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Bel-Air Review- Is it Better Than Fresh Prince or Not?

Aug 20, 2022 12:00AM ● By Anand Subramanian

Screen Grab from Bel Air trailer, Peacock

When we think of the 1990s Fresh Prince of Bel Air, we instantly think of Will Smith's theme rap and the sinusoidal curve the show takes us through with outstanding performances by every cast member. No matter how old you are, you will remember the emotional rollercoaster this concert took with tears of pleasure and grief.

After decades, we see an entirely different version of the same notion. Let's see whether this revival can stand on its own or if it can fill the massive shoes that the first show did so quickly.

Figure 1 - Poster of Bel Air. Source - IMDB

Morgan Cooper, an indie director, posted a teaser on YouTube reimagining The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as a drama. It made a significant impact, which landed on Will Smith's radar, and the rest, as they say, is history. It's like comparing spaghetti to frozen yogurt when comparing the 10-episode revival to the source material. The two performances are quite different monsters, both in tone and structure, and although the goal is the same - to amuse - how they do that differs significantly.

Figure 2 - Screen Grab From Bel Air. Source - Google

The premise is the same as it was in the 1990s comedy. A West Philly boy goes across the nation and up many socioeconomic rungs to live with his aunt and uncle, their children, and their butler. Will Smith, portrayed by Jabari Banks, is the name of the main lead. Will is a promising basketball talent who has a target on his back when a pick-up game goes wrong. As portrayed by April Parker Jones, Will's mother offers a straightforward answer. She sends him to live in a magnificent Bel-Air home with her sister Vivian Banks, portrayed by Cassandra Freeman. As illustrated by Adrian Holmes, Vivian and Philip live in a magnificent palace with a gigantic pool in another dramatic world. He's running for the office of district attorney. Hilary, portrayed by Coco Jones, is an influencer with 75,000 followers. Middle kid Carlton, represented by Olly Sholotan, is a famous athlete in school. Ashley, the youngest child, portrayed by Akira Akbar, seems to be a sweet youngster. The original, playful rap beginning is remixed into a long prologue depicting gang violence and police brutality in the Bel-Air premiere. 

He finds his feet after some early wobbles and an unsuccessful effort to flee back to West Philadelphia, as many around him begin to fall under his spell. However, the domestic conflict that upended his life at home continues to weigh heavily on him, with the promise of more turmoil, allowing Bel-Air to lean into the high-stakes drama that Fresh Prince did not touch. Will's charm is as essential to Bel-Air as it was to the comedy, and Jabari Banks gives a reliable performance in his first role.

“ This heavy-handedness, along with some stiff street slang, tips the show’s hand as it works hard to lay down its expository details. A dramatic interpretation is fine, but Bel-Air would be wise not to take itself too seriously”

-Carys Anderson

Carlton, who gets equal screen time with Will, is one of the necessary modifications made in the dramatic version. Carlton's drug misuse is only one of several themes explored in the first three episodes. Race, gender roles, the masculine ego, class, PTSD, and family are all woven into this program's fabric to varying degrees. 

“ The show understands drama as ominous scores, leaden dialogue, and unnecessary cliffhangers. But what if “Bel-Air” looked to its peers such as “Empire,” “Power,” or maybe even “Scandal”? The missing element here is the camp of a juicy soap. If we can’t laugh, then we should gasp. Remaking an iconic series is a silly endeavor—why not lean all the way into that?”

Doreen St. Félix

Figure 3 - Screengrab of Bel Air. Source - Google

In the end, watching Bel Air is like watching TV from another dimension. To appreciate this program, you should be familiar with and comprehend the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air show. It is essential to watch Bel Air objectively to grasp the program's substance since it stands alone as an independent show rather than a new twist on Fresh Prince. People like Fresh Prince will have something to say about the program since their subjective thoughts will compare the two. Even if there are many locations where fine tweaking is required, Bel Air is a recommended watch.

So grab some popcorn, put the Fresh Prince in the back of your mind, and appreciate this program for what it is.

 Anand Subramanian is a freelance photographer and content writer based out of Tamil Nadu, India. Having a background in Engineering always made him curious about life on the other side of the spectrum. He leapt forward towards the Photography life and never looked back. Specializing in Documentary and  Portrait photography gave him an up-close and personal view into the complexities of human beings and those experiences helped him branch out from visual to words. Today he is mentoring passionate photographers and writing about the different dimensions of the art world.

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