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Bel-Air Review: A Beloved Comedy Gets a Dark Origin Story

Jabari Banks takes on Will Smith's breakout role in this dramatic reboot

bel air review
Bel-Air (Peacock)
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    The Pitch: He got in one little fight, his mom got scared…

    When Kansas City filmmaker Morgan Cooper reimagined The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as a drama with a teaser trailer in 2019, he tapped into an idea that now seems obvious. Fleeing your hometown to avoid gang violence? Navigating an upper-class, predominantly white environment as a young, working-class Black man, with only your rich, semi-estranged relatives as a support system? The show’s entire premise was rife with opportunities for drama.

    While The Fresh Prince never tip-toed around this tension, it did temper it with comedic relief. The very nature of a sitcom — especially in the 1990s — required it. Naturally, then, Cooper’s no-holds-barred trailer went viral, and with the blessing (and executive producing support) of Will Smith, the beloved comedy now has a dramatic companion. In its 2022 iteration, Bel-Air capitalizes on the two things dominating television today: nitty-gritty realism, and nostalgia.

    Your Crown is Waiting: Presented in chronological order, faithful to the events of Smith’s famous theme song, Cooper fills in the gaps in the fictional Smith’s origin story with a dramatic flair. Here, Will’s (Jabari Banks) “little” fight isn’t so little: After a basketball game against two drug dealers goes awry, Will pulls a gun, and ends up arrested.

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    By itself, the violent nature of the arrest — the officers’ demands that Will “stop resisting” prove especially striking in the Black Lives Matter era —  heightens the sense of danger permeating Will’s beloved West Philly.

    But once Will’s attorney Uncle Phil (Adrian Holmes) calls in some favors to get him out of jail, he becomes an even bigger target. Under the belief that Will snitched on him to achieve clemency, the drug dealers vow to exact revenge. Suddenly, moving across the country doesn’t seem like an overreaction.

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