A black rapper from a tough neighborhood found himself deposited in a cartoonish sitcom in this rather funky comedy co-produced by musician Quincy Jones. Will Smith (Will Smith) was the kid from West Philadelphia who was sent west to live with wealthy relatives in Bel Air, California, when things got a little too dangerous in the ‘hood. To groovin’ Will, Uncle Philip Banks (James Avery) and his stuck-up clan at first seemed like a travesty on upwardly mobile black families. They lived in a preposterously ornate mansion, spoke in oh-so-refined language and even had a liveried butler, Geoffrey (Joseph Marcell). But the pompous Philip, an attorney, could tell Will a thing or two about the black experience when the occasion demanded; and Geoffrey, despite his imperious manner, was a surprising ally. Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro) was the preppy son, Hilary (Karyn Parsons), the spoiled-brat teenage daughter and Ashley (Tatyana M. Ali), the youngest – with whom Will hit it off immediately. Sensible Aunt Vivian (Janet Hubert-Whitten) mediated as required.
Amid the comedy of clashing cultures, viewers were regularly offered morals, sometimes rather explicit, about the difficulties faced by blacks in a white society. Will’s friend Jazz (Jeff Townes – D.J. Jazzy Jeff), among others, periodically brought a little soul to the Banks mansion, as well as to exclusive Bel Air Academy, where Will would never quite fit in.
Will Smith, who played the title role with infectious enthusiasm, was a real-life rap star. He and his partner Jeff won a Grammy Award for their 1988 hit ‘Parents Just Don’t Understand’. Mercifully the rap content in the series was confined to the credits, but a good deal of black music still found its way into episodes. Especially when Will wanted to loosen up those bros.
The 1993 – 1994 season brought a number of changes. Will and Carlton graduated from prep school and enrolled together at the University of Los Angeles while sharing the pool house as their bachelor pad. At the same time Jackie (Tyra Banks), Will’s ex-girlfriend from Philadelphia showed up to complicate his life. At home, Aunt Vivian gave birth to her fourth child, Nicholas “Nicky” (Ross Bagley), who joined the cast full-time the following season (already five years old!). Also in 1994 – 1995 Ashley became a singer and Will found a new girlfriend, Lisa (Nia Long); after a whirlwind courtship they were nearly married in 1995.
In the series finale Uncle Philip put the mansion up for sale and after showing it to several prospective buyers, including Mr. Drummond and Arnold of ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ (Conrad Bain and Gary Coleman), sold it to George and Louise Jefferson of ‘The Jeffersons’ (Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford; Marla Gibbs also showed up as Florence). Everyone moved on to bigger things except Will, who seemed to be stuck on the soft shoulder of life.
The term "Fresh Prince" in the title is a reference to the stage name used by Will Smith as a rap artist in the 1980s.
The running gag of the "Carlton Dance" throughout the show was actually a parody of the dance Courteney Cox did on the Bruce Springsteen music video "Dancing in the Dark" in 1984.
The cab driver in the opening credits is Quincy Jones, the executive producer on the show.
Will: Hey baby, I noticed you noticing me and I just wanted to put you on notice that I noticed you too.
Hilary: I've always wondered... since coffee is made from beans, does that make it a vegetable?
Carlton: For a long time it gave me nightmares, witnessing an injustice like that... It's a constant reminder of just how unfair this world can be... I can still hear them taunting him... "Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!"... I mean, WHY COULDN'T THEY JUST GIVE HIM SOME CEREAL?
Vivian: Here we are, the Smith sisters, loud, live, and in color.
Helen: More like, quiet, evil, and colored.
Scott: Is she involved with anyone?
Will: Mostly herself.
Hilary: Maybe I sometimes say things that are selfish and self-centered, but that's who I am, dammit.
Will: Carlton, you'll never guess what happened!
Carlton: well there's no since in me playing is there!
Parents need to know that two of the main characters are teenage boys and that some of their jokes can border on offensive and sexist. But taken in context and with a grain of salt, they're nothing worse than what kids hear at school or on the playground. Reviewed by: Common Sense Media.