6 reasons you absolutely should be watching (and talking about)  ‘Bel-Air’

OPINION: You know how I know y’all ain't watching? If you were, you’d be calling for Olly Sholotan to win all the awards.

Olly Sholotan, left, and Jabari Banks in "Bel-Air." (Peacock)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

I’m not one of those people who is out on the idea of a reboot. I love musical remixes too much to ever be opposed to reimagining a piece of art. Hell, I love Virgil Abloh’s collaboration between his Off-White brand and Nike for “The Ten” because it successfully reimagined how some of Nike’s most beloved shoes could be presented without losing even a modicum of cool; in fact, that initial collection and subsequent offerings turned up the cool factor. Reimaging and rebooting are fine if left in the right hands. 

That’s how I feel about the reboot of the iconic ’90s sitcom The Fresh of Bel-Air, now simply, Bel-Air. What started out as a 2019 mock trailer by Morgan Cooper that presented a darker, more modern look at what might happen if Willy from Philly moved to Bel-Air today, turned into a 10-episode season available on NBC’s streaming service, Peacock, which I get is a barrier to entry, but man, folks are missing out. Will Smith is on board. NBC is (obviously onboard), as are many of the folks associated with the original on the creative and executive production side. Cooper is an executive producer, writer and director. 

Yo, quite honestly, the shit is amazing. And I mean that with my whole heart. I’ve read some reviews that viewed it in a less than favorable light, and I truly have no idea what any of those folks are watching. It’s different. It’s not funny. It’s dark. It’s real. It’s engaging. It looks good. The cast looks good. It has mystery, intrigue, a hanging storyline, all of the same characters in mostly better, more fleshed-out capacities. I actually HATE one character. Put a pin in this. 

And we all should be watching this Black excellence right now. And I know definitively that me and you, your mama and your cousin, too, aren’t because if you did, then the first of my six reasons you should be watching would be obvious. Light spoilers, my G. Light spoilers.

1. Olly Sholotan is KILLING this role as Carlton Banks. He deserves awards for this.

For starters, I hate Carlton. Well, I did; we’re up to episode seven now, and I’m turning the corner on my feelings about him. But Olly Sholotan’s interpretation of Carlton is so realistic of who Carlton Banks really would be that I’m beside myself with how much I love the job he’s doing. I’m, like, invested. As opposed to the happy go-lucky sidekick to Will who is mostly ridiculous and just a foil, this Carlton is riddled with anxiety, drugged-out, struggling with being the version of a cool Black guy to the white kids at the school—which means he lets all the racism go—trying to be the man on campus. He’s pissed at Will for ruining the social order of things, but not in the funny way from the first season of Fresh Prince. He and Will, played by Jabari Banks, get into an actual fight. Carlton is trying to find his place but without comedy to make it easier for the rest of us to deal with. I love this version of Carlton because I believe it, and Olly is giving this role everything it needs to give. Everything. 

2. Will is kind of a villain to me in this show, which is interesting. Trust me.

Will is still his charming, fun-loving self but the reason the entire storyline for the season even exists is that Will makes some bad decisions. Things go bad in Philly, and it’s kind of his fault, and when he gets to Bel-Air—I’m curious why the show title has a hyphen in it when the neighborhood in Los Angeles doesn’t; must be something legal?—well, he villains some more. When you watch, we can discuss. I like his character, though, as the season has evolved; he’s a pretty deep kid who cares. I like it, I love it, I want more of it. He’s still pulling villain moves, though.

3. Dear Aunt Viv the Third, I love you. You are everything, and everything is you.

That’s it. That’s the whole thought. I love her. If she wasn’t married to Uncle Phil, I think I might wife her; you know, powder blue Roc-A-Wear suit, white Nike her.  Shouts out to Cassandra Freeman on her turn as Aunt Viv. She’s giving an icon.

4. Hillary Banks is awesome. And bad AF. 

Let me be clear; I love Karyn Parsons’ version of Hillary Banks. But the whole bougie, airhead thing ran its course at some point. This version of Hillary is an influencer who wants more out of life and is navigating coming into her own as a Black woman with principles who is also trying to use her platform for good. Like, she’s about the finer things in life like Prior Hillary, but there’s some purpose behind her character’s motivations in a way that maybe a sitcom couldn’t really delve into. I love her. Coco Jones, I love her, too. Give her all the shine. 

Olly Sholotan and Coco Jones in “Bel-Air.” (Peacock)

5. I am REALLY curious about the Uncle Phil and Geoffrey origin story. 

One major, major difference in this new reimagining is Geoffrey (Jimmy Akingbola). He’s not a butler, but the house manager and quite possibly a mercenary or former head of security for Wakanda; I don’t know. I  have no idea, and neither do you, so everything is on the table. He’s like LeBron James, who can play all the positions on the court; he’s Uncle Phil’s (Adrian Holmes) muscle, confidante and guy who buries the bodies while keeping an eye on everything and keeping the house running. And that spin on the character is amazing, yo. Like, I can’t wait until we find out how they even met. The way they interact, I feel like Uncle Phil must have saved his life in the most genuine of ways, and they’re now bonded for life. Like they committed a murder together, they could never come back from without one another or something. I don’t know. Can’t wait to find out.

Sidebar: That’s another way I can tell you aren’t watching. Y’all gave Insecure all the smoke about Tiffany (Amanda Seales) wearing Alpha Kappa Alpha letters, etc., on the show, and Adrian Holmes, who is not an Alpha, is actually STEPPING in this show. Oddly, on the show, Uncle Phil is an Alpha (as opposed to the fictional Pi Nu fraternity from the ’90s show), but Aunt Viv is in a fictional sorority. Curious decision.

6. There’s a lot more to the story of Will, Aunt Viv and Uncle Phil.

It keeps getting teased in tiny bite-sized offerings that something happened in the past. I have no idea what it might be though I have some ideas. In my head, this plays into how Geoffrey came into the fold. I can’t even say more because I don’t know more, but the point is there’s an underlying backstory here that I imagine will be some kind of family tail-spin reveal to end this first season. Whew, chile. I’m all in. 

Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest) but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).

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