It’s a story about how Will’s (Jabari Banks) life was turned upside down when he found himself in a not-so-small gang fight on the streets of West Philadelphia that scared his mother for that she moves in with her wealthy aunt and uncle in Bel-Air. Will he be able to take advantage of his second chance?
When it comes to 90s sitcoms, The prince of Bel-Air is in a class of its own. The show that effectively launched Will Smith’s acting career ran for 148 episodes, becoming known as much for its musings on race and class as for its star’s adorable humor. Morgan Cooper’s 2019 viral short film based on the show opened up a book long considered closed and ultimately led to Bel-Air: a dramatic reimagining of the ’90s show that retains much of the essence of its forefather while putting its own stamp on the proceedings.
Like the show it’s based on, Bel-Air uses its deceptively simple setup as a vehicle through which to have important and necessary conversations about everything from n-word use and Black-on-Black biases, to the unfair biases of the prison system and more. But the longer length of each episode, in addition to the modern setting, gives it a fresher feel.
With characters that have so much history and heritage attached to them, Bel-Air is a constant balance between old and new, retaining some familiar rhythms while ejecting others. Will’s fashion sense remains – from his obsession with sneakers to his iconic inside-out blazer – but aspects of the character and his relationship dynamics have undergone tweaks. The instigating fight (described as “a little fight” in The Fresh Princethe memorable intro of) is decidedly more serious here, all stemming from Will’s wounded hubris (“All I got is West Philly,” he tells a friend in the prologue to the first episode). It’s an incident that informs much of what follows, played perfectly by Jabari Banks in his first acting role, nailing Smith’s youthful exuberance, while showing flashes of a child becoming a better man. .
Bel-Air has justified its existence more than enough for us to go for a ride.
The rest of the ensemble also brings the goods: although he lacks the height and stature of the late great James Avery, Adrian Holmes’ Uncle Phil has the right levels of seriousness and compassion. Meanwhile, Cassandra Freeman’s Aunt Viv has friction with her daughter Hilary (Coco Jones), here reimagined as a talented chef with a dedicated online following looking to take things to the next level. And then there’s Geoffrey, who went from a Queen’s English-speaking butler to a household manager compared to Idris Elba, played with a wink by Jimmy Akingbola.
All of these characters retain their inherent likability regardless of changes, but that’s not the case with Bel-AirIt’s Carlton. Impressively embodied by a crude Olly Sholotan, he’s a jealous, drug-addicted tyrant who feels far removed from the Carlton. fresh prince fans grew up with it. It’s a bold gamble, and while the visible intention is to use the thorny dynamic between Will and his wayward cousin to interrogate important social issues, it’s not yet clear if it will pay dividends for the character. .
But whether it is or not, Bel-Air justified its existence more than enough for us to go there. Clever nods to the original theme lyrics only underscore the fact that this show has been revamped by huge fans of the iconic ’90s sitcom, and if the first batch of episodes are anything, they’re more than capable of keeping the Prince fresh in 2022.
A bold reimagining that maintains the essence of the original show while exploring important social themes from an authentic, noir perspective.