On Monday night at SXSW, Tracy Morgan premiered his new TV show The Last O.G. to a standing ovation.
The series, which is set to air April 3 on TBS, is Morgan’s first since recovering from a 2014 car accident. He told the audience in a post-screening Q&A that he’d had the idea for the show for about seven or eight years, but when he was recovering from the accident he was watching a lot of Key & Peele, and wanted to be part of the “Key & Peele magic.” The universe answered: The Last O.G. was created and co-executive produced by John Carcieri and Jordan Peele.
In the series, Morgan plays Tray, who is released from prison after 15 years, after getting pinched in a drug deal, and struggles to find people from his old Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood. Tiffany Haddish plays his girlfriend Shay, who, in the 15 years he’s been locked up, has changed her name to Shannon and married a white man—and had two kids who happen to be Tray’s.
Tray is crass. He makes a couple of cringe-worthy prison rape jokes. When he finally lands a job at a coffee shop run by his old friend Wavy (Malik Yoba), he openly comments on women’s appearances, much to the horror of his co-worker. He bursts into Shay’s life even though she’s married now. But he also has a vulnerability that comes through, which he showcased as Tracy Jordan on 30 Rock.
The show is obviously trying to comment on gentrification. In the first episode, there are jokes about brunch and strollers. Director Jorma Taccone (the Lonely Island) said they filmed at the coffee shop he goes to and used the exteriors of real Brooklyn housing projects to keep things genuine. Haddish steals any scene she’s in, of course, and though only two episodes were screened on Monday, I’m hoping she’s given more autonomy.
After the screening Haddish said she tried to give Shay a backstory to help her understand where she’s coming from. She was also asked about her inspiration for getting into comedy, which included Who Framed Roger Rabbit, mainly the scene in which the detective asks the rabbit why people are doing nice things for him: Because he makes them laugh. (She also said she would host the 2019 Oscars, as long as she got paid.)
When asked by an audience member about advice for struggling comedians, Morgan gave an answer that resonated beyond the theater: “You know what freedom is? No fear.”