When news of Bel-Air first broke, many people — myself included — weren’t sure what to make of the developing project; The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was a near-perfect show, and we all know that reboots always don’t do their inspirations justice. But the 2022 release of the Peacock original series proved us wrong. The streamer’s dramatic spin on the iconic Black sitcom is everything we wanted it to be and then some, expanding the beloved story to new places beyond the limits of 1990s television. And while we all remember the OG cast of characters, Bel-Air has also taken the original blueprint and provided a fresh take on its source material, and there’s one character in particular who has stolen the show: Adrian Holmes as Uncle Phil (originally played by the late James Avery).
Avery’s Uncle Phil is widely considered the one of the best TV dads of all time, so capturing even an ounce of his essence for Bel-Air couldn’t have been an easy task for Holmes. But rather than trying to fully recreate the Banks patriarch's magnetism, the Canadian actor took certain aspects from the iconic portrayal and fused them with a new-school cool inspired by none other than former POTUS Barack Obama.
“To fill [James Avery’s] shoes is virtually impossible. I grew up watching the original Fresh Prince, and Uncle Phil was just such a good man and a real leader in every sense of the word…he was very inspiring,” Holmes said in a 2022 interview. “When I was preparing for the role, I thought, ‘who today is as inspiring as [Philip Banks]?’ And for me, it was Barack Obama. He’s cool, he’s confident, he’s comfortable — he’s got all the right attributes. So I just tapped into him for a lot of those moments.”
When Unbothered caught up with Holmes on the red carpet of the NAACP Image Awards earlier this year, he laughed at being referred to as “Hot Uncle Phil.” “Is that what I’m known as?” Holmes chuckled. “I didn’t see that on the call sheet… It’s been a dream come true.” Holmes then paid his respects to James Avery. “Rest in peace to the original Uncle Phil, James Avery. He really laid out the blueprint and precedent in the original role for me to step into,” he said.
Let’s just get this out of the way: Uncle Phil 2.0 is fine. Like, really fine. Like, distractingly fine. In Bel-Air’s two seasons, I haven’t been able to watch a single episode in full without pausing at least five times to swoon whenever he appears on screen. To be fair, OG Uncle Phil had a certain je nais se quoi about him, too; standing at an impressive 6 feet 5 inches, the late actor commanded attention in every scene, and no amount of fatphobic jokes (the 90s were a nightmare for anyone who wasn’t conventionally thin) could detract from his undeniable swag. It feels kinda wrong to lust after America’s TV dad, but we can’t help it. Holmes' update of the character just tickles another part of our…brains.
If you were to google “tall, dark, and handsome,” New Uncle Phil would show up in the search results. He’s not as tall as his predecessor, but what he lacks in height, he makes up in many other ways. A blindingly white smile. A smooth bald head. A flawlessly coiffed beard. Just enough muscle to fill out a three piece suit perfectly. The man he knows looks good, too — you can tell by the way he saunters into every room or how he rolls up his sleeves when getting down to business. He’s just fine!
As attractive as he is, it’s not just the look of Bel-Air’s Uncle Phil that’s drawing a crowd — it’s also the gravity of his role in his nephew’s life that has us tuning in week after week. After Will himself, Uncle Phil could be considered the most important character on The Fresh Prince because of how essential he was to the protagonist’s character development. Generational and cultural differences caused the relationship between Will and his uncle to be rocky at times, but ultimately, the men were deeply connected to each other. Phil stepped in to be the father that Will never had but always needed. That bond is a pivotal part of the Fresh Prince storyline, and Bel-Air leans into it as well.
Jabari Banks’ take on Will somehow feels younger and more impressionable than the original, and as such, his struggles to assimilate to his new environment are even more painful to watch. Although his new chapter in Bel-Air sets him up for a brighter (and safer) future, Will also feels resentful towards it; he’s still pining for the lifestyle that gave him an edge and set him apart from everyone else. This identity crisis makes Will vulnerable to sketchy influences like his estranged father Lou (Marlon Wayans) and his shifty mentor Doc Hightower (Brooklyn McLinn), a basketball coach who shows with lofty hoop dreams and dollar signs in his eyes. As Will looks for guidance in all the wrong places, Uncle Phil frequently has to step in to steer him in the right direction. Raising Will isn’t easy — he means well, but he’s one of those kids who thinks he knows everything — but if anyone can keep him on the straight and narrow, it’s Uncle Phil.
He’s not perfect, though. Ultimately, Uncle Phil is still just a man (a very fine man – have I mentioned that?), so he has his shortcomings, and in Bel-Air, those toxic traits include stubbornness and tunnel vision. As the patriarch of his family, Uncle Phil runs a pretty tight ship. He likes to have a say in everything that the people living under his roof do, and he has a hard time accepting any pushback — even when it’s from his own wife. After years of following her husband’s lead as a stay-at-home-mom, Aunt Viv (Cassandra Freeman) is finally coming into her own as an artist, but her new independence clashes with Phil’s surprisingly traditional values. They work it out, of course, but there’s still some lingering contention between them when it comes to how they raise their children and their nephew. Aunt Viv is a feeler, but her Uncle Phil’s “father knows best” approach sometimes gets in the way of cohesive parenting; whether it’s deciding on how to deal with Carlton’s (Olly Sholatan) anxiety, approving of Hillary’s (Coco Jones) new relationship, or supporting their baby girl Ashley (Akira Akbar), the Banks’ aren’t always on the same page. Thankfully, Aunt Viv 2.0 is just as patient and kind (and fierce) as her forebear, and she keeps her husband in line when he takes things a step too far.
If you were expecting Bel-Air and its characters to be carbon copies of the original, you’ve got the show all wrong; the Peacock series isn’t trying to replace Fresh Prince but tell its story in a fresh, modern way that fans old and new can appreciate. It’s just tweaking a perfect TV recipe here and there — and
zaddy Uncle Phil is one of the sweetest ingredients of this secret sauce.
Season 2 of Bel-Air is now streaming, only on Peacock.