Does The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air Hold Up 30 Years Later?

The Fresh of Bel-Air. Recently, this Will Smith vehicle was given a hard and dramatic reboot for Peacock, but despite the new and updated version of the popular series, fans will always fondly remember the original that really helped launch the career of the rapper/actor. To recall, the story is about a Philadelphia teen who gets caught up in trouble that forces his mother to send him to live with his aunt, uncle, and cousins in LA at their Bel-Air mansion. For six seasons, audiences watched Will, Ashley, Hilary, and Carlton grow up in the guise of two Aunt Vivians who oddly share the name, but have different faces and a stern but caring Uncle Phil. The show was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lighting Direction (Electronic) for a Comedy Series and an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Comedy Series. With the rebirth of the landmark series, does The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s pilot stand the test of time over 30 years later?

What’s always been great about The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is the seamlessly effortless way that they incorporate important themes and messages into their episodes without becoming overly melodramatic. The story of how Will Smith moved to LA wasn’t even shown. The pilot opens up with the show’s signature theme that’s both funny and informative. The opening sequence is a unique way of introducing the world to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and the main protagonist of the show. Smith’s charisma is so infectious that’s hard to turn the channel and while the hip-hop tune may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s a nice beat that helps capture the overall tone and mood of the series. The only criticism here is that it would’ve been nice to see Will’s life in Philly, even for a brief moment. It’s important to truly understand the world that he came from: who is his mother? What are his friends like? Just how bad were the streets in Philly? We want to see how drastic the change from his old life is, and though the show doesn’t particularly have many issues with Will’s fish out of water story when he gets to Bel-Air, it would’ve been helpful to understand the characters that came from his old world better.

Once the series gets past the montage of why Smith is Bel-Air, the fish out of water story continues to be a fun formula when Will comes in contact with Geoffrey. Again, what helps sell this show is the comedic presence of Will Smith and the reaction to his antics. Despite the fact that this episode took place in 1990, the jokes still remain funny, though the fake trees behind Smith as he enters is extremely noticeable. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air doesn’t waste time going for one-liners and it succeeds more often than not. The key element that makes these jokes still work is the fact that they’re not based on the time period and the dynamic of characters. Geoffrey is the uptight butler. Aunt Viv is the laid back and cool parent. Uncle Philip is the strict father who wants the best for his kids. Carlton is the loveable snobby dork. Hilary is the self-absorbed princess. Ashley is the cool sidekick. These varying personalities compliment Will’s character nicely. It speaks volumes about the strong writing, but more importantly, the necessity of having an abundance of different characters when you’re presenting an ensemble cast. When you close your eyes, it’s easy to distinguish Uncle Phil, Geoffrey, and Carlton. Of course, it helps that they have different voices, but the key is that while they share similar personality traits, they’re never written the same. You would never catch Uncle Phil saying things like “touche” or talking about Bryant Gumbel even though he’s a bit uptight and snobby himself.

It’s not just the jokes that still resonate, but the journey that sets course for Will. The purpose is to document him growing and developing into a respected young man. Will is a bit immature. Sure, he’s a guy you would easily grab a beer with, but he’s not at the level where he truly understands how the world works. At least not Uncle Phil’s world. The racism and culture clash is hinted in the pilot as well. Uncle Phil doesn’t like Will because his personality represents everything that’s he’s worked hard to prove against. The rich, upper class aren’t in tune with the way Will acts, which could be a reflection on Philip. There’s a deeper meaning to the pilot despite its mostly comedic tone, and those topics play out as the season continues. It’s an easy yes that the original Fresh Prince of Bel-Air stands the test of time. It’s not perfect, but it still manages to bring you into its fun world that captured audiences back in the 90s.

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