It was never supposed to work: an overly charismatic rapper capitalizing on his fame with a TV show. This is surely the recipe for a failed vanity project, a “one and done” season. Looking back now, it’s a miracle it even lasted six seasons. Even more unfathomable, it’s a part of the pop culture lexicon. Need proof of its legacy? The next time you’re out in public just start singing the immortal first lines of the classic theme song: “In West Philadelphia born and raised” and even if somebody doesn’t start audibly singing along with you, you can be sure they’re finishing the song in their head.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was more than just a television show; it defined an era. Just as I Love Lucy did in the 50′s, The Brady Bunch in the 60′s, any Norman Lear show in the 70′s, and Miami Vice in the 80′s. We know by now that art can reflect life, and therefore, art can be seen as a window into whatever area of culture the art reflects. It’s an undeniable fact that when it comes to studying history, people rarely confine themselves strictly to the non-fiction, but also look to the the arts, or the culture and entertainment of an era. Art is a way for people to define and remember themselves as time marches on and seasons change.
I have no problem with art being used as a historical marker as long as our memory isn’t selective. Yes, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was mainly a comedic show, a situational comedy of hood-meets-high culture, street-meets-elite, stuff we’ve been dealing with as far back as My Fair Lady (which went further back as Pygmalion). Let us also remember, as the makers of Fresh Prince did, that while clashes of cultures and values provide endless material for comedic plots, there is also room for drama as well.
The most effective comedy is often tinged with a bit of the morose, the ironic, and the serious. The bleaker moments help ground the comedy, or at least provide a balance so the proceedings don’t get too silly. Throughout its six years on the air, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had many comedic highs but also some dramatic lows. While we may smile fondly every time someone brings to our remembrance the legendary Carlton dance, we should also pause and appreciate the ways Fresh Prince often caused people to shed a tear or two.
So with this in mind, I would like to present some of the more somber moments from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
This article was first posted on November 30, 2012