When Everything Changed For Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

One of the most glaring cast changes in television history, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air‘s replacement of Janet Hubert with Daphne Maxwell Reid in season four wasn’t just an awkward transition to a new actress playing Vivian – it was a moment that fundamentally changed Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as a show… and not for the better. When talking about Fresh Prince, it’s very much a show of two distinct eras: The Era of Vivian, and the much less entertaining Age of New Vivian. So what went wrong?

Off-screen, the details have been well-noted: Hubert and Will Smith just didn’t work together well, which led to her firing and eventual replacement at the beginning of season four. Unfortunately for Fresh Prince, it took the show’s best character along with it: the show’s strong matriarchal center, a woman who wasn’t just a mother and professor, but a politically passionate character whose inner strength was conveyed beautifully through Hubert’s physical performance. She gave Vivian’s character such a presence, ad the writing gave her such a powerful influence in the family unit, she quickly became one of the most well-developed female characters on television at the time; and as soon as she was replaced with Daphne Reid, everything changed.

All of a sudden, Vivian was mostly pushed to the background, which removed the character’s agency in the unfolding events of each episode: instead of being the strong woman whose husband often deferred to her, the new characterization of her with infant Nicky removed that influence over her husband, which in turn made the conflicts between Will and Phillip much more bitter, missing that level-headed element that Vivian always brought to the table. Instead, Vivian 2.0 was defined by her utter blandness, relegated to the background in favor of Will Smith antics, an increasingly indulgent aspect of the show in its later seasons.

Gone were the powerful monologues and devastatingly powerful stares: instead, she was replaced with a meek woman who gave up her career to become a quiet, stay-at-home mom in service of the men in her lives. Again, this imbalance turned Fresh Prince of Bel-Air into a contest of masculinity, with Will’s increasingly immature behavior (often with him picking on or undermining Carlton, something Vivian always kept in check) leading to more frequent, cartoon-ish outbursts from Philip, in turn removing the element of heart and family at the center of the show, which Vivian was always the standing beacon for. And don’t forget her daughters: without Vivian around to keep them on track, Hilary and Ashley’s characters were reduced to predictable story lines – or in Hilary’s case, turning her into a punching bag of easy jokes about stupid people.

Without the strong, take-no-crap Vivian completely removed from the fabric of Fresh Prince, season four immediately experienced a dramatic decline in quality, no more obvious than whenever Will got himself into trouble or Vivian’s sisters popped into town for a visit. Gone was the energy Hubert brought to the screen, the powerful physical performance that established her as the top of the show’s food chain, no matter how many fat jokes they made about Philip, or how many minutes each episode spent with Will dancing in a goofy way. Not only was she one of television’s greatest female characters of the early 1990’s, but she was the very core of Fresh Prince: and the minute she left, Fresh Prince changed in ways it could never recover from.

Photo via NBC

Start a Discussion


  1. PNutButty
  2. Susan Chislow
  3. BC
  4. Pooja India
Main Heading Goes Here
Sub Heading Goes Here
No, thank you. I do not want.
100% secure your website.