What if The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air 90s sitcom took place today as a serious drama instead of a comedy?
That’s the premise of the new series Bel-Air, which will premiere with a weekly episode rollout beginning Feb. 13 on the streaming service Peacock. A subscription to Peacock Premium costs $4.99/month, or $9.99/month for ad-free streaming.
The idea for Bel-Air was created by Kansas City filmmaker Morgan Cooper in 2019. Cooper says he was driving along Hwy 71 in Kansas City when he first imagined the concept of retooling the popular Fresh Prince comedy as a dark drama. He created a trailer for the series that went viral, finally catching the attention of filmmaker Ava Duvernay and actor Will Smith, star of the original Fresh Prince series.
Smith reached out to Cooper after seeing the viral trailer and picked him to co-write and direct the Bel-Air series. Smith is serving as executive producer.
“Because Bel-Air is a drama, we’re able to really peel back the layers of these characters and themes in a way that you simply couldn’t do 30 years ago in the half-hour sitcom format,” said Cooper in a statement. “We’re able to go have tough conversations that challenge perspectives.”
The series keeps the premise of the original show: troubled Philadelphia teen Will Smith sent to California to live with his wealthy relatives, while giving more insight and more layers to each character.
The series stars Jabari Banks as Will, Adrian Holmes as Uncle Phillip Banks, Cassandra Freeman as Aunt Vivian Banks, Olly Sholotan as Carlton Banks, Coco Jones as Hilary Banks, Akira Akbar as Ashley Banks, and Jimmy Akingbola as Geoffrey.
“At its heart, Bel-Air is a coming-of-age story that celebrates the strength and love of the Black family,” showrunners T.J. Brady and Rasheed Newson told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement last year. “We have stayed true to the original premise of the legacy series — Will’s life is turned upside down after he is forced to leave West Philly and lands in Bel Air with its gated mansions and wealth.”
Watch the trailer for Bel-Air here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-_P9DPMuy8.
Meet KC Filmmaker Morgan Cooper
Morgan Cooper bought his first camera at 18 years old and spent hours teaching himself how to use it and perfecting the art of filming.
He began to shoot and edit music videos for local rappers, which is where he really was able to gain experience and perfect his craft.
Cooper then began shooting short films, including “U Shoot Videos?” and “Pay Day,” which won him a Tribeca X Award for best short film award.
The young filmmaker is greatly inspired by cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, who has directed films like “Juice,” “Do the Right Thing,” and “She’s Gotta Have It.”
Cooper has a passion for storytelling and his love for Kansas City clearly resonates in his work. His spoof trailer for “Bel-Air” was filmed at some of his favorite spots in Kansas City including the scout statue in Penn Valley Park, and all the actors featured in the trailer are from Kansas City.
After success for “Bel-Air” took off, Cooper moved to Los Angeles in 2019 and more career opportunities have come his way.
Currently, Cooper is working on directing and producing a Quibi show with Gabrielle Union called “Black Coffee.” The show is a comedy series about a former basketball star from Kansas City who becomes a national barista champion after a career-shattering injury.
Cooper’s overall goal as a filmmaker is to positively impact society and help inspire the next generation of Black filmmakers to tell their stories.