With its latest reboot, Peacock crowns a new prince of Bel-Air
There’s no doubt that Hollywood remains obsessed with reboots. Despite all the new content out there begging to be made, the industry would rather manipulate our love of nostalgia by bringing back the old, or trying to right the wrongs of its very white past by sprinkling in people of color to be “woke.” Often it doesn’t work (see: And Just Like That… and Gossip Girl). But there are those rare times when reboots do succeed, whether they follow the formula of the original series, like 2021’s Saved By The Bell, or honor the show’s legacy while respectfully turning the thing on its head, as with Devon Greggory’s The Game revival. Thankfully, Peacock’s Bel-Air falls into the latter category.
Like its predecessor, The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air starring Will Smith, Bel-Air is an endearing fish-out-of-water story. The new Will (brilliantly played by Jabari Banks) has a run-in with a local West Philly gang on the basketball court, which lands him in jail and his life in danger. Worried about what will happen if her baby stays in the city, his mother begs her sister and brother-in-law to make his charges go away and let him live with them across the country in Bel-Air. Within the walls of their sprawling mansion, Will reunites the Banks family: Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv; cousins Hillary, Carlton, Ashley; and Geoffrey, who’s now the “house manager.”
While Bel-Air pays homage to the original, weaving in tiny, yet meaningful threads of the past—e.g., Will wearing his prep school jacket inside out—it is a complete reimagining. Inspired by Morgan Cooper’s 2019 viral trailer and executive produced by Cooper, T.J. Brady, and Rasheed Newson, this version rids itself of the laugh track, the 30-minute runtime, and multi-cam format, and replaces them with a gorgeously shot, much darker hour-long drama. The show still has some joy but isn’t afraid to raise the stakes and dig deeper into issues around race, class, drug addiction, and violence, where the original could only scratch the surface. And whether intentional or not, Bel-Air addresses the colorism from the original series by casting mostly dark-skinned actors to play the Banks family. This reboot is thoughtfully and delicately filling in the gaps that its precursor, a ’90s network sitcom created by two white writers, left behind.
One of Bel-Air’s best innovations is meeting Will in his own environment before he’s whisked away to California. Will still reps for his city and has that jokester charm, but this time around, he’s more focused: A straight-A student and basketball star being recruited by out-of-state D1 schools. But we learn that he doesn’t want to leave the city he calls home, the only city he knows. The series subtly ensures we understand his struggle as he straddles the old world he misses and the strange new one he’s being forced to navigate. We also get a clearer understanding of how much danger he’s in, even if it’s from afar. Most importantly, Banks isn’t imitating Smith’s Will. The 23-year-old has captured a similar spark, but confidently steps into his own lovable creation, commanding your attention the second he hits the screen.