This past Valentine’s Day, Peacock introduced us to the much anticipated Bel-Air. A love letter to the 90s sitcom borne of a 2019 passion project, it’s sure to become the NBCUniversal service’s first big hit.
Bel Air is a complete departure from the OG comedic take on Will Smith’s life post-Philly. It takes us on a journey further into the world that Will’s aunt, uncle and cousins belong to. This world, however, is one that the ever-charming Will finds himself floundering in. This leads to a near immediate clash with Carlton (now a prideful big shot). Their relationship makes for palpable tension that’s interesting to watch.
From the first episode, Bel-Air does an excellent job grounding Will in West Philly. From his relationship to his mother, friends, and neighbors to the connection he has to his team and his sport- it’s all so real. This makes his sudden and unwilling departure all the more heart wrenching for us as viewers. This opening sequence, along with the layering of the new Banks family and how their personal lives create conflicts, cements this series as its own.
Will’s estranged family themselves even make for compelling stories to watch unfold. This series seeks to dig into the idea of black elitism and who these people are behind the curtain of respectability. This version of Will serves not just as our de-facto protagonist, but as a catalyst for the members of this family. This includes former artist Aunt Viv, who plays a key role in Will’s adjustment to living in Bel Air.
While the references to the sitcom can be hard to miss, this is a strong premiere. The recent influx of reboots make bring wariness when something beloved in the past is reimagined in the present. It’s inevitable. We found joy, laughter, and an undercurrent of softness in the original that’s scarce here. It’ll turn a lot of people off. It’s important to suspend these thoughts when watching, though. While this is certainly a tribute to the door that was opened back in the day, this version of Bel-Air is something we’ve never seen before. Will Smith himself speaks highly of the project‘s parallels to some real life experiences that were pushed aside in favor of leaning into the more comedic persona.
Final verdict? STREAM IT. Jabari Banks has a great handle on the intricacies of this version of Will. The fact that things aren’t picture perfect is refreshing (to me, at least). What’s wrong with a little drama? Especially with plot lines that root themselves deeply in identity. A good internal struggle, when done properly, can be great. The Bel-Air premiere does a solid job at investing us in this story from the start- even if it is a little unfamiliar.