We all know the theme tune, we all know the Carlton dance and it made us all love Will Smith. It’s time to show The Fresh Prince of Bel Air a little appreciation.
Back in 1990, Will Smith was in trouble. After a successful rap career in the late 80’s Smith had lived the high life a little too much and found himself in hot water with the US tax office. Broke, he desperately took up NBC’s offer to star in a sitcom, despite having no previous acting experience.
The role was to define him. Playing a cartoonish version of himself, Smith starred as Will, a kid who had to move from the streets of Philadelphia to live with his rich uncle and aunt in the luxury of Bel Air. Their he had to deal with growing up in a totally different world, alongside his new family of Uncle Phil, Aunt Vivian, Hilary, Carlton and Ashley.
It was this tight-knit family that were the crux of the show. The chemistry was without equal too, with the entire cast all sparking brilliantly off each other. This wasn’t only because of the show’s consistently brilliant writing, the cast all got along like a house on fire.
James Avery (who played Uncle Phil) has said that “For six years we were a family, and we loved going to work together. In fact, we loved it so much that when we had a week on hiatus, everyone would be saying, isn't it time to go back to work yet?”
Karyn Parsons (who played stuck up eldest daughter Hilary) has also spoken about it saying that she got "incredibly tight" with the other cast members, with Alfonso Ribeiro (brother Carlton) echoing that saying that the two “Had a real brother-sister relationship.”
This wouldn’t have made the show a classic though if it wasn’t for the comedy. The show was a laugh riot all the way through its six series, rarely dropping the comedic ball and managing to mix a bit of something for everyone to laugh at in its 23 minute running time.
The Fresh Prince was an international hit. Shown everyday over here, The Fresh Prince was a little slice of brilliance just before the primetime shows came on. In combination with The Simpsons, it made BBC Two’s six o’clock slot one of every school kid’s daily schedules.
It wasn’t only in the UK though where the show proved a hit, with the biggest surprise being the show’s success in Spain, with national network Antena3TV showing the show every day, quite often simply looping a series when they ran out of episodes for that time.
That the show is still on the air to this day in the multiple countries speaks to just how highly regarded it still is.
For some though, it was a ground breaking show. Taking the baton from The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air once again brought an entirely African–American comedy to a general audience. But while The Cosby Show was criticised for the lack of character flaws, The Fresh Prince had rounded, blemished characters who weren’t always right about everything.
Will wasn’t the brightest, and made dumb errors. Uncle Phil had is priorities a little messed up. The entire family was imperfect and had to grow. It was a brilliant depiction of (admittedly privileged) family life.
Not only that, but The Fresh Prince very subtly dealt with the important issues that you just don’t find in a family focussed comedy anymore. Race, class and other controversial issues were brought up over the show’s six year run. All dealt with in a fantastically classy way, while blowing prejudiced stereotypes about black families out of the water left and right.
All of this makes The Fresh Prince sound like a sober after-school special, but it never was. The show’s writers always hit that sweet spot of humour, be it Carlton’s dancing, Will acting the fool or simply a witty retort, The Fresh Prince always knew exactly when and where to pull the funny pin.
For a show derived from his desperation, it launched Smith into the global superstar we know now and may have just been the single best move he’s made yet in his decade-spanning career.
The show may look dated today, but take away the clothes and the hair and The Fresh Prince is still funny, touching and so incredibly charming. Nostalgia’s a great thing, but what’s even better is knowing that it wasn’t all just rose-tinted classes.
Have you got the same nostalgic memories of the Banks family? Let us know in the comments below.
FemaleFirst Cameron Smith