In 2019, a short film/parody trailer by Morgan Cooper went viral by reimagining The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as a gritty drama rather than the goofy Will Smith comedy of ‘90s lore. The film caught the attention of Smith himself, and three years later, that trailer has been expanded into the dark new series Bel-Air. The first three episodes premiered on Peacock on February 13, with critics getting an early look at the first six episodes ahead of its debut, and despite all the pre-release hype, many are saying the series misses its mark.
Bel-Air introduces Jabari Banks as the new Will Smith and follows the same premise as the O.G. Fresh Prince, which sees Will sent to live with his Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv after an incident during a pickup game back home in Philadelphia. The critics seem to find a lot of common ground in the belief that merely changing the sitcom’s tone does not allow Bel-Air to drive home its important messages better than — or even as well as — The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air already did 30 years ago. Let’s take a look at what they had to say.
Inkoo Kang of The Washington Post says Bel-Air told us what we were getting when it removed “Fresh” from the title. This review says the Peacock series wants to tackle important issues like racism; however, Will Smith’s sitcom did that 30 years ago, and with better execution.
Jack Seale of The Guardian says that unlike the hit ‘90s sitcom, the Peacock series doesn’t seem to know who it is or where it’s going. Bel-Air brings up serious issues about class and race but this review argues the resolutions are oversimplified and don’t carry the same weight as when they’re dealt with in the original show, as well as in other more current series like Dear White People and black-ish.
Tim Surette of TV Guide says Bel-Air should not have existed beyond Morgan Cooper’s viral trailer. In developing Cooper’s idea into a series, it's said that Bel-Air lost its self-awareness, and the antics Will pulls on the show work for a sitcom but don’t translate well within the super-serious Peacock drama.
Matt Roush of TV Insider says there’s nothing fresh about this version of Bel-Air, but he holds out hope that as the series progresses, it could reclaim some of the fun that endeared audiences to the original.
Angelica Jade Bastién of Vulture says Bel-Air is a reminder that Black representation isn’t enough, and the way it refashions the familiar characters to live in the current decade is insufficient.
One of the toughest things Bel-Air has working against it might just be the strength of its source material and the inevitable comparisons that will be made between the two. The critics seemed to think that despite its light tone, the iconic 1990s sitcom was still able to accomplish emotional stories and tackle social issues that hit home in a way that Bel-Air didn’t in its first handful of episodes.
To be sure, there are certainly reviews out there that skew more positive if you spend enough time looking. But as far as the most widespread and commonly shared opinions go, everything seen above is par for the course. Here's hoping things spin around into something more embraced as the season goes on.
The first three episodes of Bel-Air are available for streaming now with a Peacock subscription, with new episodes coming on Thursdays. Be sure to check out our 2022 TV Schedule to see what other shows are premiering soon.
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Heidi Venable is a Content Producer for CinemaBlend, a mom of two and a hard-core '90s kid. She started freelancing for CinemaBlend in 2020 and officially came on board in 2021. Her job entails writing news stories and TV reactions from some of her favorite prime-time shows like Grey's Anatomy and The Bachelor. She graduated from Louisiana Tech University with a degree in Journalism and worked in the newspaper industry for almost two decades in multiple roles including Sports Editor, Page Designer and Online Editor. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Thrives on New Orleans Saints football, The West Wing and taco trucks.