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  • Writer's pictureTori Sipe

Let's Talk Fresh Prince

I honestly get nervous if people between the ages of 30-40 don’t know the theme song to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air by heart. Or most of it at the very least. Will Smith just announced a Fresh Prince reboot coming to Peacock, with a two-season order. Titled, Bel-Air, it will be based off Morgan Cooper’s fan film, available on YouTube, which reenvisioned the sitcom as a drama.

“We have just officially closed the deal with Peacock with an unprecedented two-season order from a pitch,” Smith said. “I’ve been in this business for thirty years and that does not happen. They ordered two full seasons of Bel-Air based on the quality of the pitch and the work that you guys have done. So I want to say congratulations. I am hyped.”

When HBO Max launched this past May, the entire series of The Fresh Prince was finally available for streaming. They’ve recently announced an upcoming unscripted reunion special as well, to air around Thanksgiving. And a Fresh Prince clothing line has been announced in honor of the show's 30th anniversary, September 10th 1990! Here's the link for that - Growing up in the ‘90s I loved watching Fresh Prince. Being so young when it was first on I watched what I could, and enjoyed reruns on various channels over the years. With still being furloughed because of the coronavirus I decided to binge to my nostalgic heart’s content. I watched all six seasons in a row, without skipping one episode, okay well, I did skip one, but I’ll get to that.

I learned a lot from re-watching this series, and realized I had never seen the show in order all the way through, ever. Some episodes were more memorable to me than others, “Geoffrey, break out Lucille…” Uncle Phil deadpans as he hustles the hustler at pool hall. Some were forgettable, Will needs to beat up a female boxing instructor because men? Others had me in tears, not from laughter, “How come he don’t want me man?” Will stumbles through while hugging Uncle Phil as his father has left him once again. We all know the classics, the Carlton dances, the Mind Ya Businesses, the Jazz getting thrown out montages, and Will breaking the fourth wall. “If we’re so rich how come we don’t have a ceiling?” while the camera shows the studio lights from above.

So what is it about this show that was cancelled after four seasons, and brought back from the dead by fan letters sent to Smith and NBC demanding the show continue? Thinking today how easy it is to write a hashtag and send it and all of a sudden your favorite show is renewed through Netflix. It’s worked for multiple shows. #SaveLucifer was a massive campaign with millions of tweets to bring back the beloved devil for a fourth season. Then a fifth, and now a sixth and final season, maybe… who knows. Anything is possible. The fact that people wrote actual letters, put a stamp on them, mailed them from all over the country to NBC studios is mind boggling. This show meant a lot to so many people, and it still does. Now it’s going to be a fresh hour long drama, which works. Remaking this show as a sitcom or just a comedy again would’ve been a terrible idea. Laugh track sitcoms now are not what they were before the year 2000.

I know I sound like, oh well back in my day, and don’t get me wrong, there is definitely an audience for sitcoms these days. CBS anyone? Sometimes they work and have multiple seasons, Big Bang Theory for example, but a lot of them these days fall to the wayside. The laugh track sitcom is a dying breed that no longer dominates the television landscape. Most of those shows have such a similar plot it’s hard to separate them from each other, and instead they all blend together in one big schlubby guy, hot wife, crazy neighbor laugh track universe. Fresh Prince was different. It was funny, and ridiculous, but at the end of the day you bought in and loved every minute of it.

One of the bigger debates of the show was the Aunt Viv debacle. Watching the show all the way through over the course of a few weeks I felt that the first three seasons had this magic to them. They were funny, not over the top, and perfect quintessential ‘90s sitcom fodder. You don’t have to be extremely versed in this show to know even a little of why there’s a new Aunt Viv that appears in season 4. Daphne Maxwell Reid is a fantastic actress, and she definitely had a very hard job to do, replacing a beloved character, on one of the biggest sitcoms at the time, but she did it and I think she did a great job as Aunt Viv 2.0. But once I began watching season 4, which was intended to be the last one, I found it lacked some of the magic that made the first few seasons great. Plots got sillier, there were more fourth wall breaks, and overall the quality went down. They killed Trevor in a bungee jump accident and the audience… laughed? That’s not to say they still didn’t have some great stories to tell. Carlton dealing with getting into a fraternity that doesn't think he's black enough. Uncle Phil has a heart attack. Season 4 also had one of the most talked about episodes in Fresh Prince history, Will’s dad comes to town, and leaves him again. That scene will always bring tears to my eyes.

Season 5 got better, and gave Will a serious love interest, Lisa. Will was finally growing up, and fell in love, and almost got married. They’re too young, they’re still in college! You can still hear Cory and Topanga laughing about that one. Alas, it was not meant to be. Although, not to do outdo themselves in the, what the hell is happening here department, Will’s mom marries Lisa’s dad in the finale instead. Then in the final season I guess they got divorced? It was never brought up again. Will’s mom never mentioned her new husband, Lisa never came back, after all they were step-siblings at this point. Hey, they also made Nicky a five-year-old after half a year so, you know, whatever you got to do for those ratings right?

Surely, after a meaningful relationship Will grew up in that department right? Not really. In season 6 he gets “beat up” by young Nicky’s female boxing instructor because, that’s hilarious? So then he gets made fun of by every member of the household and trains to go back to the gym to beat her up and when he “wins” she says, whoa, you’re sexy as hell for showing me how much stronger men are, please have sex with me now! Overall, a huge miss. Obviously if you analyzed every single thing that happened in movies and TV that was inappropriate from many years ago of course you’re going to find things that are offensive. I’m only offended if it’s not funny. Anyway…

There was one episode in season 3 that also made me stop and go, oh I don’t know about this one. Will tricks a woman into marrying him, which she thinks is real, but it’s all fake and at the last, possible second he confesses and says it was all a ruse so they could sleep together. Phew, that was a close one, but way too close in my opinion. I was gritting my teeth thinking, what the hell is he doing, wait he’s still doing this, oh my god. This was an episode I probably hadn’t seen from the ‘90s, and most likely for good reason. I watched all 148 episodes, okay I skipped one. At the end of season 4, Donald Trump wants to buy the Banks’ house, and the episode itself is a clip show. I couldn’t watch it. I mean, I just despise… clip shows.

Despite some questionable dating methods, overall The Fresh Prince is just as delightful and whimsical as I remember from my youth, and overall probably one of my favorite shows to watch. If you have access to HBO Max I highly recommend revisiting the series in its entirety before we get to see Bel-Air. Although, with everything happening in the world, filming will probably take quite some time to complete, so that means you have plenty of time to kick back, put on some Tom Jones, take a minute, sit right there, and hear the story of how he became the prince of a town called Bel-Air.

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