There’s a lot that’s different in Peacock’s rebooted version of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” Fans of the hit series, which debuted in 1990, might recall that this revamped version was born out of a labor of fandom. Creator Morgan Cooper first pitched the idea of a dramatic reimagining of the comedy in 2019 on YouTube and pushed the lens into the darker aspects of the original series.
Finally, the new series is here, and with it comes an entirely new cast with different faces and takes on the beloved characters that ruled television screens throughout the '90s.
Here’s a look at the new characters next to the original ones.
Will Smith (Jabari Banks and Will Smith)
Jabari Banks makes a splash as the West Philadelphia-born and raised basketballer. In what can only be described as the most meta coincidence of reboot television, Banks, like the character Will Smith (played initially by the actor Will Smith), is from West Philadelphia. Just like the actor Will Smith.
On returning to his Philly roots to take on the iconic '90s character, Banks told The Hollywood Reporter, “I definitely feel like I’m taking the Will character and forming my own experiences around it in this new light and this new era. It’s going to be a little different, and that’s exciting for everybody to watch. We think we know who Will is, and I’m super excited to be able to expand on that and to leave my footprint.”
Aunt Viv (Cassandra Freeman, Daphne Maxwell Reid and Janet Hubert)
Stepping into the heels of Aunt Viv for the reboot is Cassandra Freeman. Freeman pays homage to the original no-nonsense character for her role as the Banks family’s matriarch by portraying her forthrightness and nurturing nature which actors Janet Hubert and Daphne Maxwell Reid previously had the task of doing.
During the original show's third season, Reid was brought on to replace Hubert after a tumultuous relationship between the latter and Smith bubbled over. Fortunately two years ago during the HBO Max reunion of the series, Hubert and Smith seemed to iron things out.
Here's hoping there won't be too much in common with the new and old cast when it comes to this. Particularly because in terms of Aunt Viv’s reputation for impeccable style, the new Aunt Viv leaves nothing to be desired. Not only are her outfits one to aspire to, but she also has artistic ambitions and a compelling perspective on what it means to be a mother in today’s day and age.
Hilary Banks (Coco Jones and Karyn Parsons)
Hilary Banks gets the ultimate upgrade in this reboot which approaches the originally lovable but vapid daughter in an entirely different way. As Hilary, Coco Jones is a career-minded influencer with a talent for cooking.
Reflecting on the revamped character whom she played in the '90s, Karyn Parsons told Harper’s Bazaar, “This time around, this is a drama, this isn’t a comedy, so it’s a very different Hilary journey in that regard. It’ll be really interesting for people to see themselves in that character as she grows into her womanhood.”
Ashley Banks (Akira Akbar and Tatyana Ali)
Fans of the original “Fresh Prince” will be relieved to know that not much has changed in terms of rapport between cousins Ashley and Will. Actor Akira Akbar takes on the youngest member of the Banks family with the same independent spirit. Like OG Ashley, the rebooted character is up for a good laugh and has a bit of a sporty sense of style. This time, however, she’s more in tune with the events of the world, revealing that her interests involve environmental impact.
Geoffrey (Jimmy Akingbola and Joseph Marcell)
If you were skeptical of how Joseph Marcell’s loveable Geoffrey could be rebooted, rest easy. Geoffrey of 2022 has quite a bit more style and swagger than the Banks’ butler, and he’s been promoted to boot! Actor Jimmy Akingbola brings original Geoffrey’s London accent and posh sensibility but gives the overall character a crush-worthy upgrade. Spiffily dressed and built with swift comebacks to the timely jokes Will makes, “Bel-Air’s” Geoffrey also seems to understand the culture and community the character Will comes from in a way that Marcell’s Geoffrey never could. In truth, if “Bel-Air ever gets to the point where it jumps the shark, it wouldn’t be surprising if a big reveal turned out to be that Geoffrey is, in fact, a covert FBI agent or 007.
“I remember loving the original Geoffrey but, where I’m from, not knowing many people who spoke like that. So I loved being able to create someone who, if you are from East London, you’d be like: ‘I know guys like that,’” Akingbola explained, adding, “Also in this, he’s more tapped in closer to Will, he’s had a similar background. He’s street smart.”
Carlton (Olly Sholotan and Alfonso Ribeiro)
Just when we thought the series couldn’t get grittier enough, the new Carlton Banks appears to have a bit of a drug problem. Still academically minded and shorter in height than Will, Olly Sholotan portrays a not nearly as dorky Carlton, who also has a dark side. Beyond self-medicating with Xanax, Carlton in this version bears the weight of his Black identity and the microaggressions people of color face on a daily basis and for him its often in the locker room.
Uncle Phil (Adrian Holmes and James Avery)
In an interview with Al Roker that aired on Today, actor Adrian Holmes explained that he couldn’t rely on simply stepping into the original Uncle Phil’s shoes for his latest role. “I’m just kind of creating my own,” he explained. “For me, it’s a tribute to him, a way of saying thank you to him and what he did for us.”
Still eager to see his nephew succeed in the world, “Bel-Air” turns things up a notch with the fictional attorney who aspires to give back to others. This version of Uncle Phil has his eyes on becoming a district attorney and is a lot less heavy-handed with Will. Though, as in the original, he encourages him to smarten up and be an adult.
Lisa (Simone Joy Jones and Nia Long)
A reboot of this favored series wouldn’t be right without Will’s crush Lisa. Portrayed as a skilled swimmer in the reboot, Simone Joy Jones brings a refreshing perspective to this character, who initially served as a foil to Will’s ever-womanizing ways. In this version of the series, not only is Lisa at the center of a love triangle we weren’t expecting, but she also has big career aspirations, the prize being Olympic gold.