DAR TV: 10 Vital Episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air

By @TrueGodImmortal and @SpeedontheBeat

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air remains one of the best shows in the history of television. It served as a true launching pad for the acting career of Will Smith, along with providing the viewer with attachment to every character, especially Uncle Phil. The show's strength was always rooted in its ability to bring deep topics to spark conversation amongst those who watched. There were hidden messages at times and then other straightforward aggressive messages, but Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was known for coming with a message in many of their episodes. Today, we look at what Speed and I consider 10 vital episodes of the show. Please note that this is NOT the top 10 list for best episodes, or a top 10 list at all. It's 5 episodes a piece selected by myself and Speed that were vital to the show and were some of the most deep and poignant moments in the sitcom's history. Let's get into it, shall we?

*The Ethnic Tip
Season 1, Episode 17
By @TrueGodImmortal

-A truly slept on episode sees Will make a claim that there should be a black history class at the predominantly white Bel Air Academy. This idea would be met with agreement from the Academy and a shock would come as his Aunt Vivian would end up teaching the class. Now, what Carlton and Will don't realize is that the path ahead features more homework and an emphasis on Will and Carlton during this black history class, as they are the only two black students. The class becomes a hit with all the students and all of the students want Vivian as a permanent teacher. They draw up a petition that needs 150 signatures. They have 148, and only need two more signatures. Who would those signatures be? Will and Carlton. Seemingly, Vivian was about to become a permanent teacher for everyone, right?


Will and Carlton were hesitant after feeling like Vivian singled them out and gave them extra homework and work, and once Vivian explains why, it all becomes clear. She wanted to provide Will and Carlton with knowledge on their history, their ancestry, their background, the origin of our people, all with the hope that it would benefit them in the long run. This message was very important because while the white students were excited to learn about black history, it's much more vital that we know our own history, our own people. That lesson struck me as a kid watching the show and stayed with me for a while honestly, thus why it's on the list here.

*My Brother's Keeper
Season 2, Episode 15
By @TrueGodImmortal

-Allen Payne guest starred as Marcus Stokes, a rival basketball player at Malibu Prep, a rival school of Bel Air Academy. This episode was always interesting to me, as I wondered about the premise behind it and if it was based on someone in particular. Marcus Stokes, a promising player who grew up dirt poor and had a son at a young age, is trying to get a scholarship so that he can continue moving up in the sports world and the world in general. He wants to get a scholarship to get a shot at a good education and to provide for his family. Will, a big competitor, especially in sports, is determined to beat Marcus and his team until he makes a trip to the barbershop where he sees Marcus and his son. Realizing that his opportunities will always be plentiful, Will decides to purposely miss a shot in order to lose the game and have Marcus be seen as a big hero and success for a scholarship.

This episode is vital to me because it was a contrast for Will, seeing someone who grew up similar to him also make it out, but earn his chances and have a family to provide for. It was a perspective gaining episode for Will, and Marcus knew that Will purposely missed the shot. Marcus was a hard worker, and he wasn't necessarily happy about Will throwing the game purposely, but in the end, it all worked out for the best. This is one of my personal favorites honestly for a multitude of reasons.

*Reality Bites
Season 5, Episode 3
By @SpeedOnTheBeat

-I know what you're thinking. Why is Speed picking this episode over a ton of other episodes or the one where Will gets shot. Well, those are important, they're critical in understanding what Fresh Prince of Bel-Air meant as a show and a stepping stone for getting into the mind of young Black men in the 1990s and today. However, I wanted to take a different route with my first choice. Plus, I was aware that those would likely be on True's 5 choices, so why not spice it up a bit?

This season five episode probably gets lost in the shuffle because of its, somewhat, silly as Goofy crapping in the woods premise. Nicky likes a fake Barney whale sort of thing. Will, Carlton, and Nicky go to see someone dressed up as the fake Barney (named Dougie because, you know, that doesn't remind anyone of "Barney" at all). Said cosplayer (pretty much) talks shit to Will and Will proceeds to beat him up, ripping his costume head off in the process, revealing that Dougie isn't real.

It's one of those episodes where you're given that youthful innocence, but also a real lesson. Some of our heroes aren't really heroes. Hell, some of them aren't even real. This is accented by Will's denial of Shaft's non-existence ("Shaft went to Africa") and a surreal moment where Santa Claus and his honeys talk with Will about, pretty much, trying to preserve a kid's innocence for as long as you can. Drop the heavy crap on 'em later, when they're better able to process it.

It's a sweet episode that doesn't get its due because of, to me, its premise. But, if you can get beyond the fact that it all starts because Nicky likes a bargain bin Barney, you'll be treated to one of the series' better later season episodes.

*Hare Today
Season 6, Episode 18
By @SpeedOnTheBeat

-Yes, another Nicky episode with a goofy premise. Uncle Phil sits on Nicky's rabbit. Rabbit dead. Everyone goes to church to repent. Aunt Viv has to deal with a slightly shifty reverend. Meanwhile, Carlton and Ashley (I had to Wiki this, because I always remembered it as Carlton and Hilary) are competing for a solo spot.

It's one of the few times we get to see the Banks family get religious. It's also one of a handful of times where, like "Reality Bites," we get to see some "some heroes aren't heroes" action. The reverend is not only slightly shifty. He also thinks that Aunt Viv is coming onto him. So what does he do? He gets pretty un-Christian-like and tries to steal a woman from her husband and (it's implied, since FPOBA was still kid-friendly) lay with a married woman. Of course, it goes south (because, not even with the two-parter "Breaking Up is Hard to Do," you can't break up Phil and Viv).

Meanwhile, Carlton and Ashley get some do-right and get-right put back into them in a moment of clarity. They stop fighting over the solo and collaborate on it. And it's beautiful, especially since it's a moment where Ashley doesn't want you to "Make Up Your Mind." I would've picked that two-part episode, mainly because of its "price of fame and being a Diva" storyline, but I know that's also one that a lot of people would've picked.

*Mistaken Identity
Season 1, Episode 6
By @SpeedOnTheBeat

-Now, let's go back to season one. FPOBA was still trying to find its groove as a series. This episode was one of the most-important episodes, as it spoke on the "DWB" (driving while black, for those still blissfully unaware) phenomenon. Carlton and Will, driving a family friend's Mercedes, are pulled over by a cop thinking they're stealing the car since they "fit the description."

Both young men are scared shitless of the idea of going to jail. I mean, who wouldn't be? It's jail. And, seasons one through three of OITNB be damned, it's no picnic summer resort hideaway. But, Will, in a moment of youthful craziness, decides to confess to the crimes to make a scene. Said scene was made to draw Aunt Viv and Uncle Phil out to pick them up. It works and Uncle Phil goes all Johnnie Cochran on the cops, letting them know that Will and Carlton had rights that were, probably, violated in the arrest.

The clincher of this episode is the heated debate Will and Carlton get into at the end of it. You can Google it, Amazon stream it, or maybe True will post it in here. I don't know. All I know is that, the first time I saw this episode, I was maybe 6. It was after the time of the Rodney King riots and it was on syndication. Seeing what'd happened before this episode entered my consciousness, it made me realize that there are some people out there that'll hate you for the color of your skin. Like, I knew it. I knew racism was a thing. You hear about MLK and shit when you're that age. But, seeing it played out with characters I'd grown to love like family, I don't know. It hit me more than the "I Have a Dream" speech. So, I began seeking out ways I could keep myself from getting put into that position, almost like Carlton.

The next time I saw the episode, I was a bit older. I was at the top of my class. Smart as hell. But, I had a temper. Watching this episode, it made me realize some things. This time, I realized that, no matter how smart you are, if a person sees you as just another black guy, as lesser than them, that's all you'll be to them. But, like Carlton and Will (and Manray from Bamboozled), I was sick and tired of being "another black man" (or, as the racists might say it, another nigger).

This very episode inspired me in many ways to be who I am today.  Yes, this episode inspired Speed On the Beat. Do with that information what you will.

*How I Spent My Summer Vacation
Season 3, Episode 1
By @SpeedOnTheBeat

-The season three premiere. I'll keep this one short. It's another "...while Black" episode in some ways. However, the "while Black" we're talking today is "being discriminated against by your fellow Black people...while Black."

Will comes back from Philly with his hair in twists and a bit more "I'm still 'Black'" demeanor (meaning he's acting less like Will and more like a faux O-Dog with a bit of Zach de la Rocha mixed in; that reference'll make more sense in a bit). I love this episode because it challenges many assumptions of what it means to be Black while also showing the perils of racial profiling or judging someone because of what they're wearing.

Will gets dressed down, a bit, by Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv because of his "oh, I'm rebelling against the system" speech and its borderline irreverence towards people who were really out there rebelling (especially after he just got returned by a cop). Meanwhile, Will's speech had a TON of points to it. Just because he's wearing twists and baggy clothes, that doesn't make him any less smart, willing to be intelligent, or whatever.

Additionally, it's one of the few moments where we see Jazz not be as dependent on Will or Will's friendship, as he's about to sex some random who isn't his later wife or whomever. It's kind of a sucky moment, because Will doesn't have anywhere to go while Jazz has his crib. However, Will left by choice because he wanted to faux rage against The Machine. That's on him. And Jazz reminds him of that fact. That moment along with others cemented this, for me, as an important episode.

*For Whom The Wedding Bells Tolls 
Season 5, Episode 25
By @SpeedOnTheBeat

-I know, I'm leaning more towards later season episodes. There's a reason behind that. Quite frankly, the series got a bit more "real" in its later seasons, even with the Dougies and the random appearances of George and Weezy. The show, while funnier and more "classic" in some ways in its earlier seasons, matured just as its family had.

This episode shows that people sometimes grow apart. It also shows the dangers of just rushing into a wedding because reasons or because you think you know what you want. Marriage is forever. It's one of those "I've gotta to be 100% sure that this is what I want" things. I know divorces happen, but damn. If you're not even sure at the point where you get married, you're doomed to fail.

And that's what happened between Lisa and Will. While they'd been together for a minute, they ended up rushing--and then botching--their entire wedding. What happened after they did all this? It fell apart and their parents ended up married. So...at least someone got married. I think.

*Bullets Over Bel Air
Season 5, Episode 15
By @TrueGodImmortal

-The Will gets shot episode. I know. Typical of me to have this episode on here, but you can't argue against this one. No way, no how. This is truly one of the most emotionally charged episodes of the show's history and I watch it every time it comes on. It starts off with Will and Carlton going to an ATM and getting robbed, but as the money is being handed over, Carlton makes a sudden move and the robber shoots.... and hits Will.

Though the emotional acting is the reason why this episode is so poignant, I think it's the change in Carlton that truly stands out. Yes, Will was the usual emotional actor in vital scenes, but what truly made this whole concept work was the believability in Carlton's loss of faith in the justice system and everything else around it. For a preppy kid, who grew up wealthy and felt protected by the law (as we saw on the "Mistaken Identity" episode) to completely turn his back on that way of thinking showed you just how flimsy the true faith in the system is. Though Carlton getting a gun turned out to be just a formality of a bigger message, it's always been one of my favorite moments in the show because of what it represented. Carlton wanted to be protected and feel protected, but you realize that he had lost sight of what that even entailed in this episode.

*Just Say Yo
Season 3, Episode 19
By @TrueGodImmortal

-I chose this one over a few others, including the Ashley Banks becomes a Diva and star saga, as well as the Uncle Phil Heart Attack episode, because this one hit a little too close to home in some manner. I relate to Will very much in this episode, outside of the obvious drugs being taken, but Will was working so hard at the time and couldn't stay up to complete his tasks at school, work, and was entertaining his girlfriend so much that he was absolutely drained of any energy. He accepts some speed from a student and decided against using it, storing it in his locker.

It would be at the school prom that Carlton comes up to Will asking if he had any Vitamin E pills, and Carlton goes to check Will's locker. Thinking the pills he finds are Vitamin E, Carlton takes the speed pills and instantly goes insane on the dance floor, dancing until he passes out. When at the hospital, the family shows up and criticizes Carlton, while Will deals with the emotions knowing he's to blame somewhat. When Will reveals the pills came from his locker, the emotion he shows is one of his strongest scenes on the entire show, another big reason why this episode made the list. As for Will's strongest performance on the show?

*Papa's Got A Brand New Excuse 
Season 4, Episode 24
By @TrueGodImmortal

-Of course, we arrive at this one. There's no episode of the show that's more iconic. It represents the feeling of almost an entire generation and the emotional barriers broken on this one feels so real. Ben Vereen plays Lou Smith, Will's father, who he never really knew like that. His father was in and out of his life, mostly out, and when he was reunited with him, the excitement in Will's face is so easy to read. They begin to forge a bond and build a father-son relationship, and before things get too normal, Will's father leaves his life yet again.

What follows is one of the greatest moments in television history in my opinion, as Will digs deep within to give a riveting speech to his Uncle Phil about how he didn't need his father then or now. It's an emotional realization that truly showcases Will's acting range and is the most memorable moment of the show. You can't have any Fresh Prince of Bel Air list without this episode.



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