Tatyana Ali is back on her throne as the princess of Bel-Air, as the show returns to Peacock for Season 2 this week.
The original Ashley Banks joins the Bel-Air cast as an educator named Mrs. Hughes who ends up providing some much-needed guidance for the new generation of the Banks children.
“It’s been amazing,” Ali tells ESSENCE of the experience. “I don’t know if its a reboot. It’s its own show. It takes the themes, and sure it has the characters. It got the most salient, important aspects of the story, and now they’ve run with it.”
Though the show is it’s own animal in many senses, Ali says she was still struck by the stark similarities with her own on-set childhood experience when she set foot inside the new Bel-Air Academy.
“I really treated it as an opportunity to play with an amazing cast and play a really dope part on a great show,” she says. “And then I got onto the Bel-Air Academy set and I was like ‘what?! This is crazy!’ It wasn’t that wild until I saw everyone in the uniforms that I used to wear all the time and that Alfonso [Ribeiro] and Will [Smith] used to wear all the time. That really blew my mind.”
Ali says she feels grateful for the surreal experience of retracing her steps from a new perspective and loves the relationship she’s been able to form with the young actress Akira Akbar who has taken on the role of Ashley Banks for a new generation.
“My character Mrs. Hughes is a teacher, and all of my scenes for the most part are with Akira who plays Ashley beautifully and has completely made that character her own,” she says. “I’ve found a special sisterhood with her where we’re kind of like this two-person sorority. It’s just incredible. Not many people get to have full-circle moments like that in their career.”
Bel-Air returns to Peacock for its second season on February 23, premiering with its first three episodes.