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Recommended: Bel-Air on Peacock

Will Smith's classic sitcom is reimagined as a prestige drama, and guess what? It works.
  • Jabari Banks as Will and Jordan L. Jones as Jazz in Bel-Air. (Photo: Peacock)
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    Bel-Air Season 1 | Peacock
    One-Hour Drama (10 episodes) | TV-MA

    What's Bel-Air About?

    If you know the sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, then you know the basic story of this gritty reboot: After a neighborhood brawl gets him in trouble, a promising kid from West Philadelphia gets sent to live with his wealthy aunt and uncle in Los Angeles. Pulled out of his element, he has to learn who he is all over again.

    Who's Involved?

    The cast is full of unknowns, but Will Smith, who starred in the original, is an executive producer. Morgan Cooper — the filmmaker who went viral with his “concept trailer” for a dramatized Fresh Prince of Bel-Air remake — is on board as a writer and director.

    Why (and to whom) is Bel-Air recommended?

    Forget the sitcom, and forget the cool origin story of how Will Smith saw Morgan Cooper’s YouTube video and then used his clout to get this show made. Even if it had arrived without that buzz, Bel-Air would deserve attention for being an uncommonly rich exploration of what it means to belong somewhere.

    That starts with Will. (The character, not the superstar.) He’s a relatable fish out of water, trying to learn the rules of a new society while holding on to the person he was back home. In a sensational performance, Jabari Banks plays him as a charming, impulsive kid whose feelings are right on the surface, no matter how tough he tries to be. The writing supports him by making Will a tangle of adolescent contradictions. His cocky mouth and need to prove himself get him into trouble, but his good heart and strong sense of fairness keep him striving to be a better person.

    The rest of the show's characters are similarly complex. Will’s cousin Carlton (Olly Sholotan) is an arrogant jerk who abuses his wealth and popularity (not to mention prescription drugs), but he’s also an anxiety-ridden kid who suspects nobody really loves him. Carlton’s sister Hilary (Coco Jones) and mother Vivian (Cassandra Freeman) constantly clash, but they harbor the same fear that they’re wasting their lives. Even Uncle Phil (Adrian Holmes), a generous family man who’s running for district attorney, worries his money has alienated him from everyday Black people in Los Angeles.

    In other words, it’s not just Will: Everyone feels like some kind of outsider, and their shared, raw need makes the show hit hard.

    Pairs well with:

    • Queen Sugar, which is also about the intergenerational struggles of a successful Black family.
    • Schitt's Creek, another emotionally affecting series about people thrust into a new culture.
    • My So-Called Life, which takes its teenage characters seriously enough to give them complicated inner lives.

  • Bel-Air (Season 1)
    Streams on Peacock. Three episodes premiere Sunday February 13, and new episodes drop Thursdays.
    Created by: Will Smith and Morgan Cooper.
    Starring: Jabari Banks, Adrian Holmes, Cassandra Freeman, Olly Sholotan, Coco Jones, Akira Akbar, Jimmy Akingbola, Jordan L. Jones, and Simone Joy Jones.
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    TOPICS: Bel-Air, Peacock, Adrian Holmes, Akira Akbar, Cassandra Freeman, Coco Jones, Jabari Banks, Jimmy Akingbola, Jordan L. Jones, Morgan Cooper, Olly Sholotan, Simone Joy Jones, Will Smith