Plenty of movies and TV shows today are being remade and reimagined. When I first heard the news about the series a few months ago, with the Bel-Air promo featuring The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song with a moody tone and lighting, I groaned. I thought Peacock was taking a classic family sitcom, and bogging it down with brooding teenagers, à la Riverdale and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. To be fair, they absolutely did do that with Bel-Air, but in this case, it works, and not just in a “teen drama” sort of way.
I’ve had the chance to see the first three episodes in the series, and it’s important to keep in mind that this is not the same show we remember from the early 90s. You have to go into it expecting a real drama series, and not some cooky group of people doing “the Carlton” in every episode. We know Will Smith broke every viewer with the classic “How come he don’t want me?” scene, but the show was primarily a comedy, and Bel-Air has gone a very different direction.
The base story remains the same, with the main character, Will Smith, being sent to Bel-Air after a dangerous run in on the streets of Philadelphia. He is sent to his “Auntie and Uncle’s in Bel-Air”, but it isn’t a charming, quirky song that gets him there. April Parker plays Vy, Will’s mom, and masters the “terrified for her son’s safety” experience in motherhood. Though she isn’t on-screen often, the tension she brings to each scene is felt deeply.
“The base story remains the same, with the main character, Will Smith, being sent to Bel-Air after a dangerous run-in on the streets of Philadelphia.”
Once comedic expectations were wiped from my mind, the story behind Bel-Air is very powerful. Though the characters’ names are the same, and they share similarities with the original show, much has changed, moving the series in a sombre direction. Olly Sholotan has brought a completely new take on Carlton and does so with conviction behind every line.
Though plenty of the base emotions and issues in the show are similar to the original series, the way they are handled in 2022 feels more realistic. Will adapting to a new city and school, Carlton sharing the attention of his parents, Hilary (Coco Jones) finding her own path—these are all things we have seen in so many other shows. Bel-Air brings a new, modern twist to the classic blunders of being a teenager. Hilary is a social media influencer now, dealing with prejudice based on her gender and skin colour. Carlton’s issues run much deeper than a need for attention and perfection, and Will struggles with his identity more than ever in this rich, primarily white environment.
“Bel-Air brings a new, modern twist to the classic blunders of being a teenager.’
Jabari Banks has taken the role of Will Smith on, and he is clearly aware of just how big a role that is. He brings charm to the character, much like in the original, but also hits heartbreaking lows that will have viewers glued to the screen. Anyone who hasn’t seen the original show will be able to find something to connect with here, and those who have seen it, will get a kick out of the little nods to the 90s series, many of which come from Will’s character.
Who I was watching, though, was Adrian Holmes as Uncle Phil. His role is iconic and, perhaps, the most important to fill. Not only was the original actor, James Avery, a huge name who we lost in 2013, but the relationship between Philip Banks and Will Smith was paramount to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s success. Holmes brings a different sort of stern to the role, with flashes of warmth and protection that Uncle Phil is known for. Very much a different feeling to the role, but somehow the same. I’m very happy with this casting, and excited to see how the role progresses throughout the seven-episode series.
We are not in the same Bel-Air we know from 1990. The world is a bit darker, teens are crueler, and filled with even more angst. Technology and mental health are at the forefront of society and Will Smith is just navigating through it all the best he can with help from new friends and hindrances from new enemies. If you love a good drama or are willing to go into the series with an open mind, Bel-Air will keep you watching.