Is the renewed Bel Air series worth a watch?
by Jaskiran Kaur | Fri, 18 Feb 2022 15:12:01 GMT
Image Source: Full Circle Cinema, Digital Spy, Wikipedia

Bel-Prince Fresh Air continues to be a beloved film decades later, but will Bel-Air manage to receive the same admiration? 

Sharing what makes the original production so endearing, Morgan Cooper, the director of the renewed drama series, said, "It's the iconic characters." "That family and the moments that they were able to bring to the small screen so many years ago is so inspiring, and all of the conversations that they had that were underneath the humor," he explained. 

The original series is light in tone and relies on a lot of comic elements and laughter. Yet it manages to draw attention to many social issues and causes. On the other hand, Bel Air is a drama series that uses dialogue and serious storytelling to highlight the cause. 

"They were able to have really difficult dramatic conversations and explore those types of themes while making it something that's really fun for anybody to enjoy. I feel like the original sitcom just has this timeless component that keeps people coming back to it," said Morgan Cooper.

The series that originally began with the idea of being produced into a film later turned into a series as Will Smith got introduced to it. "Originally, I saw it as like. I think this would be a great movie. I shot it as a short film, and then very quickly I said, “I think this could be a really strong one-hour drama," revealed Cooper. 

As Will Smith was drawn to the idea of the one-hour drama series, the couple agreed to share their ideas through FaceTime meetings, and later they met in Miami to finalize their ideas for the show. Hence, they together built the base for the show and created the drama on top of it. 

The series is shot using an ALEXA camera, an asset that helped accentuate the black skin tones of the people in the series. "We're using the ALEXA LF, which is a large-format sensor, which renders Black skin tones beautifully," said Cooper of their experience with the shooting technique. 

"We wanted to make sure that our camera lens packages were tools that really honored their beauty," he explained, referring to the series' cast. "Capture their humanity because, once again, they're beautiful people inside and out. It's also really the quality of light as well that we're using, and the style of lighting and the marbling and the big soft sources that wrap around their face really gently. It's all about capturing people from a place of care and love and letting that be the filter with the tools that you use. It’s all about intention."

While several people have judged Bel-Air a much more serious take on the original Fresh Prince version, the renewed storytelling needs to be given credit for the authenticity of dialogue, and the way words are constructed adds realism to the whole situation. "What I tell each actor I work with is, I want them to have authorship with these characters," revealed Cooper, sharing that the script and actors go hand in hand when deciding on the dialogues. 

"They're the ones that have to put it all on the line when they step in front of our camera and trust us. We have to display trust as well. I always say when I feel like we got it, we got what's on the page, let's do one for fun," he shared. "Let's just throw it out. Have fun with it and just see what we discover. There's so much magic we were able to capture in season one through just letting them go and giving them a take or two to just have fun and explore and play with the language and help elevate it."

Talking about the new actor, Jabari Banks, who stepped in the shows of Will Smith in the series, Cooper shared that he brings "vulnerability"

 to his character. The director explained that when he casts people, he necessarily looks into their body language and the physicality they bring along with their being. For Jabri, the part that helped cast him in the series is his eyes and "sincerity" that shines through them. Even though Jabri is presently a young actor with limited experience, he made the most out of it in Bel-Air and has done great work.

Apart from the positive aspects of the film that Morgan Cooper shared with Screen Rant, Rasheed Newson, the producer of Bel-Air also had a few things to say for the series and especially the man behind it. 

"He's got a very clear vision, and he's got a talent that unfortunately isn't prominent enough in Hollywood, and he knows how to light people who have dark skin," he said of Cooper. The producer explained that the director spent a lot of effort and time building his vision with Bel-Air, beginning from the Youtube Teaser to the series. He has individually looked into the type of music he wanted, the shooting styles, and more for the film. 

"Our job as showrunners has been trying to figure out when Morgan isn't directing when we only have nine days to shoot it and this budget and the limited budget, how do we achieve the same effects?" said Newson of their shortcomings. "It was a challenge, but I think we've achieved it."

T.J. also appreciated Jabari Banks for his unique portrayal of Will Smiths' original character, divulging, "He elevates almost every line we write for him. I'll be honest. I mean, that is a talented actor. He is a once-in-a-generation actor in my opinion. I feel so lucky to have found him." 

So, is the latest Bel-Air adaption worth a watch? 

T.J. Brady, the producer on Bel-Air, finished his talk with a reference to the original series. He said, "Even though it was a sitcom in the early 1990s, they took on and tackled as best they could issues that still resonate and are relevant today. Our hope in paying homage to that is to take a look at some of these situations and issues through a modern lens."

Bel Air cast Jabari Banks in the lead role; Credits: USA Today

The show is available to stream on Peacock.