As if you weren’t already obsessed with the talented cast of new original series Bel-Air, the Peacock project has added yet another very fine person for you to respectfully ogle: Michael Ealy. And the actor’s role in the popular show is just as chaotic as the countless others in his repertoire, meaning that we already know what we’re in for with his guest appearance. Mr. Steal Your Girl is back!
Since its highly anticipated debut in February, Bel-Air has had a good run, a pleasant surprise considering the high stakes that come with rebooting one of the most popular shows of all time. The revamped story of a young boul from West Philly has helped us fall in love even deeper with the characters we grew up with (except maybe Carlton 2.0). From Hilary to Uncle Phil to Will himself, the first family of Bel-Air is being explored in such new, imaginative ways that it almost feels silly now to think of how apprehensive we were when the remake was first announced. Bel-Air is good — like, really good.
Much of the intrigue of the show is its ability to build on storylines that were previously only skimmed in the 1990s original. One such thread is the unique connection between Phillip (Adrian Holmes) and Vivian (Cassandra Freeman) Banks, the sage husband and wife duo charged with setting their nephew (played by Jabari Banks) on the straight narrow upon his arrival in Los Angeles. In The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Phil and Vivian’s relationship was a dynamic one, marked by equity and mutual respect — something that wasn’t always common in TV relationships of the time. The Banks knew their individual strengths and weaknesses, and though their approach to parenting wasn’t always the same, they always knew how to work together for the good of the family. Bel-Air’s patriarch and matriarch follow a similar pattern. We meet the couple in the middle of an important season of their lives; Phillip is running for district attorney and though Vivian is playing the supportive wife in his campaign, her heart is elsewhere. She’s no longer content with being in her husband’s shadow, especially when she was once able to stand proudly in her own spotlight.
Ealy makes a grand entrance in episode 5 of the show as the mysteriously sexy Reed Broderick, a renowned art gallery owner with a knack for discovering — or rediscovering, in this case — new talent in the art space. Before she became Mrs. Banks, Vivian was an up-and-coming artist who had the potential to be one of the greats of her time but life got in the way, and Vivian’s art took a backseat to the demands of being a wife and a mother for 15 long years. Though decades have passed since Vivian last shared her work with the art community, Reed knows talent when he sees it, and he makes it his mission to scout her as the newest contributor to his famous gallery.
Ealy’s character’s pursuit of Vivian isn’t purely professional or even platonic. Something about the twinkle in those baby blues says that he’s got an agenda. It could be the slow, burning gaze he sets on the very married Mrs. Banks, or perhaps the constant behind-the-scenes finessing he’s doing to make sure they can work together. But even if Reed was acting normally (read: appropriately) with Vivian, the show’s more in-tune audience already knows e x a c t l y how it’s about to go down.
How did we as a community come to this conclusion? Easy. Ealy tends to be typecast as the handsome troublemaker. Remember The Perfect Guy, when he went from boyfriend of the year to murderous ex? Or in the final season of Being Mary Jane, where he played the quarrelsome foil to Mary Jane Paul’s (Gabrielle Union) dream man (played by Morris Chestnut)? Who could forget his crimes in For Colored Girls? (It’s been 12 years, and I still haven’t forgiven him.) Different stories, same “oh hell naw” vibes. That’s just what Ealy’s characters tend to do: stir up chaos with a smolder, a soft voice, and a crooked smile. And it works like a charm every single time. He’s getting cast in these roles because it is totally believable that anyone would allow a man this attractive — because Ealy does look good, chile — to derail their entire life, and the extent of chaos that his characters bring to these stories is pretty consequential. Sure, it would be nice to see him be the nice guy, but why pivot when you’re so good at being bad?
Now, Is Vivian going to step out on her fine ass husband with an equally-as-fine man? Maybe, maybe not. But Reed’s sole existence on this show is to drive a wedge in her marriage, and from the looks of episode 6, it’s working. His sudden appearance is a jarring reminder of who Vivian could’ve been had she not settled for a ring and a mansion in the hills, and from where Phillip is standing, Reed is a disruption to the beautiful life he and Vivian have built together. He might not be too far off, either. Is it just me, or is there something a bit…devious about Reed? It could be the trauma from For Colored Girls jumping out, but there’s a weird, low-key stalker vibe about him. Serial killers weren’t in Fresh Prince, but Bel-Air is a dramatic retelling. Things could potentially get dark with this guy.
Zaddy Uncle Phil on this one, so I’m hoping, for his sake, that Vivian stays the course of true love and won’t be swayed by Reed’s devices. In her defense, though, I'd understand either way. Just look at the options!
New episodes of Bel-Air are available for streaming every Thursday, only on Peacock.