By Karis Fields
Photo: Rolling Stone – Source
In the age where reboots of once beloved films and television series are becoming more common each day, there is one trend that Hollywood seems to be obsessed with using for their remakes. Over recent years, Hollywood has produced countless of what can only be defined as gritty reboots of classics.
For something to be considered a gritty reboot, the IP which it originated from has to have been one that lacks almost anything gruesome or dark. The newly released Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reboot, Bel-Air, on streaming service Peacock is a good example of this. The original Fresh Prince was a ‘90s comedy sitcom accompanied with laugh-track and all; absolutely nothing dark at all about this show except for a few emotional storylines and performances which made audiences teary-eyed. Bel-Air, on the other hand, is nothing at all like its comedic blueprint in terms of genre.
The show, which is produced by Will Smith who starred in the original sitcom, ditches the jokes and gags and instead replaces them with a dramatic seriousness. This new take on the show does, however, keep some key features from the original show. The show’s main character Will is still from West Philadelphia, where he was born and raised. The playground is where he spent most of his days playing basketball (practicing in hopes of receiving a scholarship). However, he sees a couple of guys (a street gang) who were up to now good, starting to make trouble in his neighborhood. So, Will got into a fight, resulting in his mother getting scared (as well as resulting in him having to spend the night locked up in jail with the gang member he fought). Will then gets sent to live with his aunt and uncle in Bel-Air. The rest of the theme song from the ‘90s original should tell you the rest. The show’s main lineup of characters also haven’t changed as much from their original counterparts other than them being written in a way which caters to the new dramatic formatting as well as current social relevance.
Although only the first few episodes of Bel-Air have been released, many critics have said that the reboot fails to reach its intended goal. While it is apparent that the Peacock reboot wants to spotlight important social issues still relevant today such as racism and class inequality, critics are in agreement that the ‘90s sitcom did so already with better execution. Critic Inkoo Kang writes in her review on the Washington Post:
...this reboot eschews one of the most vital elements of its source material: its deftness in tackling difficult issues with a light, or at least tonally variable, touch. “The Fresh Prince” centered episodes on racist cops and the Black class divide pretty much out of the gate, and it’s striking how contemporary much of the jokes and dialogue still feel three decades later. In contrast, a suffocating self-seriousness overhangs “Bel-Air,” reminding us how invaluable smart comedy can be in grappling with weighty concerns.
Whether or not this reboot will receive critical success, some of the show’s audiences have enjoyed what it has given them so far.
The more pressing issue isn’t with the show itself; it isn’t even with this specific show at all. The issues lie within the question of why Hollywood wants to produce dark dramatic reboots and adaptations of beloved IP. Especially considering how a large majority of them haven’t been successful in the eyes of critics, audiences, and sometimes even both. Just because this trend is, for some unknown reason, popular at the moment, it doesn’t mean that it works with everything.
There were even some gritty reboots and adaptations that seemed promising at first but eventually became an absolute trainwreck. When the classic Archie Comics had been adapted into the dark teen drama Riverdale, people were drawn to it due to the well-written plot and mystery of season one and the beginning of season two. Even despite it’s oftentimes cringey dialogue that tried a little too hard to be related to its teenage audience, Riverdale had the potential to be a television hit. However, the Archie inspired show went off the rails towards the end of season two going into season three. It was here where the show began to lose its grip on who and what it was.
For the gritty Hollywood reboot to work, its source material needs to show that something dark could possibly come from it. Despite its very unsatisfying ending, Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was a gritty reboot that made absolute sense. The show made it a point to combine elements from the lighthearted ‘90s comedic sitcom Sabrina, the Teenage Witch which had come before it with elements from the incredibly dark Chilling Adventures of Sabrina comics which served as direct inspiration for the Netflix adaptation.
Discussion of the gritty Hollywood reboot ties into the discussion of whether or not Hollywood has lost its originality. In terms of movies set to release this year, I can only name a few original ones; The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, Nope, Turning Red, Everything Everywhere All At Once, and X. A majority of 2022’s film lineup is overrun by sequels, reboots, and adaptations, all which overshadow the very small amount of films with original screenplays.
No matter the critical outcome of a gritty Hollywood reboot, whether it be film or television, this is one trend I don’t think Hollywood is going to let go of anytime soon.