There are reboots and then there is Bel-Air. The first trailer for the new take on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air has just landed and it’s a mighty long way from the original show, which ran for six hugely popular seasons in the 1990s.
The sitcom that made Will Smith a star, this culture-clash comedy was every bit a show of its time, as Smith’s working-class high-schooler from West Philadelphia is sent to live with his well-to-do uncle, aunt and cousins – the Banks family – in the plush bit of Los Angeles. It was the perfect vehicle for the hugely likeable Smith, who was barely 21 when he took on the role, and it’s one that’s remained close to his heart ever since.
Five years ago, he said the chances of a reboot happening were “pretty close to when hell freezes over”. But then came a fan fiction "trailer" created by cinematographer Morgan Cooper in 2019, which gained serious traction when it landed on YouTube, reimagining the show as a brooding drama.
It led to a meet-up between Cooper and Smith, and the creation of Bel-Air – a show that echoes Smith’s own journey from Philly to the heart of Hollywood. Here are five takeaways from the trailer for Bel-Air, which bows this February on US streaming service Peacock:
It's the dramatic flip side
The official synopsis of the show calls Bel-Air a “dramatic analogue” of the ’90s sitcom, and that comes across loud and clear in the trailer. The show keeps the central premise – as high-schooler Will is packed off to his relatives’ mansion in a gated Bel-Air community after a fracas in Philly.
The original show did occasionally touch on issues of the day – gun violence, discrimination and absent fathers – but this reimagining will clearly bite more deeply into themes of race, class and wealth. “What the hell is my life?” says a bemused Will, as he gazes around a party in a luxury mansion. He’s a long way from home, that’s for sure.
Jabari Banks rocks as the new Will
When Smith bowed in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, he was already known for his music as one half of hip-hop duo Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (even supplying the show’s unforgettable title song). But here, Bel-Air has gone for complete newcomer Jabari Banks to play Will.
It was Banks’ father who found out about the auditions and encouraged his son, who was born and raised in West Philadelphia, to try out – and judging by the trailer that was good advice. Banks may not be like the effervescent Smith, but he looks the part, from slam dunking on the basketball court to strutting his stuff in Bel-Air academy, his baseball cap angled to one side. Very fly.
The family is all back
The show certainly hasn’t forgone original characters, or their names. Will’s relatives, Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv, and his cousins, Carlton, Hilary, Ashley and Nicky, are all present and correct. There’s even a return for the Banks family’s butler, Geoffrey, and Will’s best friend, Jazz, but how close these characters are to how you remember them is another matter.
The “thriving” Carlton – played by Olly Sholotan – gets the most screen time in the trailer, and he looks a little more scheming than the pompous character we all know and love. “I hope one day we can talk about why you’re really here,” he says, suggesting he plans to keep Will in check.
It looks like a Ryan Coogler movie
Stylistically, this is a full 180º turn from the original show, which favoured bright sets and a studio audience-supplied laughter track. Cooper’s 2019 short was compared to the work of Ryan Coogler, the director who brought audiences the spectacular Marvel movie Black Panther.
Yet before he dipped into the MCU, Coogler delivered Creed – a Rocky spin-off that took its characters back to the mean streets of Philadelphia. The trailer for Bel-Air certainly seems to be pulling from the Coogler playbook, especially with the scene set on the Philly basketball court, where Will gets caught in a mass brawl and fires off a gun as the police arrive.
There are no guest stars ... yet
The original Fresh Prince did what all good American sitcoms do and ushered in the celebrity guest stars for cameos. Big names such as Oprah Winfrey, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Boyz II Men all played themselves – though none were quite as mighty as actor William Shatner (succumbing to the effects of nitrous oxide at the dentist and hallucinating about Star Trek in one episode). Even Donald Trump turned up in season four.
But while celebrity appearances are perfectly acceptable in a sitcom, they don’t sit well in a straight drama. The trailer doesn’t hint at any guest stars – which may be for the best. Though, we wouldn’t say no to a cameo from Smith, obviously.
Bel-Air has its premiere on US streaming service Peacock on Sunday, February 13