Bel-Air is a breath of fresh air in February 2022

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The widely acclaimed sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990) is getting a reboot this year. Bel-Air (2022), starring an entirely new cast from the original series, debuted its first episode on February 13 on the video streaming service Peacock. 

Like its predecessor, the show centers around Will Smith, a street-smart teenager born and raised in West Philadelphia who was sent off to live with his wealthy relatives in Bel-Air, a residential neighborhood in Los Angeles, California, after being arrested in his hometown. 

The show is produced by famous American actor Will Smith, who played himself in the original The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990), and film director Morgan Cooper. Among its producers are Andy and Susan Borowitz, both of whom directed the original series. 

Running from 1990 to 1996, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990) caught the attention of American audiences everywhere with its innovative humor, powerful social commentary, and charismatic cast of characters. However, the sitcom’s most recognizable attribute is its iconic theme song “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” by DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. 

Although tackling the same general premise, the reboot has many differences from the original, both stylistic and cultural. For instance, Bel-Air (2022) isn’t a kind-hearted comedy, but a contemporary drama that tackles ongoing social issues. Another major change of the reboot is the running time per episode. Each episode has gone from a compact 20 minutes to a lengthy 60 minutes. This will allow the producers to explore their characters with increased depth and discuss modern problems more thoroughly.

In the first episode, the actors excelled in presenting their characters’ personalities. Coco Jones, who plays Hilary Banks, did a remarkable job at bringing her character’s gung-ho and lively attitude to life. Adrian Holmes, who plays Philip Banks, was perfect in delivering the stern, fatherly figure to the screen. Finally Jabari Banks, who plays the main protagonist Will Smith, gave an outstanding performance with his raw emotion and his dedication to the role, particularly shown in the heartfelt scene between Will and Philip where they argued over Will’s potential incarceration if he returned to Philadelphia. 

The first episode also employed visual elements really well, most notably in the pool scene towards the end of the episode. Prior to this, Carlton Banks, played by Olly Sholotan, invited Will to a party in the backyard of the Banks’ estate in an attempt to please his father. Everything was going smoothly until Will got flirty with Carlton’s ex-girlfriend, Lisa, played by Simone Joy Jones. In a drug induced jealousy, Carlton pushed Will into the pool despite Lisa’s desperate pleas. While Will was submerged underwater, an imaginary crown floated off his head as he descended deeper. A few moments later, Lisa jumped into the water and used her athletic prowess to save her new love interest. During this, a shot panned out to reveal a beautiful underwater ruin. Will’s descent to the bottom of the pool is symbolic of him losing his newly found status in Bel-Air. The two visual elements mentioned allude to this. However, Lisa’s rescue is symbolic of a second chance given to Will. Without this, Will would still face the prospect of prison in Philadelphia. 

The premiere brought up social issues that are very relevant in 2022 too. For example, during Philip Banks’ speech to convince his party patrons to support his political campaign, he brought up that he will fight against the unjust incarceration of black men. This hit close to home for Will who faced the prospect of jail time earlier in the episode. Another occurrence of this is when Will visited Bel-Air Academy. As he entered the boy’s locker room, he overheard Connor, a white character played by Tyler Barnhardt, sing a lyric containing the n-word while Carlton, a black character, never once objected and even defended Connor when Will called out his use of the n-word. 

My only complaint is that some of the writing felt unnatural. It’s as if the actors were speaking directly to the audience. One of Ashley Banks’s lines stood out to me for being extremely forced. Ashley Banks, played by Akira Akbar, in her response to Will’s question on how she was doing said, “Aside from global warming and the polarized political climate of this country, fantastic.” Lines like these can come across as too over the top and take you out of the moment. Other than this, I would definitely recommend Bel-Air (2022) to viewers who are interested in contemporary dramas. 

The first four episodes of Bel-Air (2022) are currently available on Peacock. An episode will be released every Thursday until the season finale on March 31. 

Artwork by Sophia Park, Art Editor