This is a story all about how Will’s life just flipped upside down, I’d like to take a minute — just sit right there, I’ll tell you how he became the prince of a town called Bel-Air.
The Fresh Prince was like catching lightening in a bottle: A perfect cast that had acting chops and chemistry with each other unlike any other, a great time slot on Monday nights that was secured for all six seasons and kept their audience and ratings satisfactory, writing talent that balanced hilarious, often slapstick comedy with poignant, socially and psychologically aware dramatic moments and a great after life with reruns that have not gone off the air since the show went off the air back in 1996.
This was the show that became a 90’s icon and beyond as it is still considered one of the funniest and greatest sitcoms ever made. It’s also one of the top tier African American cast tv shows of the 1990’s along with Martin and Living Single. Another notch in its belt is it’s place as one of the handful of black sitcoms that was popular enough and universal enough to crossover to the mainstream along with the likes of Sanford and Son, Different Strokes, The Jeffersons, The Cosby Show, Everybody Hates Chris, The Bernie Mac Show, What’s Happening and Kenan and Kel.
These are twenty episodes that show the best, funniest, deepest, most moving and spectacular 90’s flavor that Fresh Prince had to offer. And hereeeee we go!
20. 72 Hours. Season 1, episode 23.
In this classic episode Will challenges the very preppy Carlton to survive in a very rough LA neighborhood for 72 hours. The episode was both hilarious at times and poignant at other times with Carlton proving to Will that looks can be deceiving. This was also one of the first times we really see the tight brotherhood that would define the Will\Carlton relationship for the rest of the series.
19. The Big Four-Oh! Season 2, episode 7.
Very rarely did Vivian get the spotlight but it shined bright on her in this classic episode where after turning forty, Vivian goes through a mid life crisis and decides to pursue a dream of hers: Dancing. Everybody knows and loves the iconic scene where she shows the young girls how it’s done. A great showcase for Janet Hubert-Whitten.
18. Winner Takes Off. Season 3, episode 14.
A truly great Geoffrey centric episode. Will and Carlton decide to prank Geoffrey making him think that he’s won the lottery causing Geoffrey to gleefully quit. A true comedic tour de force for the always great but sometimes underused Joseph Marcell.
17. Christmas Show. Season 2, episode 13.
Just like real life, The Bankses and Will discover that family get togethers aren’t always as pleasant as they seem on Tv. But seriously whenever Vivian’s sisters and their families came on the show it was always fun and in this one the family’s Christmas ski trip takes an unexpected turn when they’re robbed by a unassuming stranger. This one’s got all the Christmas and family bond feels that you need to make a classic Christmas episode.
16. Striptease for Two. Season 2, episode 24.
One of the most memorable and funniest scenes of the whole takes place in the season 2 finale. You all know what i’m talking about. It has something to do with a Michael Jackson song and a certain preppy dork getting his freak on in front of a bunch of thirsty ladies. In this episode the dynamic duo Will and Carlton get jobs as strippers to recoup their losses and get Vivian’s bracelet out of hock.
15. Blood is Thicker Than Mud. Season 4, episode 8.
We all remember this episode mostly for the classic speech Carlton gives telling off the ignorant pledge master who called him a sellout. But more than that it’s mostly a very funny episode as Carlton and Will enter the world of fraternity pledging and with Carlton’s specific personality you just knew there were laughs to be had. The episode dealt with something not many tv shows did at the time: The debate on blackness, what’s black and what’s not etc. Fresh Prince was a hilarious sitcom but every now and then they weren’t afraid to address real life and the hardships that come from family problems, sex, coming of age, class and race.
14. Hex and The Single Guy. Season 4, episode 7.
Halloween with the Bankses gets really weird when after mocking a psychic, Will is hexed by said psychic causing bad luck for the entire family. A truly funny episode with many memorable moments.
13. M is for the Many Things She Gave Me. Season 4, episode 22.
Uncle Phil’s ex flame played by the gorgeous Pam Grier comes to visit with her daughter who Will fancies, but Mrs. Robertson decides to take the young Will for a test drive and all hell breaks loose. The episode is legendary for three key reasons: 1. A still in her prime Pam Grier. 2. DAAAMMNN! and 3. Tadow!
12. Just Say Yo. Season 3, episode 19.
This is definitely one of the more dramatic and darker episodes of Fresh Prince and one of its most memorable as it deals with the issue of drugs, specifically Speed. Will gets Speed pills from a friend and hides it in his locker. Carlton mistakes them for vitamins when he takes them from Will’s locker and is hospitalized. The ending of this episode brings tears to the eyes every single time. A hard to watch but powerful scene and a true hint at Will Smith’s amazing dramatic skills.
11. Mistaken Identity. Season 1, episode 6.
Everyone remembers this episode and its powerful message as well as superb dramatic moments between Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv vs. the Bel Air police and Will and Carlton at the end. This episode tragically holds true to this day, but even with all the drama it still has its share of good laughs to balance it all out.
10. The Mother of All Battles. Season 2, episode 2.
Ashley faces a bully and Will tries to teach her how to defend herself. This episode is most notable for the iconic scene between both sets of parents as Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv show them a thing or two about respect. The scene between The Banks vs. The Hoovers felt like an episode from another iconic classic sitcom The Jeffersons. Like Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv here, George and Weezy Jefferson were never afraid to defend themselves or each other from pompous snobs who put them or their family down. I think George would’ve been proud of Uncle Phil slugging that arrogant idiot.
9. Bullets Over Bel Air. Season 5, episode 15.
Another great dramatic and amazingly acted episode, Will ends up in the hospital after taking a bullet for Carlton at the ATM during a robbery. This episode shows us a whole different side to Carlton Banks. The usual upbeat, lovable goof develops a cynical and angry side and buys a Gun. The interaction between Will and Carlton in that scene was powerful.
8. The Harder They Fall. Season 4, episode 21.
A great buddy episode between Will Smith and the late great John Witherspoon. The chemistry between the two actors was a joy to behold and the episode is not short on laughs. Two different generations coming together… and basically still hating each other.
7. The Alma Matter. Season 3, episode 18.
Another great Carlton focused episode that pays homage to Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life”. Carlton wishes he was never born and he gets a visit from his hero: Tom Jones who happens to be his guardian angel. The two perform a classic duet of “It’s Not Unusual”. Another classic scene in this episode is Will’s college recruitment interview where the fresh prince charms his way to Princeton.
6. I Whoops, There It Is. Season 6, episode 19.
This episode was something very unique and enjoyable. Basically a behind the scenes look of the day in the life of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, including many classic bloopers from the series. Perfect fit for the final season of the iconic sitcom. This behind the scenes look shows just how much a real family the cast and crew of Fresh Prince really were and thankfully still are to this day.
5. The Fresh Prince Project aka “The Pilot”. Season 1, episode 1.
This is the episode that started it all. One of the few truly great pilots ever made in sitcom history. Right from the start the show was really funny, had a clear vision of what it wanted to be and what it wanted to say about family, about different shades of blackness, and clash of class structure. The cast seemed to click into their characters pretty well from the beginning, though Carlton and Hilary would be better defined as the show went on. The big confrontation scene between Will and Uncle Phil showed the true potential of the show as being more than just a typical sitcom, but being a sitcom with a living, beating heart and a rich soul.
4. Will is From Mars… Season 5, episode 17.
You know you’ve made it to sitcom classic status when a previous sitcom classic graces you with the presence of two iconic characters in George and Louise Jefferson reprised by the late greats Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford. Sherman Hemsley had made a few appearances before on the show as Philip’s previous mentor but he was at his best playing George Jefferson once again. Will and his fiancee Lisa played by Nia Long go to couple’s counseling and have a run in with George and Louise Jefferson. The scene between them is one of the funniest and truly memorable scenes in tv history.
3. Where There’s a Will There’s a Way parts 1 and 2. Season 4, episodes 1 and 2.
The start of season 4 had a lot to prove. This was right after Janet Hubert-Whitten left the series after the infamous fall out with star Will Smith. Daphne Maxwell Reid was cast as the new Aunt Viv, and the casting change could’ve spelled a huge disaster… Thank God it didn’t turn out that way. Season 4 came out strong with a classic two part episode where there’s wedding talk, old flames reignited and one of the funniest deaths in tv history. While Janet will always be the best version of Aunt Viv, Ms. Reid happened to fit right in well with the cast and the show seemed to have been rejuvenated with a big change.
2. I Done Parts 1 and 2. Season 6, episodes 23 and 24.
Series finales are always hard to pull off. If you’re not careful you end the show in a way that severely pisses off a fanbase (looking at you, How I Met Your Mother!) but when a show gets it right they get it right! The Fresh Prince denounced his throne gracefully. The goodbyes and emotions were visceral and we felt that loss when Will is left by himself in the now empty mansion, but the cherry on top of the whole sundae that is this finale is the cameos of such sitcom icons as Gary Coleman and Conrad Bain, and Sherman Hemsley, Isabel Sanford and Marla Gibbs reprising their roles from their legendary shows Diff’Rent Strokes and The Jeffersons. This was very much a passing of the torch from two legendary sitcoms of tv’s past to a now ending legendary sitcom that was saying goodbye. Talk about a truly great parting gift.
- Papa’s Got A Brand New Excuse. Season 4, episode 24.
If there’s any one episode from this show that anybody will remember whether they actually watched the show or not, it’s this one. In this landmark episode we finally meet Will’s deadbeat dad who inserts himself back into Will’s life with Uncle Phil holding objection. The episode ends with the iconic “How come he don’t want me, man?” scene where Mr. Will Smith freaking killed it! So much so that the fact that he did not receive the Emmy for this episode is just mind blowing. The episode gave a deep and powerful reaction from viewers that still holds wait to this day. A lot of us dream of having a father like Uncle Phil but are stuck with Lou. Will Smith tells a great story about what James Avery whispered to him during their heartbreaking hug. While the episode is not without great laughs, it’s one of the most emotionally powerful of the whole series and gave us the show’s best dramatic scenes.
It’s cliche to say this but they really don’t make shows like this anymore. There was something special about Fresh Prince that very few shows reach. It seems to live on and entertain viewers to this day and I suspect like I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, The Andy Griffith Show and many other timeless sitcoms it will live on far past anyone involved with the show for generation after generation.