Bel-Air masterfully reimagines the iconic Fresh Prince of Bel-Air flipped-turned upside down. Find out more in our Bel-Air review.
Inspired by a YouTube short film, Bel-Air reimagines the iconic sitcom, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, as a modern-day drama. The viral success of the YouTube video reached Will Smith, who is now producing Bel-Air with his production company Westbrook. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air continues to connect with audiences old and new, being one of the few shows to stand the test of time and transcend generations. With so much love and acclaim, fans are rightfully wary of anything or anyone touching its legacy. Even if it is the Fresh Prince himself, Wil Smith. But rest assured, Bel-Air is the rightful heir to the throne.
Most reviews would summarize/introduce the series before breaking it down. However, Fresh Prince unquestionably had the most informative theme song that prefaced the series perfectly and it also still applies to this series. Will Smith and Peacock have graciously provided a global mashup of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince to get everyone caught up.
Bel-Air Doesn’t Play
Right off the bat, Bel-Air makes its dramatic take eminent. The series plays out the events that lead to will leaving Philly rather than using a theme song and it is far more pressing than Will Smith being spun around. The OG series presents Will’s situation as a good opportunity that his family came up with as an alternative to his situation, Bel-Air presents it as the only way to save Will’s life. Philly isn’t making fun of him for running away after he lost a fight in this series, Philly is saying he snitched to save himself.
The new interpretation of Will’s move sets the tone and the stage for the rest of the series. Will’s unexpected relocation is as much a surprise to him as it is for his cousins. While Hilary and Ashley are seemingly in favor of it, Carlton is much less enthused and questions the reason. They were told by Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv told the Banks kids that will is coming for a better education opportunity at Bel-Air Prep. Uncle Phil makes it a point that Will sticks to that story.
The Fresh Prince vs Bel-Air
The comparisons of the two series are unavoidable. There will be fans who do not want their memory of the original series approached at all. Just like fans of any long-running franchise, they feel a sense of entitlement and will likely attack the existence of Bel-Air just for existing. There is nothing anyone could say or do to appease them, so let them be. But for those open to a new version, and maybe a bit skeptical, rest assured the series is made to add to the legacy and not replace it.
The different approaches and genres of the two shows would usually keep them from every being in the same sentence, but as Bel-Air is a new take on the Fresh Prince, the comparisons have to be made. The new series does a masterful job of preserving the characters, themes, and overarching story of its inspiration, but focuses and explores different elements of it. While cultural differences were played for humor and reliability in the original, they are usually highlighted and more divisive this time around. This plays out in intense fashion with Will and Carlton especially.
Will and Carlton were definitely opposites n the Fresh Prince, but they usually walked together in the same direction begrudgingly getting the other to their level of understanding. In Bel-Air, their differences put them on clashing paths with submission as the endgame rather than understanding. In the original series, Carlton did show jealousy of Will garnering attention and being popular, but in the new series, Carlton is not jealous of Will getting attention, he is jealous and enraged that he is taking it from him.
This subtle reframing of key elements of the original series is prevalent in every episode. It is a masterwork of being inspired by and not directly copying. Bel-Air is obviously created by people who know, love, and understand Fresh Prince and have a unique way to add to the story. Showrunners T.J. Brady and Rasheed Newson, with Director/Co-Writer Morgan Cooper, who are all Executive Producers on the series as well, have miraculously made everything old new again. To say they understood the assignment is a mighty understatement.
I’d Like to Take a Minute, So Sit Right There
There is no denying the greatness of The Fresh Prince. It stands the test of time and continues to garner fans around the world. But even approaching this matter is sure to make some people feel a type of way. This is not meant to take anything away from The Fresh Prince, it was made with the best intentions, and was revolutionary. This is not to say the original series was lacking. But Bel-Air has something that is immediately apparent Fresh Prince did not. It is felt right away and radiates throughout everything. That difference isn’t onscreen, it’s in the writers’ room.
The Fresh Prince lacked Black writers for a majority of its run. The writers were very open to rewrites and input from the cast and others, which definitely played to the show’s benefit. If you watched the reunion, the situation is mentioned, but the cast had nothing but positive things to say about the writers. They did a fantastic job and adapted masterfully. But Bel-Air immediately brings that presence and first-hand authenticity to the writing.
Bel-Air doesn’t skirt certain issues or try to make things safe for TV, it goes right at it. If things go out of line, the show is literally unafraid to punch it in the mouth. It is a blunt directness that is a major contrast to the tone and genre of The Fresh Prince and a refreshing direction that feels very unfamiliar to the company that is known for series like Friends, Seinfield, and Frasier. Bel-Air is completely unfiltered about being Black in a white space and it is pure excellence.
Movin’ with You’re Auntie and Uncle in Bel-Air
The contrast of the interpretation, the genres, and the experience in the voice, create an entirely new experience from a lifetime of familiarity. The series constantly surprises you with things you already know. It is a beautiful paradox that happens again and again throughout every episode. So while audiences likely know the direction of the story, they will be delightfully unfamiliar with the path of the journey.
Every character fans know and love is back the same but different. They will be instantly recognizable strangers they can’t wait to become acquainted with. The essence of every main character, and even some of the more obscure supporting characters, are reborn. Characters like Ice Tray/Tray Melbert, played by Stevonte Hart, are given more presence, and Cartlon’s friends actually have names. And Jazz, played by Jordan L. Jones, isn’t a lighthearted slacker, but a grounded Los Angeles-hustling confidant. No detail from Fresh Prince is forgotten or unnoticed, and now it likely plays a bigger part.
Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv, played by Adrian Holmes and Cassandra Freeman, embody pure success on all fronts. They are experts in their fields, wonderful parents, and continue to want to grow and develop. Albeit in very different ways. Then there’s Geoffrey, played by Jimmy Akingbola, who seems much more like a fixer than a butler. Akingbola upped Joseph Marcell’s class and turned it into swag. While Marcell’s Geoffrey was the unsung glue of the Banks family, Akingbola looks like the secret answer to the Banks family’s unknown questions.
The Banks Children, Ashley (Akira Akbar), Hilary (Coco Jones), and Cartlon (Olly Sholotan), focus on very different aspects of the characters. Akbar’s Ashley is the most familiar, but sadly the least seen in the first three episodes of the series. But she perfectly captures the wit and charm of the youngest Banks sibling, and will no doubt shine when her storylines come. Jones’ Hilary does not focus on the fashion and status that the original Hilary was introduced as. Jones’ Hilary is focused on becoming the woman she chooses to be outside of her parents, mainly her mother’s, plan. She knows who she wants to be and will not compromise herself to do so.
Olly’s Carlton is as successful and as accomplished as the original, but this time around, the show highlights that he is celebrated and elevated by all because of it. To put it simply, Olly’s Carlton is widely recognized, not just as cool, but the epitome of cool. Olly radiates calm, cool, and collected, despite his Carlton’s issues and pressures of being at the top. This highlights the incredible shift in his performance as Carlton is forced to make room at the top for Will.
How He Became a Prince of a Town Called Bel-Air
Jabari Banks as Will is absolutely perfect casting. Regardless if they like the series or not, Banks’ performance is undeniably magnificent. Banks perfectly embodies Will’s Will in a way that makes viewers question, is he channeling Will Smith, or is this just what comes out of West Philly. Banks is cool, confident, and capable. Unlike Smith’s Will, Banks isn’t underestimated and overlooked, he is impossible to not see and is pressured to reel it in.
Banks brilliantly leads the audience into the new direction Bel-Air takes the story. He is the anchor that lets the audience know this is The Fresh Prince, but different. Banks makes me believe, if the original goal was for The Fresh Prince to be a drama, this is what Will Smith would have been doing. From the fade to the kicks to the masterful play on words, Jabari Banks has captured and repurposed The Fresh Prince for Bel-Air.
Sit on the Throne
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air holds such a dear place in the hearts of many and continues to reach so many more. A new version was unnecessary and unwanted by many. However, Bel-Air takes everything we loved and makes it new again. It isn’t necessary, but it also can’t be missed. The spectacular performance of the cast, the deeper dive into the themes that were played for humor, the new genuine perspective of not only being a fish out of water but being a fish where it isn’t necessarily welcome or wanted allows audiences to retread this journey with new eyes.
To put it simply, Bel-Air is a masterpiece. it should be regarded as the standard of reinterpreting a franchise. It adds to the legacy of The Fresh Prince without altering the existing work in the slightest. It also has one of the best soundtracks of recent television and wonderfully integrates all aspects of culture into the identity of the series. Its authenticity may jar some people initially, as the show does not aim to please the typical audience NBC historically targeted. But its story, production, and performances are sure to win even some of the harshest skeptics.
Bel-Air gets a 5/5.
Set in modern-day America, Peacock’s new one-hour drama series Bel-Air imagines the beloved sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air through a new, dramatic take on Will’s complicated journey from the streets of West Philadelphia to the gated mansions of Bel-Air. As these two worlds collide, Will reckons with the power of second chances while navigating the conflicts, emotions, and biases of a world far different from the only one he’s ever known.
Executive produced by Will Smith, and inspired by Morgan Cooper’s viral trailer that reimagined the iconic, culture-defining ‘90s sitcom, Bel-Air takes a fresh and raw approach to this world of swagger, style, and aspiration, while exploring Will’s complex journey through a current lens. The new series features an ensemble cast that introduces Jabari Banks as Will and a creative team that includes Cooper, who serves as director, co-writer, and executive producer, and co-showrunners and executive producers T.J. Brady and Rasheed Newson.
Bel-Air Premieres on Peacock Super Bowl Sunday, February 13, 2022, with its first 3 episodes.
Are you going to binge the first 3 episodes of Bel-Air before the Super Bowl? What are you most excited about in the series? Who do you hope cameos from the original series? Let us know what you think in the comments below and be sure to share your reactions with us on Social Media.