I’m sure I speak for everyone who can remember watching The Fresh Prince of Bel Air when I say I can’t believe it has been 30 years since the show’s premiere. Of course, 30 years of syndication and fun-filled reruns have contributed to that sentiment, but the timeless impact of the series and its characters simply cannot be denied. From Will Smith’s funny and relatable hip hop quirkiness to Alphonso’s Ribeiro’s naïvely lovable portrayal of Carlton Banks, this show was a weekly enrichment to so many households across the world.
From the opening scene of watching each cast member make their way into the actual house, which served as a model for the original set, the nostalgia was anchored. The cast gathered around, like the family that we all knew them to be and discussed some of their favorite moments from the show. The lovely Karen Parsons who portrayed the beautiful and, at times, ditzy Hillary Banks started off by shedding light on the rough beginning for Will Smith’s acting career. As many reruns of the Fresh Prince that I have enjoyed over the years, I can honestly admit that I never once noticed it, but Will Smith would mouth the lines of his scene partners during taping. I almost fell out laughing as they replayed a scene with Don Cheadle from the show’s first season. With a close zoom onto Will’s lips, it became obvious that he was subtly mouthing every one of Cheadle’s words.
There was also the beautiful and endearing Tatyana Ali who literally grew up on the show. Ali recalled how her first kiss, on and off screen, happened during a taping of the Fresh Prince. She was mortified as her cast members watched from behind the cameras with caring smiles. DJ Jazzy Jeff shared the unbelievable number of takes he’d endured while being thrown from the show’s mansion. He even dropped an interesting jewel for watchers of the show. You could predict exactly when he’d be thrown from the house, because his character would always wear the same shirt to match the previously recorded takes of him being tossed onto the front porch. There was also everyone’s favorite butler, Geoffrey, portrayed by Joseph Marcell. Marcell’s favorite scene involved an afro wig and a hilarious spoken word poem. If those references don’t tug enough at your memories, then you’ll have to check out the show’s reunion for more.
As a grown man, I show no shame in admitting that the next segment I’m about to discuss nearly brought tears to my eyes. With no shortage of dampened eyes, the cast recalled the patriarch of their television family; Phillip Banks portrayed by the late and great James Avery. Will and Tatyana both doubled down by proclaiming Avery as the heart of the show. They explained how he’d shared of his experience as a thespian and dropped jewels of talent to aid them all in developing their acting chops. During this moment, Will panned back to one of the show’s biggest tear jerkers. It was a scene in which Will had to come to terms with the fact that his biological father had let him down once again. He emotionally wept, “How come he don’t want me, man?” James Avery enveloped Will into a fatherly embrace and silently whispered as the cameras trailed away, “Now that’s acting.” Will Smith was brought to genuine tears while lamenting on the memory of the iconic James Avery. Rest in peace to his talented soul.
With all the pleasantly emotional and hilarious moments of the Fresh Prince’s six-year run, the show was not without its share of controversy. In 1993, at the height of the show’s success and after its third season, Janet Hubert was replaced by Daphne Reid. Although Daphne Reid appears to be an amazing woman and still contributed to the show’s success, Janet Hubert’s Aunt Viv continues to be a staple for millions worldwide. Janet’s Aunt Viv was cultured, refined and graceful, but she was also grounded and relatable, especially to every-day black women. For many, the show never fully recovered after losing Janet’s presence. In the decades following Janet’s departure from the series, she has been openly critical of Will Smith and his family in the media. The scorned actress pulled no punches while giving fans an unfiltered view of what was without a doubt raw, emotional trauma manifested into bitter anger.
Now, fast forward to 2020 and it has become increasingly clear in perhaps one of the most difficult years of our lifetimes that miracles are possible. Will Smith and Janet Hubert sat beside one another with all smiles and compliments to celebrate one another and maturely heal the wounds caused by their issues. Will humbly looked Janet into her eyes and requested to hear her story. Janet explained how she was dealing with difficult personal experiences while pregnant, and she kept her experiences to herself while on set. To many on the cast, she seemed stand offish and unpleasant. Will explained how he couldn’t understand her perspectives at that time. He was only 21 years of age when Hubert departed the show, but now as a 50-year-old man, Smith empathized and offered healing love in exchange for years of disdain. They both apologized to one another. They embraced, and Smith offered that Janet would always be his Aunt Viv. For me, this was the most beautiful moment of the show. For Americans who are bitterly divided right now, these icons have offered themselves as examples of true humanity. On both sides of every issue, we’ve unleashed destructive comments onto one another. We’ve harbored hatred and ill will, but after watching Will Smith and Janet Hubert set aside their differences to make space for healing, I am left with enduring hope for the soul of our nation.
The Fresh Prince of Bel Air Reunion was nothing short of an outstanding pool of sweet memories, hearty laughter and intoxicating nostalgia. I enjoyed every second of my 1990’s television family, and I was pleasantly surprised as Little Nicky also joined the cast for a brief appearance. Tune in to HBO Max and feed your hankering for the best of the 90s, and then sound off below in the comments. As always, keep it Konkret!