The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was a staple of my childhood, so when I heard it was being revived via a gritty reboot on Peacock, I immediately thought it was a bad move. After having watched a good portion of the first season, I have to admit, it actually works.
If you’ve seen the trailers, you already know this isn’t The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air that you know and love. Will Smith is involved with the production behind the scenes, but this new Peacock original isn’t a comedy. It’s an hour-long drama that feels like it belongs on HBO, which is a compliment because HBO has some of the best dramas on television.
Watching Bel-Air, there are subtle nods to the original series. It’s not pandering, or even blatant fan service. Sure, they’ll toss in one line of the theme song here or there, and the characters all return from the original show, but it’s respectful of the source material while still taking it in a completely new direction. The throwbacks are just enough to make Bel-Air feel familiar, but not so much that it’s treading over sacred ground, or just retelling the same story with new actors.
The basic premise is still there. Will (Jabari Banks) gets in trouble while playing basketball in West Philadelphia, and his mom (April Parker Jones) sends him to live with his aunt (Cassandra Freeman) and uncle (Adrian Holmes) in Bel-air. Carlton (Olly Sholotan), Ashley (Akira Akbar), and Hilary (Coco Jones) are still his cousins, and he still has a friend named Jazz (Jordan L. Jones). Even Geoffrey (Jimmy Akingbola) the butler returns. But that’s where the similarities end.
Bel-Air goes hard. This is a mature-rated drama that runs for 45 minutes to an hour per episode. It’s not uncommon for someone to drop the N-word multiple times in an episode. Will is from the hood, and that doesn’t fade away once he gets to Bel-Air and starts school at Bel-Air Academy. Carlton isn’t just comic relief there to be the butt of Will’s jokes. Hilary isn’t just a self-absorbed rich girl, and Ashley is smarter than all of them.
There are some moments when Bel-Air gets a little cheesy or cliché, but those moments are few and far between. This is exactly how you do a dramatized version of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in modern times. If you’re looking for more of what you loved about the original, you won’t find that here. This is basically Straight Outta Compton, with a Fresh Prince coat of paint, and it works.
If you’re looking for something light, this isn’t it. Stick to The Office or Parks and Rec for that. This show is very serious, and it deals with real-life issues. Again, there are moments when you’ll see a bit of the Fresh Prince shine through, but those moments are not the main focus of the show.
Is Bel-Air good enough to warrant a subscription to Peacock? For $5 a month for the ad-supported plan, it’s not a bad deal. If there isn’t anything else you want to watch on Peacock, maybe wait until you can watch the full 10 episode season, which kicks off on Super Bowl Sunday, February 13 with the first episode, and will release one episode a week every Sunday until all 10 are available.
I was ready to hate on Bel-Air. The trailers didn’t convince me, and I didn’t see how the show would work as a drama. Morgan Cooper, Will Smith, and the rest of the creative team behind Bel-Air have proven me wrong, and I’m glad. The Prince is back.
Synopsis: A young basketball star gets into trouble with a drug dealer in West Philadelphia. To save him from retaliation, his mother moves him to Bel-air under the care of his aunt and uncle.
Directors: Morgan Cooper, Nick Copus, Dale Stern
Writers: Morgan Cooper, Chris Collins
Stars: Jabari Banks, Adrian Holmes, April Parker Jones, Olly Sholotan, Cassandra Freeman, Coco Jones, Simone Joy Jones, Jordan L. Jones, Akira Akbar
Average Runtime: 45 Minutes
Where to Watch: Available Exclusively On Peacock
Bryan Dawson has been writing professionally since the age of 13. He started his career as a video game writer and has since worked for Random House, Prima Games, DirecTV, IGN, AOL, the British Government, and various other organizations. For GNN, Bryan taps into his passion for movies.