2022 ushered in a brand new era for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air fans. The new series, just called Bel-Air, premiered on NBC’s Peacock streaming platform to mixed reviews from fans and critics alike despite already being signed on for two seasons. One thing for sure is that it is nothing like its predecessor. According to Alfonso Riberio, this is on purpose. While the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s main characters all share the same name, this incarnation is more based on the original’s theme song than the actual show.
In the new take of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the entire show has a different tone and energy. While Will Smith’s version was a family-friendly sitcom, this one takes more of a Euphoria approach to the characters of Will Smith and Carlton Banks. There is more references to substance abuse in this darker take of the show. Will is more troubled this time around and really struggling to find his place in Bel-Air.
Newcomer Jabari Banks plays Will Smith while well-known actress Coco Jones joins the cast as Hilary Banks. Olly Sholotan is an edgier Carlton Bank, while Adrian Holes, Cassandra Freeman, and Akira Akbar round out the Banks family as Uncle Phil, Aunt Viv, and Ashley Banks respectively.
Will Smith is behind the new show as its executive producer, taking on the project after a concept trailer from Morgan Cooper went viral a few years ago. In the trailer, Cooper tried to interpret the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and its characters in a real world way.
The characters all have evolved with the times’ thanks to modern-day issues like social media, shifts in sexuality, and teen use of substances. Carlton has the most significant change in this new version. While Alfonso Riberio’s take is known for his dancing and silly demeanor, this Carlton is an angry school jock who does not care too much for his cousin Will. Actually, he’s so against Will living with them that he allows a white friend to frame Will in the show’s third episode and is seen taking substances to cure his ‘anxiety’ in another scene.
While some love this modern take of the show, others are not too happy with it. The Guardian gave Bel-Air a pretty bad review upon first seeing it. They called new the series “monotonously intense” and full of “annoying caricatures” or its original characters.
Like the original shows theme song states, Fresh Prince Will ended up in Bel-Air after a fight on a basketball court in West Philly. While the opening montage made this seem like a silly brawl over a misunderstanding, 2022’s Bel-Air reimagines this as a life or death situation that landed Will in jail. When he finally arrives in Bel-Air, not everyone is happy to see him. Will is not too happy to be there either and continuously bumps heads with his family and new lifestyle.
The show has instantly gotten comparisons to Euphoria, but it is no way near as original. Many feel the show struggles to find a balance between being a remake, a satire, or something completely new. While the original show did keep things pretty light, it was due to this that when they took harsh turns into serious, they were more effective. This was best demonstrated in episodes like when Will Smith’s father walks out of his life, when Will and Alfonso Riberio’s Carlton are victims of racial profiling, or when Carlton reveals he is addicted to pills.
Speaking of OG Carlton, Alfonso Riberio has not said much about the reboot since it aired but did make some comments on the show while it was in production. According to Riberio, he is really proud of Will Smith and his team for completely reimagining the show. He feels the idea to turn Fresh Prince of Bel-Air into a drama was brilliant and argues that ‘Bel-Air’ is based on the ‘theme song’ and not the original fresh prince. He told E! News back in April 2021, “This is a totally different show,” before clarifying that he has nothing to do with the remake.
While it is unclear if Alfonso Riberio will ever return in a different role, a press release for episode 9 of the series did reveal that some actors will be returning from the original series as different characters. Maxwell Reid, who played the second Aunt Viv in the original, will be returning along with Vernee Watson-Johnson (who played Viola “Vy” Smith) as members of the Art Council Board of Trustees at Will’s school.