By Malik G.
Wow, it’s kind of hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since the The Fresh Prince of Bel Air has been stopped airing new episodes. The pinnacle of 90s entertainment, The Fresh Prince is one of the few shows that I have continuous watched from adolescence into adulthood. Thanks to a memorable cast, phenomenal writing and acting, and the star power of its lead character, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air has been considered by many as one of the greatest sitcoms of all time. With the show still in syndication on numerous networks and title character Will Smith hopefully making a return to superstardom with this summer’s Suicide Squad, I thought it would be cool to take a look back on one of television’s best programs.
Despite The Fresh Prince being a cult classic, many fans don’t know the history of just how the popular series came about. Stuck in debt due to overspending and a declining music career, west Philadelphia rapper Will Smith was approached by famed music producer Quincy Jones about starring as the titular character. Seeing no other option, Will took the role and the rest is history.
Proving himself as a natural, Will Smith displayed a exuberant level of confidence and charisma, despite never acting a day in his life. Not only did The Fresh Prince show off Will’s comedic prowess, but his dramatic chops as well, with a handful of episodes that round out some of the actor’s best performances. Acting as a precursor of sorts, The Fresh Prince showed that not only was Will Smith ready to take Hollywood by storm but also that he had the potential to become one of the best entertainers in the industry.
Aside from the title character, The Fresh Prince boasted a supporting cast of lovable and memorable characters. From the hot headed but well meaning Uncle Phil to the intelligent but extremely naive Carlton, every member of the Banks family felt relatable and was given their time to shine. Strong female characters like Aunt Vivan (yes, both versions), Ashely, and even the dimwitted Hilary continued to prove that women of color could be insightful and successful in their own right.
Even though the show established itself as a comedy it wasn’t afraid to tackle serious subject matter, offering social commentary without being too preachy. Drug and alcohol use, racial discrimination, child abandonment, The Fresh Prince analyzed the state of our society and its imperfections just as much it made us laugh. One of the few TV shows to depict a successful and wealthy African American family, The Fresh Prince assisted with changing the way we viewed black people in entertainment, using Will Smith’s move from Philly to Bel Air as a metaphor for the positive qualities that urban life can provide, especially when injected into an upper-class environment.
Not taking itself too seriously The Fresh Prince offered tons of laughs, utilizing pop culture references and a plethora guest stars to keep our eyebrows raised from beginning to end.
Everyone from Opera Winfrey, Queen Latifah, and Vanessa Williams to Jay Leno, Tom Jones, and Donald Trump, The Fresh Prince was the original Entourage when it came to celebrity cameos. And who could forget the lovable dope that was Jazz?
The Fresh Prince of Bel Air was one of the most impactful shows of the 1990s, not just for television but also for entertainment in general. The true successor to The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince ushered in an era of television that would pave the way for shows like My Wife and Kids, Girlfriends, and Everybody Hates Chris. With incredible ratings, critical acclaim from critics and fans alike, tons of social commentary, and non-stop laughs, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air deserves to be cemented as one of the best products of the 1990s and one of the best of our generation.
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