At its core, Bel-Air is about two things: identity and community. Initially developed by Morgan Cooper from a fan film and uploaded to YouTube, the series decided to lose much of the brevity that made the original Fresh Prince a hit and elevated Will Smith into sitcom royalty. With an entire season under its belt, Bel-Air tackled major elements of the original series, remixed a few others and asked its audience to accept it as a modern tale closer to what Benny Medina, the actual Fresh Prince saw his life turn upside down and into. It also made for weekly chatter on Twitter and Facebook even as fans questioned one unique storyline and wanted to thirst over the new Hilary and two main characters, Uncle Phil and Geoffrey.
When Bel-Air premiered last February, minor aspects of the real world emerged regarding racism, the interplay of Black “cool” and acceptance among white peers. It may have been life imitating art for the real Smith when he endured Hollywood backlash following what happened before he accepted the Oscar for Best Actor for King Richard. But, like Smith, Bel-Air operates in handling human moments, not washing them away and shrugging things off.
When we last left the Banks family with Bel-Air, doubt, and aspersion had cast a significant shadow. Philip (Adrian Holmes) had not only made an outcast out of devoted house manager Geoffrey (Jimmy Akingbola) but also of Will (Jabari Banks) due to a belief in what could ultimately be considered “right” for a teenager trying to come into his own.
On a micro level, the argument about right or wrong in helping elevate a wayward Black teen toward his greatness was the original series’ base premise. Here, it looms even more prominent as Will continually finds himself pulled into spaces where his voice and temperament must always feel heard.
Season 2 of the hit series returns with a casual blend of old and new. Bel-Air quickly wanted to set the tone as not being a beat-by-beat retelling of the original Fresh Prince, and while select elements of the original exist, characters feel far more fleshed out and human. Carlton (Olly Sholotan) still finds himself struggling internally as he navigates to find a coalition with the same Black students who felt alienated by him previously. Hilary (Jones) weaves between “girl boss” status with a contentious new head of the house, Ivy (Karreuche Tran) while finally dropping her guard to allow a crush to evolve into something bigger.
Bringing Back An Old Face To Tell A Familiar Story
What made Season 1 of Bel-Air hit was the full-on showcase of the Banks’ family dynamic. As much of last season hinged upon the aftermath of Phil’s district attorney campaign, the early teases of Season 2 find focus on the youngest Banks’ child and the world she’s set to grow up in. Real-life issues from education, and what’s being taught across the country find their way into Bel-Air. While Banks’ Smith is eager to take up the charge, it’s Ashley (Akira Akbar), and by proxy, the original Ashley portrayed by Tatyana Ali who helps establish the main set piece that affects the Banks clan on all levels.
At Bel Air Academy, Mrs. Hughes (Ali) gets the new Ashley into a bit of “good trouble,” as John Lewis once put it, in a storyline that touches on what’s currently going on in Florida and across the country about education and African American studies, placing a child’s desire to learn more about her history in the crossfire of an age-old argument from politicians, teachers and adults. Showrunner Carla Banks Waddles told Yahoo! she and the writers conceived the storyline over a year ago, but quickly felt using the youth of Bel-Air to drive it was vital.
“When those reports started coming out, it felt so validating,” Waddles said. “Our story was already locked and loaded, and then suddenly this becomes national news. We didn’t plan it this way, but it made us feel good to realize this is a story worth telling and a conversation that is still going on.”
The charm and humor from season 1 persist, but Bel-Air is remarkable in how it fleshes out everyone in the Banks family. No one member takes a backseat to the other, making it less like a typical 44-minute drama and instead opening up a world of possibility for where these characters can grow, evolve and thrive. As season two arrives, Bel-Air knows what it wants to be as a television show, not just a vivid retelling of a ’90s favorite.
With 2nd Season, ‘Bel-Air’ Finds An Identity Far Beyond Its Beloved Predecessor was originally published on blackamericaweb.com
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