Peacock’s highly-anticipated drama series Bel-Air debuts Sunday, February 13 after the Super Bowl. Fans have already taken to social media to express their opinions on revisiting a classic like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. We had the opportunity to catch the pilot episode ahead of its release, tour the set and speak with the cast and crew about the filming process. Though we were skeptical as well, we can assure you it’s worth the watch.
In the hour pilot episode, viewers are immediately captivated by the familiar story we know and love in the original sitcom. Fans are introduced to the modern day version of Will and the fight that forces him to uproot his life to Bel Air with his Uncle Phil and Aunt Vivian. As a fan of the original sitcom, this dramatized version is not what you would expect but the thoughtful cast and crew made the story fresher than ever.
In 2019, director Morgan Cooper created a fan trailer to express a more dire origin story of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The short trailer instantly became a viral sensation attracting the attention of Will Smith himself.
The rest is history.
Peacock’s upcoming one-hour drama series Bel-Air is set in modern-day America. It reimagines the beloved sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air through a new, dramatic take on Will’s complicated journey from the streets of West Philadelphia to the gated mansions of Bel-Air. As these two worlds collide, Will reckons with the power of second chances while navigating the conflicts, emotions, and biases of a world far different from the only one he’s ever known.
Executive produced by Will Smith, and inspired by Morgan Cooper’s viral trailer, Bel-Air takes a fresh and raw approach to this world of swagger, style, and aspiration, while exploring Will’s complex journey through a current lens. The new series features an ensemble cast that introduces Jabari Banks as Will and a creative team that includes Cooper, who serves as director, co-writer, and executive producer, and co-showrunners and executive producers T.J. Brady and Rasheed Newson.
When asked how showrunners and executive producers Brady and Newson envisioned dramatizing such a comical sitcom, Brady shared how director and creator Cooper’s trailer helped in the process.
“We were helped out a lot by the trailer Morgan put out,” Brady shared. “When you have a compass reading like that, you know what direction you’re walking in. That was a big advantage having that visual template and tone between the lighting and the music to follow.”
Newson followed with the difference in creating a comedy and drama series.
“What if this were real,” Newson asked. “In the pilot Will’s meeting his family for the first time so from a drama series, why exactly have we not met our cousins? And why have we been struggling in Philadelphia and yall been rich this whole time? You couldn’t fly us out for Christmas? So that led to this idea that there must be some secrets in this family and now you’re in the world of drama.”
After sifting through hundreds of auditions, casting decided on newcomer and Philadelphia native, Jabari Banks, to portray the iconic character of Will in the series. When asked about his biggest lesson filming the series, Banks gracefully answers, “The people that you pass on the way up will be there on your way down too so you always have to treat everybody with respect and with dignity and just be a good person. Don’t let your ego be too big. Just be a good human.”
Banks’ humble, suave demeanor is oddly similar to Will Smith’s persona, so it seems he was the perfect match.
Cooper shared how they didn’t force directions on the cast.
“Leaving actors with room to do their thing,” he said during our set visit. “Moment creation is such an important attribute for a great actor. We have moment creators. Never want them to feel bogged down with directions. Give them stakes, reminders. We have younger actors who have never done this before so just being there to help empower them and help remind them of the emotional cues within the sequences.”
Banks is joined by Simone Joy Jones, Jordan L. Jones, Cassandra Freeman, Adrian Holmes, Coco Jones, Olly Sholotan, Akira Akbar and Jimmy Akingbola in this ensemble cast. The cast also share how they are adding new life to the beloved characters.
Holmes, who portrays Uncle Phil, does not strike you as Will’s tyrant uncle from the original series.
“I didn’t see myself as Uncle Phil,” Holmes said. “But then when I got the material I really connected with the energy and the essence of the character. Uncle Phil is a vibe. He’s not just a physical presence, he’s an energy. He’s a vibe.”
Jordan L. Jones plays Will’s best friend Jazz in the show.
“I feel that, especially in this show, that every character has more depth in this one,” Jones answers to adding life to the old characters. “I feel like I’m more of Will’s Jiminy Cricket. In the original you don’t know Jazz except as Will’s best friend. I’m like his reminder of home. Even though I’m not from Philly, we have similar life experiences. I’m the one that always gives him that extra advice and through that we become best friends.”
Simone Joy Jones is also new to television, using her background in theater to bring raw emotion onscreen. Simone shares how she brings new life to her character as Lisa.
“Lisa is someone who feels familiar but not in the way that feels like home,” she adds. “It’s a bit of soul food in a place that is really plastic.”
Bel-Air is a thoughtful fresh take on a classic show, and the cast and crew have been working diligently to do it justice. Will Smith mentioned during the drive-in, immersive experience Wednesday, February 9, how he had no interest of ever touching the adored sitcom. That is, until he saw Cooper’s brilliant storytelling.
You know the Banks family, but not like this. Be sure to catch the upcoming drama series Bel-Air premiering on Peacock Sunday, February 13, 2022 with the first three episodes at launch and new episodes released weekly thereafter.