Join or Sign In

Sign in to customize your TV listings

Continue with Facebook Continue with email

By joining TV Guide, you agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge the data practices in our Privacy Policy.

Bel-Air Review: Peacock's Gritty Fresh Prince Remake Should Have Never Gone Over Four Minutes

It's not parody, it's not great drama, so what is it?

Tim Surette
Olly Sholotan and Jabari Banks, Bel-Air

Olly Sholotan and Jabari Banks, Bel-Air

Evans Vestal Ward/Peacock

Ideas for TV series have come from strange places — anyone remember CBS's S--- My Dad Says, which was based on a *barf* Twitter feed? — but Peacock's newest show Bel-Air is high up on the list of shows sprung from unusual inspiration. It isn't just a do-over of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the early 1990s NBC comedy that helped launch Will Smith's career and is cherished by millennials. That would make it just another reboot no one asked for that we collectively roll our eyes at. No, Bel-Air is a full-on extension of a 2019 viral trailer/fan film by Morgan Cooper that reimagined The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as a gritty drama. 

Three minutes of "what if?" self-aware parody is the kind of bizarre short-form video that's a hoot to pass around — and let me be clear, the trailer is indeed great — and then immediately forget about. But Will Smith couldn't forget about it, so he worked with Cooper for a full dramatic series about a kid from West Philadelphia, born and raised, who moves in with his uncle and auntie in Bel-Air after getting arrested back home. In streaming TV's ever-expanding universe that fills its vacuum with unnecessary reboots, revivals, and reimaginations, all you need is the blessing of an A-lister and an idea that got a thousand retweets. Voila — after a bidding war between streaming services, Peacock ordered two seasons of Bel-Air




  • The absurdity of it all
  • Crazy Carlton is pretty fun and Olly Sholotan is great


  • Works much better as a three-minute trailer than it does a full TV series
  • The drama is predictable and doesn't offer anything new
  • There's no clarity about what the show is supposed to be

We'll see if it makes it that far. Bel-Air tries to separate itself from the original while also using the original as a template, making it impossible to watch without constantly being reminded of the bizarre road Bel-Air took to get here. That feeling of perplexity works for a three-minute video — kinda like something from that episode of Rick & Morty where they watch cable TV from other universes — but taking these well-known pieces and making them "edgy" for an entire episode, let alone two full seasons, is fun for a bit, until it ultimately becomes a test of patience and sanity. 

When Bel-Air's Carlton (Olly Sholotan) — a character best remembered for the very intentionally funny Carlton dance from Fresh Prince — chops up and snorts Xanax (!!!), he may as well also snort the line between intentional and unintentional parody. Is Cooper going for real shocking drama here, or is he still winking at the audience as he did in his short film? Bel-Air is played as the former, with zero laughs in sight, meaning the whole series is either an inside joke that we're kind of in on or we're really doing this and Carlton hoovering pain meds is something we're taking seriously. (Yes, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air covered plenty of serious subjects, but it earned those moments and didn't handle them at all like Bel-Air does, which is to say with blunt force.) 

As a serious drama, Bel-Air fills up most of its time with questions of class, race, and Blackness, though the ways they're handled aren't exactly original and unexpected. Will (Jabari Banks) tussles with white kids at Bel-Air Academy, sparked when one of them is rapping along to a song and says the N-word (the N-word is used a LOT in this); Will constantly questions Carlton's Blackness while Carlton swings back and calls Will a thug; and Will's humble upbringing causes a lot of tension between him and the entire filthy-rich Banks family. Cooper and Smith slam their plot points down hard, taking cues from melodramatic primetime soaps and upping the ante with music video-style glam shots. (The show does look good!)

The whole cast of characters is updated and redressed for plot and conflict. Uncle Phil (Adrian Holmes) is running for district attorney and sees Will's presence as a threat to his election, Will's cousin Hilary (Coco Jones) is a self-absorbed influencer giving her followers tips on finding success despite the fact that she has the privilege of dropping out of college and being unemployed to build her brand full time because she's loaded, 12-year-old cousin Ashley (Akira Akbar) is woke AF and not that present early on, and Geoffrey (Jimmy Akingbola) the "house manager" (butler in the sitcom) acts more like Phil's bodyguard than his drink tray. Only Aunt Vivian (Cassandra Freeman), herself an outsider who married into this society, really seems to understand Will's plight off the bat. Oh, and in case you're wondering, Jazz is a ride-share driver, taking over for the cab driver who appeared in the opening credits of Fresh Prince.

Best Shows on Peacock Right Now

As for the prince himself, Bel-Air's Will has the swag that the original Will had, but because this is a serious drama (seriously, it's so serious), he has none of the original Will's disarming goofy charm, despite an affable air from newcomer Jabari Banks. That makes the weird antics he gets into and the bad decisions he makes — of all the women he could go after, he chooses the worst possible one, given his situation, which leads to D-R-A-M-A — land without tact, though it's perfectly fine behavior for a sitcom. That about sums up the issues with Bel-Air, a confusing series that's too tied to its sitcom roots to pass for a drama to take seriously. It's unclear with its intentions and doesn't justify its existence other than to underline a new era of streaming that's starved for content. There's a way this idea works, but it's not by turning the fun trailer into a full-fledged TV series. Smell you later, Bel-Air.

Premieres: Feb. 13 on Peacock (three episodes, then weekly)
Who's in it: Jabari Banks, Adrian Holmes, Olly Sholotan, Cassandra Freeman, Coco Jones
Who's behind it: Morgan Cooper (creator), Will Smith (EP)
For fans of: Really long memes, swag, confusion
How many episodes we watched: 3