The Bel-Air Reboot Gets a Fresh Debut at Showcase

Will Smith's iconic '90s sitcom is rebooted, this time as a gritty drama

Will Smith’s iconic ’90s sitcom is rebooted, this time as a gritty drama

It’s been some time since Will Smith was the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” and while he’s not popping that signature sideways cap back on his head again, his hand is very much in this new version of the show.

In Bel-Air, the old sitcom premise stays the same while leaning more toward incisive social drama. Smith remains present as an executive producer of the show, along with Quincy Jones and the original concept’s developer, Benny Medina. But the lead role goes to newcomer Jabari Banks as a fictionalized Smith—a kid from the streets of Philly whose life shifts in a major way when he moves in with rich California relatives.

Like his character and the real-life Smith, the friendly Banks has had a big adjustment to make, also having moved to the West Coast from Philadelphia. He says Los Angeles is “a place I always wanted to be, but it was definitely a culture shock. There are so many similarities between my life and that of the character Will, to be able to portray that day after day is just so special. I’m walking through emotions that I’m also feeling for myself.”

Bel-Air sprang from a fan film made in 2019 by Morgan Cooper, who re-envisioned the comedy as a drama. The online short caught the attention of Smith, who then wanted to develop it as a full series; Netflix and HBO Max reportedly showed interest as well, but U.S. streaming service Peacock ultimately won the rights, ordering two seasons right away. (It’s a fitting place for the show, given that Peacock sister channel NBC was the home of the original sitcom.)

Other familiar characters remain present in Bel-Air. Canadian Adrian Holmes (19-2) and Cassandra Freeman play Will’s Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv, with Olly Sholotan, Coco Jones and Akira Akbar as cousins Carlton, Hilary and Ashley.

Deeming Bel-Air to be “a beautiful rendition” of the original concept, Banks reasons, “It’s much needed to open up these conversations about life and community and family and love. We also need to see Black excellence in this way.”

Banks got the good news that he was Bel-Air‘s new Will from Smith himself, who informed the young actor of it during a video call. “I was at the end of the audition process,” Banks recalls, “and I had one more audition. I thought it was going to be the director, and Will Smith surprised me on that Zoom call and told me that I got the part. That was a day to remember. I go back to that video and rewatch it often.”

Just as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air leaned heavily on the personality Smith brought to it, Bel-Air is doing the same where Banks is concerned. “The greatest thing about this project is that they chose me for me,” he explains. “This is my first professional gig, and it’s an amazing opportunity. I could not ask for a better break.” 

Bel-Air airs Mondays at 6 p.m. & Midnight on Showcase starting on February 14th