West Philadelphia’s Will Smith finds his new ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ in… West Philly.
It has been a new form of television sacrilege (or laziness) to see so many 90s series re-booted or remade for the millennial-based 21st Century. The one that I thought was bugging me the most was “Bel-Air,” the promised-dramatic redux of the usually silly NBC family comedy “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
Originally airing from September 1990 to May 1996, the original “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” was created by Andy Borowitz and Susan Borowitz and developed by Benny Medina and Jeff Pollack for the purposes of making a starring vehicle for Overbrook/West Philly’s Will Smith (that is, only after Morris Day of The Time tested for the role, and blew the audition).
At that point, the ‘Fresh Prince’ to Jeff Townes’ Jazzy Jeff DJ, Smith was an amiable family-friendly rapper with 1988’s smash, “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” behind him. Oddly enough the show wasn’t based on Smith (though the West Philly origin story was thrown in after his hire), but rather the life of Jennifer Lopez’s manager Benny Medina life story – one as a Medina poor in East Los Angeles teen whose life changed when he made friend with a rich white teen, whose Beverly Hills’ fam invited Medina to live with them. Turning the wealthy white family into a rich black one allowed the series to investigate explore black class differences according to Medina.
Nostalgia for all things 90s, and Fresh Prince Mania got a boost during the pandemic when Smith’s reunion special/retrospective reunited the original cast on HBO Max in November 2020, setting the stage for the dramatic reboot with a two-season order for Peacock, and based on a viral video from Morgan Cooper where Smith’s Fresh Prince’s story was more serious than comic. A great what-if, that.
But who plays the new Fresh Prince?
On August 31, after months of auditions, it was revealed that newcomer Jabari Banks, a West Philadelphia actor who just graduated from the University of the Arts, snagged the coveted role. Like Smith, he is an up-and-coming rapper, songwriter and singer, and already has hardcore entertainment industry representation from Frontline Management and The Kohner Agency.
Smith and Peacock dropped a YouTube announcement, with a weirdly bearded Smith yelling “Yo! What up Philly?” before congratulating and surprising the unknowing Banks for getting the role of ‘Will’ in the ‘Bel-Air’ reboot. “I’m ready,” says Banks. It’s a cool video reveal, actually. Watch that HERE.