The first Vivian Banks, played by Janet Hubert, might be first on some lists, but hands down, Uncle Phil is by far and large the best character that came out of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. A lot of people would probably agree, and just because James Avery passed away a while back. Uncle Phil was the type of character that was the lord of his domain but also the guy that deferred to his wife when it was time to do so. The story of Uncle Phil when Will first showed up was that it was a pretty heavy inconvenience since Phil’s nephew was pretty rough around the edges and knew next to nothing about high-class living. This irked Phil quite a bit obviously throughout the course of the show, but he did his absolute best to deal with Will and attempted to mold him into a respectful young man. Obviously, he couldn’t take the street out of Will, not even halfway really, but still managed to influence the character in a way that made Will realize that his uncle had never turned his back on where he came from.
Uncle Phil was a teacher more than anything, even when he wasn’t too fond of what Will was doing and felt that his nephew was more of a negative influence on his own children. But over the course of the series, it was seen that Phil came to care deeply about his nephew and would stand up for him whenever Will needed him. There are plenty of examples to be certain since it’s easy to think of a moment when Will and Carlton were arrested by a racist white police officer, a clip that’s been shown quite often in the past several months. Not only was Uncle Phil ready to throw down in a legal sense, but Aunt Vivian, still played by Hubert at that time, was ready to throw hands with the officers if that’s what it took.
There was another episode in which Will lost a substantial amount of money in a pool hall to a hustler, and didn’t realize that his uncle was a highly skilled pool player. The funny part of this episode was that Phil played it off perfectly, making everyone in the place, including Will, think that he couldn’t even hold the cue right as he scratched and bumbled his way through a couple of games before he told Jeffrey to ‘break out Lucille‘. Once that happened, the soundtrack kicked in and Uncle Phil ran the table on the hustler to get Will’s money back and remind everyone that he did have a past life, and it wasn’t always in the courtroom or the classroom. Uncle Phil was the kind of guy that didn’t flout his street knowledge or his past, but he kept it close to the chest for such occasions and could bring it to bear when the moment called for such a thing. That’s the kind of uncle a person would want to have, not to mention a father. Of course, he and Will butted heads many, MANY times over the course of the show since Will felt that he knew better and was closer to the streets and had more knowledge than his uppity, high-class uncle.
It was usually pretty funny when Uncle Phil made it clear to Will that his nice clothes and big house didn’t mean he’d forgotten the path that had led him there, since Will was usually flabbergasted that his uncle would know about anything beyond his ivory tower, so to speak. But the best part about Uncle Phil is what I’ve already mentioned, that he would stand up for everyone in his family and be there for them when they really needed him, no matter how he felt at that given moment. The best episode to prove that was when Will’s father attempted to come back into his life after abandoning him and his mother when Will was young. Uncle Phil had spent several years seeing to Will’s growth at that point and had been around him when he was younger, so despite not always agreeing with his nephew, he did care for him. When Will’s father, Lou, was about to bail on Will yet again, Uncle Phil was there.
That one episode hits everyone in the feels in a very profound way since throughout the episode Will was trying to reconnect with Lou and actually lashed out at his uncle when Phil attempted to tell Will what his father had done. He told Phil that he wasn’t his father, which was true but was hurtful all the same. But when Lou took off, and Will finally broke down, Uncle Phil was there. There’s no other way to say it, Uncle Phil was the best character on that show. Rest in peace Mr. Avery.