Bel-Air Opens with Fresh Take on a Classic
The first three episodes of Bel-Air offer a much deeper look into Will and the Banks family.
Spoiler Alert! I’m about to spoil crucial moments from Bel-Air’s first three episodes. Stop reading now if you haven’t watched. Ok, you’ve been warned.
Ok, finally! Now we’re going to talk about the first three episodes of Bel-Air. If you haven’t watched yet, you definitely should, because we need to give this show all the hype we can. Plus, new episodes drop every Thursday on Peacock, so this is your chance to catch up before jumping in.
Bel-Air is a celebration of Black culture and excellence. The series never loses sight of who its audience is and what they want. While it honors The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, it’s not a copy. I had a chance to speak with the cast and executive producer/director Morgan Cooper about what’s coming in Season 1.
“To see the celebration of Blackness on screen is super exciting because representation is everything,” Banks said. “To be a part of this process and to give back to my community in this way is so beautiful, and it’s been such a learning experience. I hope that people walk away from this show with a sense of pride and a sense of excellence…that’s what this show’s about.”
From the moment we meet Banks as Will, it’s clear this is not the Fresh Prince of our childhoods and that’s ok. He’s still the smart, confident, cocky kid we know and love, but he’s also vulnerable and a little insecure.
The actor says Will’s softer side is something we’ll continue to see. Especially as he struggles with PTSD from being thrown to the ground and arrested.
“That never really goes away,” Banks said. “There’s always a part of the PTSD experience that lingers on and affects how he walks about his daily life.”
Throughout the first three episodes, Will has flashbacks of his arrest. Anytime the Bel-Air Academy security guard approaches him, which is a lot because racism, he’s instantly sent back to that night and runs away. It gets to a point where his basketball game is affected, so Phil helps him confront his feelings. This is a really nice setup for Will and Phil’s burgeoning father/son relationship. Of course, this inevitably leads to hurt feelings from Carlton, who couldn’t be more threatened by Will’s presence.
Wow, do we need to talk about Carlton. If you were hoping for a 2022 update of the goofy yet lovable Carlton, you absolutely came to the wrong place. When Will walks in on Carlton (played by Olly Sholotan) snorting drugs, we know this isn’t Alfonso Ribeiro’s Carlton. There’s no brotherly camaraderie here, they hate each other on sight. Naturally, there’s a girl involved. Carlton’s ex, Lisa, has instant chemistry with Will, which is just another thing Will does better than him.
I went on an emotional roller coaster with Carlton. When he allowed his silly little friend Connor to say the N-word during a rap song, then was ok with him framing Will, I definitely hated him. However, later on when the depths of his anxiety, depression and insecurity was revealed, I began to feel more sympathetic.
“Mental health in the Black community in general is something that we don’t talk about enough,” Sholotan told The Root. “It does really excite me to get to show this young Black man come to terms with dealing with his own anxiety. He goes on a very long and beautiful journey. So many young Black boys are going to watch him and identify with his journey.”
As great as it is that the show is tackling mental health issues in young Black men, I hope Carlton and Will are able to come to an understanding, because I don’t want to watch them constantly yelling and punching one another. I’m not looking for them to do a synchronized dance, but a less combative relationship would be appreciated.
Perhaps the most interesting change from the original is Geoffrey. He and Phil are best friends, treating one another as equals, not employee/employer. There’s a mystery to Geoffrey that I’m 100 percent all in on. I need to know everything there is to know about who he used to be and how he came to know Phil. The opening episodes are full of hints about Geoffrey’s past, but according to Jimmy Akingbola we won’t get a full picture until later in the season.
“He’s not just a butler in this version. He’s an advisor, a friend to Phil. They’re like brothers and they’re equals,” Akingbola said. “We’re taking our time, we’re creating a mystery. We don’t want to give it to you all in one go, we’ve got two seasons to cover. Geoffrey has a past. His past includes experience on the streets, as well as in boardrooms and mansions.”
The opening episodes also include Phil and Vivian reuniting with their frat brothers and sorority sisters, Hilary standing up for herself as a Black influencer, and Will finding his way in a predominately white world. In an extremely crowded TV landscape, Bel-Air’s first three episodes instantly establish it as the one reboot with something new to say to Black audiences.
“Black stories are more important than ever. We have to tell those stories fearlessly, and we can’t ask for permission. The immediacy and the need to tell these stories, there’s no more important time in my mind,” Cooper said.
Bel-Air is streaming on Peacock, with new episodes available every Thursday.