuff, this isnt just what we bring here. We bring hope. Especially in my community. They see me, Tiffany, and Cedric, and Allen. And they say, Wow, if they can do it, I could do it.”
“I thank God he spared my life,” Morgan said. “My daughters five years old now. When I got hit by that truck, she was only 10 months. And I just couldnt imagine my life gone without raisin my daughter.” I asked how it felt for him to be back on a set after that life-altering accident. He gave me a charming bit of attitude: “Im gonna let you answer that. What do you think?”
The Last O.G., from the start, has spent almost as much time in the past as it does in the present. Its understandable: Tray lost 15 years of his life. Upon returning to Brooklyn, hes like a dispossessed refugee, searching for the markers that used to indicate he was home. The viewer is put in his shoes, forced to reckon with all the ways his neighborhood has changed.
I was reminded of that when I stepped into the Park Slope brownstone where Shannon and Josh live. Haddishs Shannon, who has climbed her way into upper-middle-class affluence, is a poster child for self-made success; the tastefully appointed house is fabulous, from the low-slung Scandinavian-ish furniture to the ultra-hip tungsten-bulb chandelier. The marble countertops and contemporary art are a far cry from Shay and Trays dingy apartment—and seemingly a world away from the crowded halfway house Tray is now living in. Zillow estimates that the value of the actual house they're filming in has tripled since 2006, when it was last on the market; its currently “zestimated” at between $3.7 million and $4.5 million.
In Season 2, Shannon falls in with some old friends and lets one talk her into a revenge scheme against an ex—a plan involving mild trespassing. Loyal to the core, Shannon goes along with it. But as more details emerge, she finds herself sympathizing with the homeowner—a black woman named Faith with a similar taste in interiors. They meet on antagonistic terms, but in an adroit story line that stitches together female friendships, competition at work, and reckoning with the difference between who you were and who you are, Shannon gives Faith a job, and the two become friends.
For Haddish, that story line has personal resonance. Bresha Webb, who plays Faith, is a friend of hers—and Haddish is no stranger to the strange experience of life-altering success. “I have a new life,” Haddish said to me, during a break between scenes. “But its with the same friends. Me, I use the past to fuel me for the future.” Shannon, on the other hand, “she hides it, buries it,” so that she can have “a whole new existence.” Central to that existence is Josh (Gaul), the shows only regular white cast member. (Gaul, who is from Maine, joked to me that “My first word was basically flannel.”)
At first it seemed that The Last O.G. was intent on rekindling the romance between Tray and Shannon. Tray openly pined for her—and for the family life that they lost when he was imprisoned. As Season 1 went on, Tray kept illuminating sides of Shannon that she had kept hidden from her husband and children—parts of her personality defined by the past that she was eager to leave behind. Tray forces Shannon to confront the past, Haddish told me, and thats an important journey for her character. At this point in the series, though, “I highly doubt theres anything romantic there, whatsoever,” she said. “Shes way moved on.”
“Hes not even her type no more,” Haddish added. “I mean, look at Joshs body!” (Gaul was shirtless for a scene; I can confirm that he has a six-pack.)
“Thats just her tryin to body-diss me,” Morgan replied, with wry amusement. He also insisted that the romance wasn't a done deal, as Haddish suggested.
“This is how I respond to Tiffany,” he added, with more intensity than I expected. “The only muscle I need is my wallet. That's the biggest muscle on me at this point in my life . . . that's the only muscle I need to be in shape.”
Throughout our interview, Morgan constantly conflated himself with his character. He talked about Tray's journey in Season 2 as if it were his own. The difference, of course, is that Tray's short on cash; his wallet, as the bros say, doesnt even lift. In this moment, Morgan was boasting about his own Hollywood-money muscle—and kind of at Trays expense, too.
Morgan then asked me what I thought, as a woman. “You want a broke, good-lookin man? Or you want a generous, wealthy man?”
“See,” I said, feeling an unexpected awkwardness, “Im the earner.” I felt that perhaps we were in a deleted scene of The Last O.G., or somewhere in the blooper reel.
“There you go,” Morgan said, leaning back, looking a little resigned. “Thats just the answer to that question.”
Haddish and Morgan both grew up poor—but while Morgan was establishing himself on Saturday Night Live, Haddish was still sleeping in her car. Things have changed. A publicist for The Last O.G. quietly explained that because Haddish was hosting the MTV Movie and TV Awards the night of my set visit, the star was feeling a little drained: Shed had late rehearsals, and then had to wake up at 3 A.M. for her Last O.G. call time, and then had to go to the Barclays Center to host the show—where she would break out the same dress she wore for the entire 2018 awards season, and reunite her Girls Trip co-stars for a sketch where they inserted their own drama into Wakandan politics.
When I spoke to her, around lunch, the exhaustion was obvious in her eyes. But when the cameras were on, Haddish seemed animated by otherworldly energy. That day, Haddish and Gaul were filming a seduction scene of sorts—in an homage to Do the Right Thing, Haddish was teasing Gaul with an ice cube. The first take was wincingly bad, but as the actors warmed up, they found an elastic, playful energy. Their in-character banter kept escalating, take to take: “Thank goodness for these balls,” Haddish cackled at one point, jokingRead More – Source