Jabari Banks as Will in Bel-Air.
Jabari Banks as Will in Bel-Air.
Photo: Greg Gayne/Peacock






3/5 Stars


A reimagined version of the beloved sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, set in modern-day America which sees a dramatic take on Will's complicated journey from the streets of West Philadelphia to the gated mansions of Bel-Air. 


We live in the time of reboots, spin-offs and sequels, and it feels like nothing is truly original. One might say that Bel-Air is a product of this, but I think it found a way to use what came before it to tell a story that is very familiar to modern-day audiences, albeit something that does not feel wholly unique.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was a moment in time. It was a show that captivated audiences worldwide with its broad, physical comedy and touching moments. It was an excellent showcase for the talent of future Oscar-winner Will Smith. Following that was bound to be a tall order for any filmmakers.

The idea for the remake came after a trailer by Morgan Cooper showing a dramatic version of the Fresh Prince went viral in 2019. It was seen by Will Smith, who then met with Morgan Cooper and helped to expand the idea into a full series. Any fan of the previous series going into this version expecting The Fresh Prince 2.0 will be extremely disappointed because other than character names and a few plot points, it shares little resemblance to its predecessor, but I also think that that works in its favour because it allows it to explore a different side of the themes presented in the original series.

Like the original, it tells the story of Will (Jabari Banks), a good student and talented basketball player who lives in West Philadelphia with his single mother. After an incident with some local gangsters, he is arrested and caught with an illegal firearm. After his Uncle Phil (Adrian Holmes) pulls some strings to get him out, the gang members come after him, and his mother (April Parker Jones) sends him to his family in Los Angeles to get away and be safe.

This is where the story differs; the Banks family that Will meets when he comes to Bel-Air is very different. Phillip is running for District Attorney, and the family is preparing to enter the world of politics. Aunt Viv (Cassandra Freeman) is an artist turned art professor who struggles to find her creativity again. Hillary (Coco Jones) is a food influencer who is trying to bridge her African American roots and the white space of influencing. Carlton (Olly Sholotan) is the most different to his sitcom counterpart. He is still an overachiever, but almost to his detriment. He takes drugs, brushes off microaggressions from white classmates and instantly dislikes Will.

Bel-Air really leans into the teen drama aspect of the show. It feels like something that would be at home on the CW or Freeform alongside shows like Riverdale, All American and 90210. And that seems as if it was what the show was aiming for. It was an attempt to show that themes such as assimilation to white spaces, police brutality, upward mobilisation, and classism are not topics that young people in the 90s were dealing with; it is almost even more prevalent now. This show is not for the fans of the original but for the young people who are looking to find themselves in their own version of Will.

The series also explores what it means to be black and successful in a way that the original show did not really delve into. For Phillip trying to relate to the voters is difficult because of his wealth; for Viv, it is trying to marry who she was with who she has become, and for Will, it's adjusting to his new surroundings and trying to forge his own identity at home and at school.

Unfortunately, although the show has a lot of potential, it seems lost on its' own about where it is going. There are some interesting plot points around Phil's ambition, Will's relationship with his father and Carlton and Will's relationship, but most of it feels shallow and like something we have seen in other shows before. It feels as if Bel-Air is still trying to shed the skin of its predecessor and is not able to step into its own just yet. It will be interesting to see what the series explores next season as it is able to step out into new terrain.


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