By Nicholas Cervania, October 14 2020—
The original Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is one of my favorite TV shows of all time, and this is coming from someone who thinks that multi-camera studio audience sitcoms are among the lowest forms of television. I’ve seen it from beginning to end more than once. Even going through some of the scenes, I still find jokes that can make me laugh. Recently, Will Smith announced that the show would be getting a reboot, based off a stunning fan trailer that came out in 2019. You’d think I’d be excited for something like this, and while I am for the most part, I’m also a little concerned.
Riverdale and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. What do these shows have in common? Well, they’re both Netflix Original TV series that are dark and gritty teen drama reimaginings of their source material.
Oh, and they also suck.
There’s a reason that these types of shows don’t hold my attention for more than a few episodes. They all fall victim to the same issues — bad and overly edgy writing in a script that takes itself way too seriously.
These shows only have two modes when it comes to the writing — either they’re trying way too hard, or not trying at all. I’m not even going to mention the overabundance of pointless nudity and oversexualization of the actors who play characters that are half their age, or the pointless musical numbers that show up randomly in almost every episode. Just because Glee did it doesn’t mean you should do it too.
What’s worse is that these shows take themselves too seriously. It would be one thing if they at least had some tongue-in-cheek dialogue acknowledging how cringe-worthy the lines are. Cheeky stuff like that can work, just look at shows like Teen Titans Go where the funniest and most memorable jokes are the ones where they acknowledge how they fail to live up to the level of quality of their predecessor. My point is that nobody is watching an episode of Riverdale and expecting any sort of good laugh. Compare this to other dramas that are similar in tone, like Arrow or Dynasty. While they’re serious and edgy for most of their runtime, they can still fit in some jokes or lightheartedness to make you laugh. I can’t recall a single scene from Chilling Adventures of Sabrina that intentionally made me chuckle in the slightest. There’s almost no signs of life in the writing or performances.
So why am I even bringing this up? Because these are issues that plague these subversive teen remake shows, issues that I’m afraid the Fresh Prince remake will fall victim to.
I’ll admit that the first few episodes of Riverdale really had me hooked. I loved the show’s world building and the character writing. But once they got renewed for another season, everything that worked about the show was thrown out the window. I feel like once the writers found out that they were getting another season, they realized they didn’t have to try anymore. The reason I bring this up is because NBC has already purchased two seasons of the new Fresh Prince reboot right out of the gate, a deal that very often, according to Will Smith, “does not happen.” My hope is that this ultimately won’t matter and that the show won’t suffer, but if there’s nothing pushing the writers to put effort in, then they probably won’t. Art through adversity.
So is all hope lost? Is this show just doomed from its conception? Well, no. It has been shown that there are ways to successfully do a reboot without completely tarnishing the reputation of the original. For example, the 21 Jump Street movies have been pretty successful. Likewise, the Spider-man movie series has been rebooted more times than I can count.
First and foremost, the Fresh Prince reboot shouldn’t rely on the legacy of the original show to be successful. It should be able to stand on its own as an original and distinct work. I shouldn’t be watching the show just because of how good the original was, I should be watching it because it explores ideas and concepts that weren’t present in its predecessor. The fact that the creators have said this is their goal with the show outright fills me with at least some hope.
Secondly, the show shouldn’t be edgy simply for the sake of subverting the viewer’s expectations. Instead, the show should be a less-outdated take on a premise and in its execution it should highlight elements that weren’t originally focused on. Part of the problem with most reboots is that for most of the episode, you’ll see teenagers running around being dark and brooding, and then have some ham-fisted scene about an important social topic shoved in. It makes it feel like an afterthought. My point is that the issues this show is trying to discuss shouldn’t just be worked into an episode, they should be ideas that multiple episodes revolve around. It’s much better to have strong ideas that permeate throughout several episodes, rather than to just mention something once or twice and then forget about it.
One way this can be done is by focusing more on character writing. Once you develop compelling characters and the relationships between them, the audience is more invested in how social issues affect them. Then, by continuing to develop these relationships you open up new opportunities for more portrayals of social issues and struggles. By “continuing developing relationships,” I don’t mean just continually adding escalating drama between characters, I’m suggesting writing more scenes to show how these characters develop and change after interacting with each other.
For example, Will is the older, cooler cousin that Ashley looks up to. What if Will ends up becoming a negative influence on Ashley? She wants to do the right thing, follow the rules that have been taught to her throughout her pampered rich Bel-Air lifestyle. But at the same time, she views Will as a sort of role model. What if Will does something she doesn’t agree with? Does that make it okay for her to do too? Imagine a scene where Ashley is spending time with Will and he does something bad, something that he learned from Philly, and Ashley picks up on this. Then in another scene, we see her behaving much more differently, directly mirroring what Will would do in that situation. This would be so much more interesting to watch than a subplot like Will having to choose between sports and music.
Finally, the pacing. Dear God, the pacing. This sounds obvious, but pacing is one of the most important elements of storytelling. You have two seasons — use them! Spend that time, to again, develop characters and the relationships between them, all while moving the plot forward at a steady pace. Don’t have all the character writing and development all in one episode. It’s better to have season-long character arcs that are gradual, thought out and believable, rather than having characters who change their goals and motivations at the drop of a hat. Again, this seems like a simple concept but if you’ve seen shows like this you’d know that this isn’t always the case.
Overall, while I am pretty concerned about the Fresh Prince reboot, I really want it to be good and still have some hope. I’ll definitely be watching it when it comes out on Peacock. However the original show means a lot to a lot of people, and that makes it even more important that the reboot is done well. There are massive shoes to fill, and hopefully the remake will have big enough feet.
This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.