Off the Charts: The Fresh Prince of Bel Air

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I was an avid TV-watcher as a kid.  Between Saturday morning cartoons, after-school afternoon shows, all-day Nickelodeon-a-thons, and NES my young life revolved around the Television.  Well that and action figures.

Despite all the TV-ing I did there was only ever ONE show I remember being excited about the premiere: The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.  Honestly I don’t know how I heard about it, what the promotion for the show was, and even if I was a huge Fresh Prince fan before the show (I knew several of the songs but I was deep into Guns N Roses love at this point…) but for some reason I have a distinct memory of my sister and I ending playing outside early (unheard of!) to run inside and crowd around the second TV in my parents’ room (sitting on a giant desk and occasionally requiring a SMACK on the side to work properly) to watch the very first episode.

As part of my 90s nostalgia I bought and re-watched the entire show from start to finish over the last couple of weeks.  There was a lot I’d forgotten, a lot that I remembered (and couldn’t WAIT to get to!), and some changing opinions on the show itself.  Here are my thoughts:

The show starts, as many shows do, with a cliché premise.  This one is “fish out of water.”  Will Smith, from West Philadelphia (born and raised), moves in with his rich relatives and their clash of cultures causes hilarity.  I remember as a kid only seeing the Will-side of things and reveling in his bucking of the establishment.  Watching as an adult I realize it’s more complex than that.  In the very first episode Uncle Phil (James Avery) sets Will straight, he might be a kid from the streets now, but being an adult on the streets isn’t appealing, Phil worked hard to get where he is and while Will’s revolutionary spirit is often the white hat of the show, you see the value of the Banks’ ethics too.  Similarly in another episode Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro) comments that Will mocks him for being the “bourgie” guy he is, but in doing so he’s being as unaccepting of Carlton’s personality and much as he (Will) claims the Bel Air society is unaccepting of him.  It’s much deeper than just watching wild-Will run amok as I thought as a kid.

The show is full of lots of running themes; Will’s “look to camera,” cartoon effects, Jazz being thrown out.  A lot of common threads that are undoubtedly “Fresh Prince.”  It’s like watching live-action Looney Tunes in a way.  Even the serious moments I hated as a kid are effective now.  Try watching Will respond to his father leaving and not be affected!

The show also has some of the best bloopers I’ve ever seen.  The only unusual aspect of the show is the high number of clip shows they do.  Even in the early season.  I learned from audio commentaries on The Simpsons that this is something networks do to save money and this may be the case here.  It’s not a complaint as the clips are always the best of the show, just strange to have a second season clip show.

Another strange thing that hit me while watching it is how much has changed in the intervening time between the show’s original run and now.  The stars they mention who we lost way before their time (specifically Heavy D, Whitney Houston, and Michael Jackson), and the fickle nature of the trends as celebrities on the show who received raucous cheers who are now in the midst of relative obscurity.

My favorite aspect of the show is Jazz.  DJ Jazzy Jeff, in addition to being one hell of a DJ (a REAL DJ.  Ya know…with records…) is absolutely a riot every time he’s on screen.  You can tell he’s not a trained actor, but his part is so funny it doesn’t matter.

Here are some of my personal favorite moments:

If it’s been a while since you’ve visited Bel Air I say pick it up.  It’s one of the rare shows from the 90s that, while it does have its dated moments, is as funny now as when it was made.

Below is the REAL FULL theme song of the Fresh Prince.  As far as I know it never aired.  Only an extended version during the first two episodes.  It’s still missing two sections in the middle.  But to answer a long standing question, no the Prince didn’t take a cab from West Philly to Bel Air!

Full House — 20 Years Later

When I told a couple of friends I was going to review Full House, their jaws dropped. For those who don’t know me, I don’t look (or act) like I would enjoy the sitcom. I have a reputation for being no BS, sarcastic, and tough. Full House is none of those things, so why in the world would someone like me review this show?

Twenty years ago, little Raven laid on her bed and watched back-to-back episodes every afternoon. This week, 30-year-old Raven laid on her couch with her son to watch back-to-back episodes. Not much has changed…

I was thrilled to see Full House come back, and I knew while watching an episode this week, the show was post worthy. So, here’s what’s changed and what hasn’t in 20 years.


I appreciate the show. I never thought I would want a clean, feel good, very cheesy show to chill to after a day at the office. It’s now cool and funny to be sarcastic and mean, so it’s nice to step into an alternate universe of feel-good family goodness – where people are not glued to their portable devices.

It’s outdated in many ways. It was 20 years ago before technology ruled the world, Harleys and car knowledge was a guy thing, and women wore shoulder pads in everything.

The cast. Other than John Stamos, has anyone seen the rest of the cast? For the most part, the cast is long gone with families (and problems) of their own.

I get it. As an adult, I understand all the jokes and appreciate the non-traditional household that was healthy and supportive. A dad, brother-in-law, and best friend raise three girls. Not only did they raise them, but you knew everything would be okay. And for the most part, it always is. Hope is a powerful thing.

What Remains the Same

John Stamos is still hot. He was the heart-throb of Full House and has aged well. You may remember him from ER and Glee.

Stephanie is still annoying. Her character was nosy and whiny – everything a little sibling is – but she still irritates me, and my son agrees.

There’s always a lesson. D.J. got a job to pay for her own phone line. Stephanie owned up to driving a car through the kitchen. Michelle replaced the classroom bird she accidentally let fly out a window. The show taught kids to own their mistakes and fix them, and honesty is always the best policy.

It’s still cheesy. It was the early 90s, so being raised during the grunge music era and loving movies like Reservoir Dogs and Clueless, it was not cool to like Full House. The jokes are predictable, there are catch phrases, the mushy moments are overly dramatic, and it’s a little unrealistic. But who needs realism? Life has more than enough of it.

It’s still fun. I watched fours hours of Full House this week and enjoyed every minute. It’s not complicated, well written, and great for all ages. I heard Bobby Brown’s My Prerogative on an episode and was nostalgic for 90s dance music and R&B. I knew every word, too.

Full House, like The Cosby Show and Fresh Prince, will live on for a long, long time. I feel like a “real” adult when I say they just don’t make shows like they used to. I look forward to watching more and hearing from you. What old show you would like to see again? Share in the comments below!