- Fadeke Banjo
Are we getting tired of reboots or are we simply holding onto childhood nostalgia?
Fresh Prince of Bel-Air V.S Bel-Air
Recent shows like Degrassi, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and The Proud Family have had a reboot. For those who grew up watching these iconic shows, they were a pivotal point in our childhood. We related to the characters, they taught us some life lessons, and perhaps some of us may have even idolized some of these characters to some degree, from wanting to dress and act like them. So I pose a question: Are we sick and tired of our childhood shows being woken up from their slumber and rebooted with a new, younger, and sexier package by Hollywood and other production companies? (with some of these production companies being the very ones who cough cough 'CANCELED' some of these throwback shows in the first place). Or are we simply holding onto the childhood nostalgia these shows gave us and missing out on a new perspective?
This article will focus on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air's reboot 'Bel-Air' and why I believe it's an excellent example of when a reboot is done well or at least has the potential to live up to the original while not trying to replicate it. Of course, this is coming from an O.G. fan of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air; but let's firstly talk about how Bel-Air came about, the cast, and the overall narrative the show is trying to present. (*Disclaimer: From this point moving forward, there will be some spoilers of the show Bel-Air).
Photo credit: Everett collection; Peacock, Will Smith and Jabari Banks.
How did Bel-Air come about?
The show's concept came from a viral video, 'Bel-Air (2019) Official trailer' on YouTube by Morgan Cooper. The trailer from Copper depicted the classic sitcom Fresh Prince in modern-day America, giving a more gritty drama feel compared to the light-hearted family-friendly sitcom of the original. This viral video eventually got the attention of Will Smith, and the Hollywood star put his support behind the young filmmaker in making his vision of the show a reality and made Copper a director, executive producer, and co-writer of the drama series 'Bel-Air.'
The hit show Fresh Prince of Bel-Air got a new name and a whole new cast. Like most reboot shows, there is a younger and fresh new cast, and Fresh-prince's reboot is no different from this. For many of the cast of Bel-Air, this is their first Hollywood tv debut in their young acting career, which is quite an achievement. This cast includes; newcomer Jabari Banks, who plays the star of the show 'Will Smith,' Cassandra Freeman as 'Aunt Viv,' Vivian Banks', and Adrian Holmes, who plays 'Philip Banks' A.K.A 'Uncle Phil, Disney star and singer Coco Jones plays 'Hilary Banks,' Akira Akbar, the youngest among the cast, plays 'Ashley Banks.' In addition, Olly Sholotan plays 'Carlton Banks,' British-Nigerian actor Jimmy Akingbola plays 'Geoffrey,' Simone Joy Jones plays 'Lisa,' Jordan L. Jones plays one of Will's besties on the show 'Jazz.' Actress April Parker Jones plays Will's mum, 'Viola Smith.' Another surprising person added to the cast is Marlon Wayne (whose character is revealed in the season finale, I will leave it there to avoid any further spoilers for you). Despite the mixed responses given by both O.G. fans of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and newbies on the show's casting decision, including some people criticizing Uncle Phil's character being turned into a slimmer Uncle Phil, yet, there is no denying the excellent performances given by each cast member on the show and the amazing representation among the cast.
We have a dark-skinned Hilary Banks played by the stunning Coco Jones for the first time. Having this representation on screen was amazing to witness. As we know for many years, Hollywood has done a bad rep when it comes to dark skin representation on screen (or the lack thereof), let alone having dark skin actors have leading roles. Only recently are we now starting to see more dark-skin representation in shows like Bel-Air and Bridgerton showing dark-skinned representation with the character 'Kathani, Kat Sharma' (played by actress Simone Ashley) within the Asian community.
Moreover, Bel-Air also cleverly included two of the O.G. cast members of 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' to feature as co-star guests in some episodes. The second Aunt Viv from the original show is played by the actress 'Daphne Maxwell Reid' and Will Smith's Tv mum 'Viola Smith' from the original show played by 'Vernee Watson-Johnson.' They both appeared in episode nine as members of the Council Board of Trustees. This was a special moment for O.G. fans of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to see the characters we grew up watching on screen again playing different characters.
Photo credit: Kwaku Alston/Peacock
Now moving onto the overall narrative of 'Bel-Air,' the 10-part drama series takes elements of the original plot of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air but gives a new modern spin to it. Time and time again, since the show's release, both the cast members and the director of the show have come out and said that the show isn't trying to be like the original but rather be its own thing. For many fans of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (including myself), this was confusing, as some felt like it was trying to take away from the original message and theme of 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' and perhaps make a mockery of it. However, I feel that the confusion stems from Bel-Air being a drama series set in Modern America and not a sitcom like the original. Hence if you are looking for laughs and a light-hearted show, Bel-Air might not be for you. Bel-Air also addresses some topics that weren't highlighted in the original show, including LBGTQA+ (plus) representation as seen in the character of Ashley Banks (played by Akira Akbar) and drug addiction/anxiety issues as seen in the character Carlton Banks (played by Olly Sultan).
Now here are some great things Bel-Air did well as a reboot:
Bel-Air allowed for Character development in both minor characters and main characters that we didn't see in the original Fresh Prince.
The cast may have changed for many reboots shows, but the characters are somewhat the same in terms of their storyline and development. However, this isn't the case for Bel-Air; each character on the show has had a revamp yet still has some elements of the characters from the original show. One character development I enjoyed in the show was Hilary's character. Though loved and adored by many, the original Hilary, especially with her iconic wardrobe look, which is still trending till this day, was depicted as a spoilt brat and the dumb blonde/Airhead stereotype. Whereas this new and improved Hilary Banks is a self-made Influencer Chef, and there is more depth in her character development, we also see the interesting daughter-mother dynamic between Hilary and her mother on the show. Another character development we got to see in Bel-Air was the character of Geoffrey. The original Geoffrey from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was also loved by many growing up watching the show, with his sarcasm and the sophisticated aura and being a somewhat important part of the Banks family. Yet, he was simply known as the butler of the Banks family, and we didn't have a background story of Geoffrey's life outside of the Banks family. Whereas on the show Bel-Air, we see a new and improved smooth-talking Geoffrey (oh, did I mention he seems to be having a growing fan base of admirers too), or as some have nicknamed him; on Twitter, ' Gangster Geoffrey.' This new Geoffrey seems to take on a more dark and mysterious trait in this drama series. His primary role is no longer the Banks family butler. Instead, he is the head of security, Uncle Phil's right-hand man, who will do anything to protect the Banks family by any means necessary. Yet, we also see Geoffrey's soft and vulnerable side, which humanizes his character. We see he has a moral compass and that he generally cares about the wellbeing of the Banks family and knows when to put his foot down and speak up when something isn't right. Geoffrey is not simply just a prop in the scene but a character that is just as important in the scene and family dynamic as the other characters.
Moreover, despite Geoffrey being somewhat mysterious and private, we find out during this series that he has a son that he has lost contact with and hence relates to Will's daddy issues to some degree. This again humanizes his character and leaves the audience wanting to know more about Jeoffrey's background story. However, again similar to Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Banks family still takes Geoffrey for granted and only later realizes the crucial role he plays as the peacemaker in the family.
Moreover, we also see character development in the other characters in the show, including Jazz's character; we see his character develop on the show, including him being a business owner and a love interest. We also see the character development of Ashley Banks, Lisa, Will Smith, Carlton, Uncle Phil, and Aunt Viv's character. It was nice to witness their individual stories being developed on screen.
2. Bel-Air still takes gems from the original Fresh Prince while relating to a new generation of viewers.
The issue sometimes with throwback shows like Fresh Prince is that it could, to some degree, only be relatable to the generation who grew up watching it, from the topics discussed on the original show to even the jokes written for the show and although there might be a minority who enjoyed the show despite not watching the show when it originally aired, perhaps watching it years later, the show's primary target audience was for the most part 90's-early 2000 generation. On the flip side, Bel-Air seems to cleverly appeal to both the generation who watched the original Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and the new Gen Z generation who have recently been introduced to both the original show and this new take on the show. Moreover, the topics discussed on Bel-Air do relate to the Gen Z generation. Such as the influencer culture and pressures of it that we see in the life of Hilary's character on the show to the topic of dealing with one's sexuality at a young age, PTSD/anxiety and drug addiction, and gender roles. Reboots like Bel-Air allow not only to reach a new generation and groups in society that might not have been possible to reach in the original but also the opportunity for new topics and, in some cases, topics that might have been taboo at the time to be explored in this new version. However, I will admit that although it's refreshing to see important social topics being explored in Bel-Air, there is the danger that these topics could become performative or brushed off and not being fully explored, and this was sometimes the case when watching some of the episodes.
In comparison, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air did well at exploring a controversial topic or a semi-real-life scenario at the time. The show would delve into a particular subject at the time through one or two episodes, and then at the end, the episode will leave viewers with a teachable moment that the viewers could learn from. An example of a topic the show explored was the tension between the police system and the black community at the time. This was shown through the episode ''Mistaken Identity' when Will and Carlton were pulled over by a racist police officer in a borrowed Mercedes. Uncle Phil confronted the police officers for their bias and racism when bailing out Will and Carlton. This episode covered the impact of racism, class privilege, police bias, and the unfair justice system toward black men in the USA.
Whereas with the show Bel-Air, we as the audience almost have to come up with our own conclusions. I do, however, believe that perhaps Bel-Air will have the opportunity to take this quality from the original show into its future seasons and really delve into these topics instead of rushing the episodes or brushing it off.
3. Bel-Air allows for storylines from the original to be revisioned.
The episode when Will meets his dad and the moment he had with Uncle Phil in the original 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' has always been an iconic moment in T.V history. No one can take from that, yet despite how iconic this episode was, it was interesting to see how Bel-Air revisioned this scene and episode and gave a whole different take on it. One way this was shown was the suspense and mystery around Will's father and his backstory. Will's father became the family secret and the family's black sheep in Bel-Air, with Aunt Viv, Uncle Phil, Geoffrey, and Will's mother all being involved in this secret. This resulted in a lot of anticipation among fans of the show who were curious to know more about Will's dad, why the Banks family (particularly Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv) and Will's mother hid him from Will for all these years? Another question on everyone's mind was who would play Will's dad, which was also a surprise during the season finale.
Moreover, in the original 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,' I believe we missed out on the opportunity to see Will's character fully confront His absent Father, who had abandoned him all these years. In contrast, in Bel-Air we see Will’s character (played by Jabari Banks) have a one-to-one talk with his father, and they both have the opportunity to let out all their emotions and trauma which had been building up over the years (this was a heated scene). We also see Will at the end of the Bel-Air series alone and almost feeling betrayed by the Banks Family, particularly Uncle Phil, Aunt Viv, and his mother, for lying to him about his father. This differs from the original Fresh Prince of Bel-Air when dealing with Will finally meeting his dad. Will's character from the original show got to briefly spend some quality time with his dad, although he was left disappointed by his dad at the end. Then the original scene ends with Will saying with tears those iconic lines, "Why don't he love me?" and Uncle Phil, who becomes a father figure for Will's character, acts as a literal shoulder to cry on, embraces Will in his arms. However, on the show Bel-Air, this isn't the case, Will doesn't want anything to do with Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv or even his mother during the series finale.
Both Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Bel-Air did an incredible job highlighting this touchy, emotional, and triggering topic when it comes to an absent parent and the trauma that can have on a child, let alone a 17-year-old young black man like Will's character on the show.
4. Bel-Air allows for new talent to shine.
Although some fans may cringe at the thought of their beloved childhood show, they grew up watching, only to see it being rebooted but with a whole new younger cast. I think the remarkable thing about Throwback shows is that they are the blueprint for so many shows over the years that have tried to replicate the magic of the original. Moreover, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air helped to progress many of the casts from show acting debut/careers, including the star of the show, Will Smith acting career. Similarly, Bel-Air did shine a light on the amazing new talent in the acting scene; with many of the younger cast of Bel-Air, Bel-air is their major tv debut in their acting career so far. It was refreshing to see the new talent on the screen, and the cast of Bel-Air didn't disappoint with the variety of acting levels/experiences each cast member has. As well as the incredible acting performances on the show, no one outdid the other; each character had their moment on the show. In addition, the cast of Bel-Air isn't naive to the original Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and how legendary both the show and cast were. For example, actor Jabari Banks who plays the character Will Smith on the show, grew up in Philadelphia. Yet, the cast of Bel-Air doesn't seem to be intimidated in fitting into the big shoes of playing these iconic characters of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air while giving a new take on these characters. However, some may argue that at times in the series, Will's character (played by Jabari Banks) may try too hard to act like the original Will from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Nevertheless, I feel like the producers, writers, and directors (ironically, actor Will Smith is one of the co-executive producers on the show) of Bel-Air are trying to find the perfect balance of both paying homage to the original characters and cast members of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, while also giving space for a new version of these beloved characters to flourish on the show.
I'm excited to see how the cast of Bel-Air progress in their performances collectively and individually on the show and beyond Bel-Air.
I think the acting scene should be a place where both old and new talent can be appreciated and empowered, and Bel-Air does just that. However, for some, Bel-Air may never really give justice to the original Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the characters, and the cast. Yet I'm excited to see the new talent coming from the show and to see their characters develop in the future seasons.
There is no denying the legacy and black excellence the show Fresh Prince of Bel-Air has had on the culture. From the fashion trends that came out from the show, introducing rap and Hip-hop on American T.V. (with the iconic theme tune), Will Smith's iconic Hi-top fade and the representation it gave for both the black community in the USA and even here across the pond to see a wealthy black family on our T.V. screens, week after week. Having a show like Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was especially important at the time when there was a boom of black American sitcoms airing on Tv. Including shows like Martin, Family Matters, The Wayans Bros, Living single, and Sister Sister (just to name a few). Fresh Prince of Bel-Air also paved the way for many of the actors' and actresses' careers, including the star of the show Will Smith. It also tackled complex topics that could relate to the black experience in America at the time. Hence, I understand the hesitation and some criticism people have on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air having a reboot with the show Bel-Air. Yet, as a fan of both shows, I believe that you can still have the childhood nostalgia that Fresh Prince of Bel-Air gave us while also not gatekeeping this for the new generation. I believe Bel-Air attempts to provide the best of both worlds. I say attempt because it's not easy, especially when the show is constantly compared to the original. Reboots don't always have it easy to live up to their original (and sometimes they don't need to, that's okay too). Yet to see the overall love that Bel-Air has received is promising and just goes to show reboots have their place on T.V. and may not be just a lazy production trope in Hollywood. I'm excited about what Bel-Air could become in the following seasons.
You can stream Bel-Air on the Peacock app (for USA residents/audiences). It's also available to stream on Sky and Now Tv.
Written by: Fadeke Banjo