“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” starring Will Smith (“King Richard”) was one of the hottest shows of the ’90s. The bar was set astronomically high with its compelling cast of characters and gut-busting punchlines. So when it became public knowledge that a reboot was in the works, there were very low expectations for the show to meet the hype of its predecessor. With its dark, gritty and rough-around-the-edges elements, Peacock’s “Bel-Air” doesn’t necessarily outshine “The Fresh Prince,” but it does put a creative and dramatic twist on a classic.
“Bel-Air” isn’t a carbon copy of the original: instead of a sitcom, it’s a series of four one-hour episodes. And unlike in the original where lightheartedness and silly jokes fill up most of the episode, the reboot emphasizes realistic and modernized storylines. And in contrast to most reboots, it miraculously maintains the same narrative.
The show begins in West Philadelphia. After winning a basketball game and making a good impression on college recruiters, Will (Jabari Banks, debut) is on top of the world. But when the neighborhood drug dealer, Darnell (Sloan “D4M $Loan” Morgan, debut), challenges Will to a pickup basketball game, drug lord Rashad (Eazy the Block Captain, debut) makes a bet: if Will loses, he has to work for them. After the game, a fight breaks out and ends with Will pulling out an unregistered firearm for which he is arrested and thrown in jail. Fearing for his life, his mother Viola (April Jones, “The In Between”) sends him across the country to live with Aunt Vivian (Cassandra Freeman, “The Last O.G.”), his lawyer Uncle Phillip Banks (Adrian Holmes, “Adventure in Christmasing”) and their three children — Carlton (Olly Sholotan, “Run Hide Fight”), wannabe social media influencer Hilary (Coco Jones, “Five Points”) and the sweet Ashley (Akira Akbar, “We Can Be Heroes”) — in the wealthy upper-middle-class Bel-Air. Throughout the series, Will struggles to fit in with the posh kids of Bel-Air (including his cousin Carlton) and the lifestyle of the wealthy.
The show doesn’t shy away from addressing politics, tackling modern-day issues like defunding the police with a particular focus on race and class.
In one episode, Will overhears Carlton’s teammate Connor (Tyler Barnhardt, “13 Reasons Why”) saying a very vulgar word in the presence of Carlton, upsetting Will. However, Carlton sees no issue and sticks up for Connor, accusing Will of playing the “race card.” It’s clear that the show highlights the dynamic between Carlton, a character who often code-switches to gain the acceptance of his white classmates, and Will, who adamantly calls them out.
In another instance, the show details some obstacles that members of the Black community may face when one achieves a higher economic status. When Uncle Phil takes Will and Carlton to his alma mater’s Black fraternity event, he gets called out for not being there for his fraternity brothers — they feel he “sold out” due to him being a part of the upper class. Will saves the day, forcing Uncle Phil to perform his fraternity’s stroll to prove that Uncle Phil never forgot where he came from. The show is a concrete example of how wealthy Black Americans who rise in class face prejudice and judgment from both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum.
Despite the seriousness of it all, the never-ending drama is what hooks you into this reboot. The show takes its time introducing each character and does a great job staying true to the original while still adding its own modern twist. After all, it’s an adaptation, not a copy. The more you watch, the more you can’t help but feel some admiration for Will’s resolve and maybe a little hatred for Carlton’s complacency.
Reboots understandably cause mass skepticism. But if you keep an open mind and see how the series progresses, this reboot may surprise you. With its excellent Black representation, why not watch the crowning of the new prince of “Bel-Air”?
Daily Arts Writer Jessica Curney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.