“Fresh Prince of Bel Air” launched at the top of what many consider to be one of the best decades of all-time. In 1990, the world was introduced to a kid who was “from West Philadelphia, born and raised.” Now, nearly 32 years later, the characters of the beloved sitcom will reintroduce themselves in the Peacock Originals series, “Bel-Air.”
Despite it being three decades later, the original series left fans with a theme song that will forever be ingrained in their hearts. Penned by the iconic duo themselves, The Fresh Prince (Will Smith) and DJ Jazzy Jeff, along with the help of one of the most prolific artists in the game — living legend Quincy Jones — the trio created a track that has truly stood the test of time.
“Bel-Air” takes viewers on an interesting journey in the dramatic reboot that explores just what happened during that “one little fight” that left Will’s mom scared, ultimately shipping him off to “his auntie and uncle in Bel Air.”
“If you look at the TV landscape, there’s so much compelling TV that for us to just retread and recycle old stories, no one would care,” said co-showrunner and executive producer T. J. Brady whose credits include Netflix’s “Narcos” and Showtime’s “The Chi.” “I think we all got into this to make an impact in other people’s lives. This concept allows us to not only do that, but also to shine a light on some of the bigger issues in a way that I think only this show, in this premise, at this time, can.”
For some, this will be their introduction to the hit series, so it was only right for everyone involved to meet the current generation right where they are.
“The premise of this show is that Will is living in West Philly and he is very happy there, and he doesn’t dream beyond that,” explained Rasheed Newson whose credits also include “Narcos” as well as the CW’s “The 100.” He also serves as a co-showrunner and executive producer of the new drama.
“Only when he goes to Bel Air does he realize there’s a bigger world out there,” continued Newson. “I would like our audience, especially our young audience, to have that feeling. To have the revelation that the world is often much bigger than we thought [and] that we don’t have to just live in the neighborhoods we were born in, or the states, or the countries we were born in. It is a big world, and we can find our place in it.”
The New Kid On The Block
In his breakout role, Jabari Banks is Will in all of his essence with a particular emphasis on the fresh, yet he brings his own swag to the character.
“I say it like this, if you took all of the characters from the 90s, but you dove into all of their diaries and all of their journals and what they were feeling internally, that’s what our show is,” the actor said. “So that’s going to be super exciting for old fans and new fans to watch and you’re going to see a lot of callbacks to the original, a lot of tidbits and a lot of easter eggs, so that’s going to be exciting as well.”
For him, becoming Will has been a huge step outside of his comfort zone.
“This whole process has been just uncomfortable in the best way possible,” he continued. “This is my first role and so taking on this role, the shoes are so huge. It’s definitely allowed me to lean on my own instincts, and my own upbringing and just the things that I know and to trust myself because a lot of times as artists, we kind of get in our own way.”
Different, Yet Oddly Familiar
Even though “Bel-Air” includes all of the show’s original characters, they are so different. For example, characters Jazz (Jordan L. Jones) and Geoffrey (Jimmy Akingbola) might carry the same roles, but the world is about to see them in a totally different light.
“Without giving any spoilers, I would say that the difference between the original and this one is that, obviously, Jazz was hilarious, and in this one he’s also hilarious but he’s more of like a confidant to Will,” Jordan told us. “[He] and Will can relate to a lot of situations that they’ve grown up dealing with, and especially because this is a drama, you’ll get more into Will and Jazz’s relationship, besides ‘oh, we’re friends and we’re always messing around.’ This is real deep stuff that’s going on behind that.”
On the other hand, Geoffrey is more than just a butler to the family. He is a business partner with a lot of swag.
“The first thing is that he’s not a butler, he’s an advisor and he’s a best friend,” Akingbola chimed. “Him and Phil go way back so we’re going to explore that storyline over the two seasons, but I also think people will see the difference in terms of that there’s a mutual love and respect between them, which was there in the original, but this is shown in a different light. You’ve got two beautiful, fantastic, positive Black role models just being there for each other [and] the camaraderie is there.”
Another character that returns is Lisa Wilkes, who was originally portrayed by none other than Nia Long, and serves as one of Will’s love interests. While she’s back — and still breaking hearts — the new Lisa (Simone Joy Jones) is a reminder that the key to winning is to remain true to yourself.
“I just hope girls see their true selves, their authentic selves,” said Simone about how she hopes audiences resonate with her character. “That’s how we need to be. We don’t need to be anything else. We don’t need to fit in any box or mold. We just need to be us because we are the moment.”
The Banks Kids Are Back
Some things never change and, in this case, it’s the sentiments of our favorite television siblings, Hilary Banks (Coco Jones), Carlton Banks (Olly Sholotan), and Ashley Banks (Akira Akbar).
However, due to the beloved sitcom that kept us all laughing returning as a drama and digging beneath the surface on an array of topics that include mental health and finding your purpose, some things do get altered a bit.
“I think the interesting thing about Carlton is [that] it’s this idea that we see that’s pervasive throughout the Black community, which is the idea of acting white, the idea of ‘not being Black enough,’ and that really is his main struggle,” said Sholotan who is back as Will’s annoying, yet super smart cousin. “He has the cars, he’s rich, he has all of the opportunities in the world, but he still feels like he exists in his father’s shadow.”
“The most memorable experience bringing Ashley to life is honestly just making her my own. I bring a lot of myself to Ashley especially because I do have opinions,” Akbar chuckled. “Ashley is kind of the glue that keeps the family together and she wants the family to stick together, so she listens to all of their problems and she wants to help them. I feel like that’s how I am with my family.”
Last, but certainly not least, Hilary 2.0 is portrayed by Coco Jones who first stole hearts as a child actor starring in movies like Disney’s ”Let It Shine.”
“I feel like me and Hilary are one in the same because Hilary experiences a lot of opportunities that will cost her a lot of who she really is, and what she believes in and her values,” Coco recalled. “I feel like my journey of just figuring out who I am — going from child actor to young adult to adult — there’s [been] a lot of opportunities that look good, but everything that glitters isn’t gold. Me and Hilary both share that less of like, at the end of the day, nobody’s going to tell me that who I am isn’t good enough. You just don’t get it, and you’re not important if you don’t get it. It just reinforces the values that I’ve learned coming up and growing up in this industry that who I am and what I bring to the table is enough for the right table.”
Parents Will Always Know Best
From the time that the world met Vivian and Philip Banks on September 10, 1990 to the time that the original series bid farewell on May 20, 1996, these television parents did not play when it came to the family. The same reigns true in ”Bel-Air.”
“He was America’s uncle and I am just honored to be able to play the role,” Adrian Holmes shared, citing that he can never be the late James Avery. “It’s impossible to step into his shoes because what he did was so special and so unique. But, he left behind a beautiful blueprint for me to tap into. He’s such a vibe and an energy, and I think that was what I was really focusing on was just the energy that he brings to the show, and just anchoring the family and being that positive, affluent, high vibrational character. I love playing this part and I’m just grateful. It’s a blessing. It’s a tribute to him.”
Aunt Viv, originally portrayed by Janet Hubert for the first three seasons and Daphne Maxwell Reid for the remainder of the series, was always fierce and loyal to her loved ones. In ”Bel-Air,” lovers of the original might just see her in a new light.
“I feel like we don’t really know what a Black woman is when you think about how she’s engaged between white supremacy, capitalism, and the idea of what it means to be a woman and a mother and a girl,” said Cassandra Freeman who is portraying one of the culture’s favorite aunties. “And so you have all of that like what is a Black woman, but someone who’s trying our best to assimilate and to thrive. I think these first few episodes is one who’s thriving in Bel Air, but definitely in a cookie cutter sort of way, yet throughout the season, it’s like she remembers what it used to feel like to have a fire and a passion about something. I hope that for all of us, we wake up and we say, ‘I’m not too old to still follow my dream.’”
A Dream Come True
Speaking of dreams, this is one come true for the show’s creator, director, co-writer and executive producer Morgan Cooper who took a short film with a budget of $25,000 to an entire reimagined version of the series unlike anything that fans have ever seen.
“The idea of taking the spirit of the characters that we know and love in the sitcom, and grounding them through a modern lens, we’re able to peel back the layers and have really deep [and] sometimes uncomfortable conversations, and I think that’s important,” said Cooper. “It’s important not to dodge the touchy subjects, so through the format of adapting our show as a 60-minute drama, it really allows us to go deep into some incredibly uncomfortable conversations and to see these characters in a completely new light.”
The first three episodes of “Bel-Air” premiered right after the Super Bowl on Sunday (Feb. 13) on Peacock. Be sure to watch!