Three years and a month after miraculously recovering from the horrific accident that changed — and nearly ended — his life, Tracy Morgan sits on stage at the Beverly Hilton during the Television Critics Association summer press tour, talking about his new series The Last O.G. While the premise — Tracy is Tray, an ex-con who returns to Brooklyn after 15 years in the clink to find everything in his life has changed — is intriguing, the first question on everyone's mind really is, How's Tracy doing?
"Thank God," he said to a room full of reporters. "That's all I got to say. Thank God." He latter added that, "maybe I'm a better man since the accident. I'm thankful." Morgan, whose recovery included learning how to walk and speak, said that the physical demands of the show — the standing, walking and long stretches of sitting common on sets — were mitigated by the great crew, who he said forces him to take breaks. "I'm good. I'm being taken care of by my people."
Care, as it happens, is a strong theme in The Last O.G. — Tracy's first full-time gig since the accident took him off the scene. Yes, the show's fish-out-of-water premise is inherently rife with comedy, particularly since the Brooklyn of 15 years ago looks so little like it does today, and Tray learns that his girlfriend Shay, played by comedy's new It Girl Tiffany Haddish, has married a white guy who's raising their twins. But there's more to the show than jokes: it's a show about redemption and people looking out for one another as they all (try to) evolve. "She had to transition," Haddish said of Shay, a "hood girl" whose new husband Josh (Ryan Gaul) introduces her to a world of wealth, philanthropy and socialite life.
"She loves her husband and she's giving her children something she never had. That's my dream," Haddish said and, acknowledging her newfound massive fame due to the success of Girls Trip, added, "I feel like I'm living it now." True to the outrageous and hilarious sense of humor that made her Jimmy Kimmel appearance go viral she added, "My bank account don't say movie star yet. They say it takes nine months. Like a baby! I'm waiting on the delivery."
Haddish's birth as a new comedy star; Morgan's second chance at life and a revived career: both stars' personal trajectories are apt parallels to the story of growth, change and acceptance in The Last O.G. Having been locked up for 15 years, Tray missed a lot — not least the Obama administration and the growth of the twin sons (Taylor Mosby & Dante Hoagland) he never knew existed. Since Tray lacks the skills to get by in the modern world (what's an app?) he ends up falling back on prison knowledge while treading unfamiliar territory. Cedric the Entertainer has a part that's about transformation too — he plays Miniard, head of the halfway house where Tray lives. He's also an ex-con working to maintain a new life, and help Tray get stabilized.
"He's an ex con, a straight shooter," said Cedric. "I don't have to hold anything back and that leads to a lot of comedy, from someone who was in the penal system trying to get back in society." His character is also an aspiring comedian. "I tell bad jokes, which is hard for me. It's not natural. We spend a lot of time on set writing bad jokes." That said, the clip of The Last O.G. played for reporters looked promising and hysterical; Tray rolls up on two tough-looking young guys hanging out on a corner in Brooklyn, guys Tray assumes to be drug dealers like he was back in the day. He's in the middle of giving them a lecture on changing their lives when a cab pulls up and a white girl yells from the window "Haaay bitches!" and we learn the guys are much more interested in mimosas at a fabulous brunch than selling crack.
Gentrification is a strong, if not overt, theme of the series. "I'm from Brooklyn," Morgan said. "I've seen it change — that's a part of it. We were shooting in places and I'm like, 'Wait — this wasn't here [before].'" Ryan Gaul, who plays Shay's new husband, went so far as to say Josh personifies the gentrification that's changed Brooklyn; he's come in and taken Tray's woman and kids. But Morgan was careful to point out that neither gentrification — nor white people — are any kind of enemy; Tray is happy Shay and his kids are flourishing.
"I have grandparents and aunts [still in Brooklyn]," Morgan said. "I would like them to be in a safer place. Tray is tangling with it because he was in prison." The life he once new has been replaced by the Barclays Center, high-end retail and high-rise condos. "He's in this world that's changed without him," said creator and executive producer John Carcieri. "There's an Archie Bunker quality to things he says. He's not up to speed on the new normal."
If you're thinking The Last O.G. sounds really dramatic for a comedy you're right. But, hey, speaking of adjusting to new worlds, comedies that welcome the drama we face in real life is the universe we live in now. Given all he's been through, Morgan probably shouldn't shy away from drama, and he sounded adamant that the message and heart of the show be the thing we remembered. "I had to get hit by that truck," he said. "If I didn't I wouldn't get to make the impact on the world I'm making now."
The Last O.G. debuts on TBS in fall.