Fresh Prince vs. Bel-Air: What's different for Will and the Banks family in the reboot
This is a story all about how the original characters from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air got turned upside down in the new, darker Bel-Air, which premiered after the Super Bowl on NBC.
Whereas Fresh Prince was very much a comedy, with moments of drama, Bel-Air is its polar opposite, looking at the murkier depths of this fish out of water tale.
Let's take a look at how the original characters stack up to their 21st century counterparts.
Originally played by Will Smith, now played by Jabari Banks
As the core of the show, Will is more or less the same: a charming, charismatic, basketball-loving scamp whose mouth always gets him into trouble. But Bel-Air's Will is not as goofy as the fresh prince we remember, '90s neon attire not withstanding. For instance, that "one little fight" that scares Will's mom so much. Yes, it's on a basketball court, and a stray ball is to blame, but instead of Will getting spun around over some big dude's head like a helicopter blade, Bel-Air's would-be prince pulls out a gun. Will then finds himself in a life or death situation, making his banishment to Bel-Air necessary.
Originally played by Alfonso Ribeiro, now played by Olly Sholotan
This Carlton is completely unlike the preppy, uptight, Tom Jones-loving, jitterbugging snob of yesteryear. Well, the snob part remains, but now Carlton's honestly a hot mess. He's got a burgeoning drug problem, some terrible friends, and a real jealous streak against Will that's a powder keg ready to explode. Don't expect Bel-Air's Carlton to break it down to some "It's Not Unusual" anytime soon.
Originally played by Karyn Parsons, now played by Coco Jones
Hillary is still a baddie with an eye for fashion, but unlike Fresh Prince's spoiled princess, this gal's got ambitions that involve more than just shopping. Bel-Air's Hillary is a rising food influencer but she's butting heads with her mother who doesn't think that actually qualifies as a job. But tell that to her 75,000 followers.
Originally played by James Avery, now played by Adrian Holmes
When we meet Bel-Air's Phillip Banks, he's a high-powered lawyer running for district attorney who pulled some strings to get Will out of jail after that one little fight — a move the potential D.A. says was over the line. While Fresh Prince's patriarch never did anything so shady, to our knowledge, both Uncle Phils are strict but ultimately loving and a surrogate father figure for Will.
Originally played by Janet Hubert and Daphne Maxwell Reid, now played by Cassandra Freeman
First, I'm an Aunt Viv purist so, with all due respect to Daphne Maxwell Reid who took over in season 4, it's Janet Hubert all the way. In Bel-Air, Will's aunt is still the heart of the Banks family as she was in Fresh Prince, though the latter Vivian Banks was an English professor. Cassandra Freeman's Viv teaches art — but the jury's still out if she can pull off a flawless dance routine to C+C Music Factory.
Originally played by Tatyana Ali, now played by Akira Akbar
We don't get to see much of the youngest Banks in the Bel-Air pilot, unlike the premiere episode for the Fresh Prince, which devotes a significant amount of time to the relationship between her and Will. So sadly we don't get to see this Ashley bust a freestyle during dinnertime grace but she adequately fills the adorable quotient.
Originally played by Joseph Marcell, now played by Jimmy Akingbola
The main difference between the two Geoffreys is one is a lot cooler than the other. The Fresh Prince's Geoffrey is a stuffy English butler — whose last name is actually Butler — whereas Bel-Air's Geoffrey is a Jamaican-born house manager and an old friend and confidante of Uncle Phil. (And his last name is Thompson.)
Originally played by DJ Jazzy Jeff, now played by Jordan L. Jones
Jazz was originally introduced as Ashley's drum teacher before becoming the Banks' favorite unwanted house guest, but in Bel-Air he's the cab driver who pulls up to the house around seven or eight, and instead of Will smelling him later, the two become fast friends.
Viola 'Vy' Smith
Originally played by Vernee Watson, now played by April Parker Jones
Bet you didn't know Will's mother's name was Viola. Will's mother is largely unseen in the original Fresh Prince — unless you count Will's "mom" in the opening credits, which you shouldn't — but she has a more pronounced presence in Bel-Air, even while remaining in West Philadelphia.
Bel-Air is streaming on Peacock.
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