Roush Review: Where’s the Freshness in ‘Bel-Air?’

Bel-Air
Review
Evans Vestal Ward/Peacock

About as fresh as the fourth season of a teen melodrama on The CW, albeit with rougher language, Peacock‘s Bel-Air, as you might have heard, is the dramatized version of Will Smith’s iconic sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Painfully earnest and mostly stripped of its original buoyancy, this formerly amusing and entertaining fish-out-of-water story is left gasping for an original thought.

The greatest asset is its new Will: Jabari Banks, who glimmers with charisma and swagger when his supportive mom (April Parker Jones) tells him, “Your crown is waiting as soon as you find the courage to wear it.” (Yes, this is how they talk.) But once the 16-year-old basketball dynamo runs afoul of gun-toting thugs on the streets of West Philly, she puts him on a plane to Bel Air, where his fancy-pants Banks relatives await to give the lad a second chance.

Bel-Air Season 1 Tray Melbert and Jabari Banks

(Credit: Clifton Prescod/Peacock)

The names are the same — Uncle Phil (Adrian Holmes), Aunt Viv (a sparkling Cassandra Freeman), cousins Carlton (Olly Sholotan) and Hilary (Coco Jones) and Ashley (Akira Akbar) — but they take everything so seriously you’d think the visiting prince was named Hamlet. As before, Will is presented as a breath of fresh attitude amid the stuffed shirts and outrageous privilege of the Banks family. He’s a reminder of where they came from, which comes in handy when Uncle Phil, running for political office, needs to prove his bona fides and remind his backers that he’s not entirely out of touch. (Haven’t we lived through all of this on black-ish?)

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“Give this a chance and I promise that you’ll have every opportunity to create the future that you want,” Phil insists in a preachy pep talk after Will initially tries to bolt. But who could blame him when confronted with vindictive snobs like poor-little-rich-jerk Carlton? His depiction is little short of character assassination, painted with such a thanklessly thick villainous coat of envy and jealousy it’s a wonder they forgot his twirling mustache.

Still, it’s early days, and whenever Banks pours on Will’s charm, one can hope Bel-Air will rediscover some of the original series’ sense of fun.

Bel-Air, Series Premiere (three episodes), Sunday, February 13, Peacock (streaming weekly on Thursdays)