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Dramatic reboot 'Bel Air' proves sometimes, you should be careful what you wish for

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

Three years ago, aspiring filmmaker Morgan Cooper crafted a fake trailer. It was for a dramatic reboot of "The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air." Now that fake trailer has become reality. On Sunday, a revival of the show hits the streaming service Peacock. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says the new series, called simply "Bel-Air," shows that sometimes you should be careful what you wish for.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: If Peacock's ambitious drama reboot "Bel-Air" proves anything, it's that making a scrappy trailer for a TV show that doesn't exist is still a little bit easier than crafting a big-budget series to back up that trailer's promise. Not that "Bel-Air" doesn't achieve a lot, starting with charismatic lead Jabari Banks as Will Smith. In "Bel-Air," Smith is a sought-after high school basketball star, with a doting mother who encourages him to expand his horizons beyond their West Philadelphia neighborhood.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BEL-AIR")

APRIL PARKER JONES: (As Viola) I know the thought of leaving Philly is scary.

JABARI BANKS: (As Will) I ain't scared, Ma. It's just I love my hood, know what I'm saying? Philly's home.

PARKER JONES: (As Viola) You're meant to see so much more than these 14 square miles. Your crown is waiting as soon as you...

BANKS: (As Will) ...As soon as I...

APRIL PARKER JONES AND JABARI BANKS: (As Viola and Will) ...Find the courage to wear it.

PARKER JONES: (As Viola) That's right. That's right.

BANKS: (As Will) I know. I know.

DEGGANS: But when Smith gets in a fight with a local gangster after a neighborhood basketball game...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BEL-AIR")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Now you just mad 'cause your boy done now got choked out. We won. They lost. Like I said, we prefer 20.

(SOUNDBITE OF PUNCH LANDING)

DEGGANS: ...He grabs a friend's gun to scatter the crowd...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BEL-AIR")

BANKS: (As Will) Hey.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)

DEGGANS: ...And before long, he's on a plane to live with his rich relatives in California. When the young man arrives in Bel-Air and British-raised butler Geoffrey tries to take his bag, Smith reacts badly until his aunt Vivian calms him down.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BEL-AIR")

BANKS: (As Will) A yo, man. Chill, Idris. I can carry my own bags, man.

JIMMY AKINGBOLA: (As Geoffrey, laughter) Idris, yeah? How original.

CASSANDRA FREEMAN: (As Vivian) Will, oh, I'm so happy you're here. Geoffrey, will you please take Will's bags up to his room?

BANKS: (As Will) All right. But my Iverson poster better not come up missing, man.

AKINGBOLA: (As Geoffrey) I hear you, man. A.I.'s a legend. But I've always been a bit more of a King Kobe fan. All right, peace.

DEGGANS: Fans of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" will recognize that the first third of "Bel-Air's" initial episode basically recreates in dramatic tones the story told in the sitcom's legendary theme song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL-AIR")

WILL SMITH: (Rapping) Now this is a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down. And I'd like to take a minute, just sit right there. I'll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel-Air.

DEGGANS: In the original 1990s sitcom, rapper and soon-to-be-superstar Will Smith played a version of his stage persona, decked out in brightly colored hip-hop gear, with a quip for every occasion. But "Bel-Air" turns Will Smith into an overconfident hothead, leading to the Peacock drama's biggest problem. It just isn't fun enough.

In "Bel-Air," Will doesn't playfully clown his strait-laced, rich-kid cousin Carlton Banks, he beats him down at a pool party. And while "Fresh Prince"-era Will had a mischievous bond with his uncle Philip Banks, in "Bel-Air," their arguments are serious as Uncle Phil's campaign for district attorney.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BEL-AIR")

ADRIAN HOLMES: (As Philip) Boy, I moved mountains to give you a second chance. Show some damn gratitude.

BANKS: (As Will) For what? So you can use me as a campaign prop to show these rich people how much you care about poor Black kids from the hood?

HOLMES: (As Philip) That wasn't the point, Will.

BANKS: (As Will) You going to send me home after you win your little election?

HOLMES: (As Philip) Look, if I could put you on a plane back to Philly tonight, I would. But I can't, and we both know why.

DEGGANS: The soapy drama here reminds me of slickly produced series like The CW's "All American." My NPR colleague Aisha Harris said it was like a CW drama with cursing. Pretty good description, given how much they sling the F-word.

When Morgan Cooper created his original "Bel-Air" trailer as a YouTube hit, the promise of seeing these characters excavate serious issues in Black culture and family drew support from Will Smith himself, who serves as an executive producer. But in getting serious for "Bel-Air," producers may also have overlooked some of what made "The Fresh Prince" so much fun to hang out with in the first place.

I'm Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF DJ JAZZY JEFF AND THE FRESH PRINCE SONG, "THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL-AIR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans
Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.