Tracy Morgan’s formerly incarcerated character Tray on “The Last O.G.” returns home to find a completely different Brooklyn, but the one he left behind 15 years prior was actually exaggerated on screen.
“It was funny for me to think that we were really only referring back to 2003,” the series’ set decorator Jennifer Greenberg says. “When a lot of us think of the old New York City and Lower East Side and Bed-Stuy, we tend to mentally think of something older.”
“The Last O.G.” filmed most scenes on location around the borough, including in Sheepshead Bay, Williamsburg, Prospect Park and, most predominantly, Carroll Gardens. When designing the set, Greenberg admits she looked to recreate a Brooklyn more representative of the ’70s or ’80s to show a drastic change to the nabe that viewers could quickly identify with.
Scenes involving pre-prison Tray, set in 2003, are notably dark and grim when compared to current-day shots. A cornrowed Morgan is seen making fried chicken alongside a ’70s-style Osterizer kitchen blender, walking streets lined with abandoned mattresses and strutting past kids propped up atop old crates on a trip to the bodega.
“The reason it was important to make the earlier Brooklyn have a more retro vibe versus the present is simply that you’re trying to amplify what the main character feels,” explains Greenberg, who also serves as the set designer on the Manhattan-based “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”
The series’ plot toys with the idea of magnifying the effects of gentrification and stems from Morgan’s own experience within the evolving Bed-Stuy development where he grew up, the Marcy Houses.
Morgan himself has said he’s identified with the shock of walking into a “new Brooklyn” after sustaining a substantial brain injury from a 2014 car crash.
“It’s weird to see white people walking down Myrtle Avenue, unafraid,” Morgan said on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” “I’m a black man from Brooklyn and I’m afraid. I come out of a coma and everything has changed!”
Morgan’s Tray seemingly steps out of a time machine when he returns to the neighborhood in 2018 and is met by trendy coffee houses, selfie-stick holding teens, hipster food trucks and small fluffy dogs.
“The audience only has moments to see a contrast, so you have to make choices that allow the viewer to quickly see how much has changed,” Greenberg explains. “Tracy Morgan’s character, his memories are connected to that older aesthetic.”
The sun literally shines brighter on the block where Tray once lived, as vibrant colors, shrubbery and other set design decisions were made to further define the change in time.
“The newer world is cleaner. More minimal. Less personal in a lot of ways,” she adds. “Nowadays, the sense of neighborhood is background, if it is there at all.”
“The Last O.G.,” which has already been picked up for a second season, airs new episodes every Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. on TBS.