Negative Bel-Air fan reactions are 'understandable', star says

Will and Carlton looking unimpressed in Bel-Air on Peacock
(Image credit: Universal Television/Westbrook Studios)

Bel-Air star Jimmy Akingbola understands why some fans of The Fresh Prince are upset with the rebooted show.

Speaking exclusively to TechRadar ahead of the Peacock series' premiere on Sunday (February 13), Akingbola said he was sympathetic to Fresh Prince fans' views, especially those who are unhappy with the remake.

Bel-Air – a gritty, dramatic 21st century reboot of the beloved Will Smith-starring sitcom – has divided the Fresh Prince fanbase ever since it was announced in August 2020. Fans had plenty to say about the series' first trailer, which arrived in early January, while critical reception to the show has been mixed. 

In our review, we said that "fans will wonder why Bel-Air was created" and that it's "so intrinsically linked to The Fresh Prince that comparisons are inevitable, so much so that it’s simply impossible to critique it in any other light."

Akingbola – who plays a reinvented version of the Banks family's sardonic butler Geoffrey in the reboot – is aware that Bel-Air won't be to everyone's tastes. However,  the Arrow star believes that fans shouldn't dismiss Bel-Air as an unnecessary remake without watching it first.

"I understand the negative views because The Fresh Prince is so precious to everyone," he admitted. "But I know that Bel-Air has been made with love and respect, and with Will Smith's blessing. I wasn't concerned about being [cast] in it because the only way you could do The Fresh Prince in 2022 is as a one-hour drama. Our series will feel deeply nostalgic yet completely new and fresh, but we stay true to the original premise."

Jimmy Akingbola and Adrian Holmes in Bel-Air on Peacock

Geoffrey and Uncle Phil watch events play out in Bel-Air. (Image credit: Universal Television/Westbrook Studios)

While The Fresh Prince's basic premise has been carried over into Bel-Air, there are plenty of notable changes throughout. Geoffrey, who was portrayed by Joseph Marcell in the original show, is no longer just the Banks family's butler. In Bel-Air, Geoffrey is their house manager and a close confidante of Uncle Phil (Adrian Holmes), but he's also a multifaceted character with his own intriguing backstory.

It's this type of reinvention – especially one that speaks to the authentic Black British experience – that sets Bel-Air apart from its iconic predecessor, according to Akingbola. Not only that, but he hopes that Bel-Air's realistic Black relationships will strike a chord with viewers and, in particular, change how bonds between Black men are perceived.

"Joseph and I talked a lot about his [Geoffrey's] place in the family and about how important it is for me to represent the Black British community in an authentic way," Akingbola said. "I'm always thinking about representing the British Black experience and my community even when I'm working in the UK, so I'm really excited to show US audiences a side of us that rarely gets seen on TV.

"Geoffrey and Uncle Phil's relationship in Bel-Air makes them come across more like brothers that go way back, which is beautiful to see and very different from the original. It's important for young Black men to see positive, authentic brotherly camaraderie and masculinity between Black men on screen. Unfortunately, there's still not enough of it being shown on TV and Film. But, over the next two seasons, I hope Geoffrey is relatable to many people in the UK and the US because our series is a celebration of the full spectrum of the Black community."

Bel-Air launches on Peacock on Sunday, February 13 in the US and Sky/Now TV in the UK on Monday, February 14.

Senior Entertainment Reporter

As TechRadar's senior entertainment reporter, Tom covers all of the latest movies, TV shows, and streaming service news that you need to know about. You'll regularly find him writing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and many other topics of interest.

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