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Derrick Dunn

Bel-Air is a winning reboot of a classic sitcom

Iconic nineties sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, receives a reboot with a dramatic angle in Bel-Air from Peacock.  Will Smith (Jabari Banks) is a highly talented basketball player living in West Philadelphia in his sophomore year of high school with his single mother. If Will is not on the basketball court, he is hanging out with his best friend Trey. After his latest victory at a basketball game, Will has a run-in with a former friend, whom a local drug dealer now employs.

When a challenge for a game of streetball arises, Will’s ego gets the better of him, and he accepts the challenge. After the game, things take an unexpected turn, and Will finds himself in jail before the night is over. Fearing for his safety, Will’s mother, Vy (April Parker Jones), sends him to live with family in Bel Air, led by his Uncle Phil (Adrian Holmes) and Aunt Vivian (Cassandra Freeman). 

Upon his arrival, he quickly reconnects with his cousins Hilary (Coco Jones) and Ashley (Akria Akbar) but has an ice-cold reception from his other cousin Carlton (Olly Sultan). Also along for the ride, as Will discovers how different things are at his chance at a new beginning, are the Bank’s house manager Geoffrey, a rideshare driver Jazz (Jordan L. Jones), and Lisa (Simone Joy Jones), a possible love interest for Will.

Aspiring filmmaker Morgan Cooper set the internet abuzz back in 2019 when he released the mock trailer for Bel-Air on YouTube. A dramatic reimagining of the television sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, starring Hollywood heavyweight Will Smith. Smith heavily praised the trailer, and he expressed interest in expanding the concept into the reboot that we have today. Cooper and Smith oversee the series, and original series producers Quincy Jones, Benny Medina, Susan Borowitz & Andy Borowitz are on board as well.

I am in the minority when it comes to reboots, as I am usually open to giving anything a chance until I see the final product. After seeing the first three episodes of Bel-Air, I can safely say that Peacock has a hit. One of the first things I want to commend the creators is using an unknown for the lead role. 

From the moment Jabari Banks appears on the screen in Episode 1, it’s clear that he wants to make his version of Will Smith his own. The 2022 version of Will is not about making jokes all the time, despite having a natural confidence. 

Banks fully taps into the fish out of water angle and allows us to understand his character’s motivations. Furthermore, when Will arrives in Bel Air; his interactions with the other characters are natural. You will notice some changes to the characters for the modern era as well. Hilary and Jazz are no longer soft in the head; instead, both characters have a secure-the-bag mindset. Ashley is not an innocent little girl but an outspoken teen who researches everything.  

Finally, Geoffrey is not just a butler, but also Uncle Phil’s right-hand man who is always ready to provide an ear. The actors portraying the roles are great and make the characters their own. The only character I would say is close to the original is Aunt Vivian, who is still a college professor.

However, as we all know, a big part of the original’s glue was Will’s relationship with Uncle Phil and Carlton. I found myself engaged in the interactions between Uncle Phil and Will, as we know that Phil wants the best for Will, but he’s not about to give any handouts. Despite the lack of corpulence, Adrian Holmes brings a different kind of energy to Uncle Phil. Similar to Jabari Banks; Olly Sultan is a real find in the role of Carlton. Sultan brings the right amount of arrogance to the role. Kudos to the writers for setting up a natural arc for Carlton as he deals with his own set of problems.

If I had one gripe about the first episode, we are not in Philly long enough. Seeing Will in his original element was great, and the creators included tons of little tidbits to the city, from cheesesteaks to the lingo and three-wheelers in the streets.

I can understand the skepticism for Bel-Air. However, with its strong acting from its cast, tons of homages to the original, and a hip soundtrack, Bel-Air is worth your viewing time.

The first three episodes of Bel-Air arrive on Peacock this Sunday, February 13th. Subsequent episodes will air weekly.

Final Grade: A

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