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Breaking the Reboot Curse

On Feb. 13, a modern and dramatized reboot of the fan-favorite sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was released, shortening its namesake to Bel-Air. Following the release of the first three episodes of the series on its pilot night, episodes of Bel-Air, executively produced by Will Smith, have been released weekly. Internet buzz has been surrounding the show, as fans eagerly await the next new twist, discuss the onset of nostalgia prompted by callbacks to the original series and proclaim that the series may have broken “the reboot curse”.

The premise of the reboot follows that of the original, as told by the iconic theme song. Teenage West Philadelphian, Will Smith gets into an altercation in his neighborhood, and, at the reluctant request of his mother, must move to Bel-Air in LA to live with his incredibly affluent aunt and uncle, and their three children. The story surrounds the events that follow.

While Bel-Air maintains the same logline as the original, similarities between the two begin to dwindle past this point which, unexpectedly, has been well-received by many fans of the original that have taken to social media weekly to confirm that Bel-Air may have broken the “reboot curse”- a term used to describe the tendency for reboots and sequels to pale in comparison to their predecessors, and eventually fizzle out as a result.

“I’m so glad I gave Bel Air a chance. When I heard there was a Fresh Prince reboot coming, I was already like “HELL NO” cause reboots never came out good. But #BelAir has broken the curse. The show slaps hard. I love it,” weighed in Twitter user @victoriaa_o on the topic of the reboot curse phenomenon.

Internet discourse surrounding the belief in the reboot curse tends to divide itself into one of two main schools of thought. The first idea is that reboots fail because they base themselves on something that has been done before, therefore taking up a space in television that could be occupied by fresh ideas. The second thought is that the curse resides within the audience and the nostalgic stubbornness with which original fans view a recreation of beloved characters and plot points.

The success of Bel-Air could be based on the formulaic manner in which it changes the entire genre of the series, slightly tweaks the traits and relationships of the characters to create a new experience, and modernizes certain storylines to make them applicable to a newer audience, all while incorporating enough elements of the original to appease long-time fans of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. 

This evolution is evident in every character, whether changes are subtle, like in Will and Jazz’s characters, or dramatic, as evident in Geoffry and Carlton.

“This is a dramatic retelling of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which we know and love,” said Jabari Banks, the actor and West Philadelphia native serving as the Will Smith of Bel-Air, told Today, “It’s basically the idea [going] into each character’s inner life and  [seeing] the emotions that they’re feeling through their journey.”

Jabari Banks as Will Smith (left)  and Adrian Holmes as Philip Banks (right)

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was about what the title would suggest. It was the story of Will, and save for the comedic quips or occasional event episodes, the other characters serve to tell Will’s story and develop his character. While Will could still be considered the main character, Bel-Air places more emphasis on the events happening outside of Will. It focuses on the lives and careers of each member of the family and when revisiting certain storylines it answers questions like: “What was this character feeling when that happened?” Just as the original had to limit certain dramatic elements to maintain the comedic aspect, Bel-Air had to omit some of the goofier elements of each character to commit to dramatization- and the show works both ways.

Bel-Air is solely available through Peacock, a streaming service owned by NBC Universal, and releases episodes every Thursday. According to Paul Zechearia at Screen Rant, Peacock had originally purchased two seasons of Bel-Air, so fans should undoubtedly expect a season two.

Jason Ponterotto

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