Bel-Air, the long-awaited dramatic reboot to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, finally made its premiere over the weekend, bringing us a gritty reimagining of one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time.
So far, the reception for the series, which premiered on Peacock over the weekend, has been mixed. Bel-Air is currently pulling a 60% overall critic rating according to review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes. As the Washington Post put it in a review, the show “suck[s] all the joy, exuberance and wondrous charisma out of The Fresh Prince.” For what it’s worth, though, we thought it was pretty good, and a worthwhile fresh take on a show that never really shied away from heavy, dramatic topics.
The Fresh Prince regularly felt like a drama wrapped in a sitcom’s clothing — especially in later seasons, when the whole “fish out of water”-style story of a West Philly guy making the move to haughty Bel-Air felt far in the rearview. And, of course, that very premise is laden with tons of social, racial, and economic elements that The Fresh Prince did its best to touch on.
Fortunately, The Fresh Prince is currently streaming on HBO Max and in seemingly endless syndication. So, in case you’re not feeling Bel-Air, but still want a little drama, we’ve rounded up some of the most dramatic moments from The Fresh Prince below:
“The Fresh Prince Project”
From its pilot episode, The Fresh Prince wasn’t afraid to go deep. Here, Will and Uncle Phil clash as tensions run high after Will’s arrival in town, with Will saying that his uncle forgot where he came from. Phil dresses him down in a fiery counter, telling Will that he “encountered bigotry you could not imagine” growing up, and that, while Will’s poster of Malcolm X is nice, he actually “heard the brother speak.” Will sulks away, playing — to Phil’s quiet disbelief — Beethoven’s “Für Elise” on a nearby piano, showing there’s more to him than his uncle knows, too.
In this early episode, the show tackles police prejudice and systemic racism when Will and Carlton are pulled over while driving a borrowed Mercedes on a trip to Palm Springs. They’re ultimately arrested and jailed for breaking what Will later calls the “if you see a Black guy driving anything but a burned-out Pinto, you better stop him because he stole it” law. But the real gem here is, of course, Uncle Phil, who frees the pair from jail after absolutely decimating the ignorant police sergeant, and telling him that he’ll “tie this place up with so much litigation that your grandchildren are going to need lawyers.”
“Just Say Yo”
With a title that plays off of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, this anti-drug special’s legacy is a little tough to grapple with, but it does have one of the series’ most dramatic moments. Carlton accidentally takes speed he found in Will’s locker, and has to be hospitalized. Initially seen as the hero, Will comes clean and admits the drugs were his, with Smith giving one of the series’ standout performances in his apology. “Look, all I know is someone real close to me who I love a lot could be dead right now, and it would be all my fault,” he says. “And I’m sorry, man. I’m sorry.”
“Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way (Part 2)”
While it is played mostly for laughs in the moment, the severity of the climax in this episode is shockingly tragic. Hilary’s boyfriend, Trevor, plans to propose to her on live TV in a bungee jumping stunt, but ultimately falls to his death as the whole Banks family watches. It’s probably the darkest the humor gets in the show, and it is funny — but, still, it’s tough seeing Hilary struggle with Trevor’s death and blame herself for asking for a special proposal.
“Blood Is Thicker Than Mud”
Here, we see the usually carefree Carlton get real after he’s rejected from a Black fraternity led by a man known as Top Dog (Glenn Plummer), who calls him a “sellout,” but accepts Will because he is more “our type.” Rejecting the idea that there is a singular, correct Black identity, Carlton eloquently takes Top Dog down, saying “Being Black isn’t what I’m trying to be — it’s what I am. I’m running the same race and jumping the same hurdles you are, so why are you tripping me up?…If you ask me, you’re the real sellout.”
“Home Is Where the Heart Attack Is”
It’s scary for everyone when Uncle Phil has a heart attack in this episode, but no one seems more damaged than Carlton. Carlton avoids dealing with the situation by staying home and cleaning instead of supporting his dad in a vulnerable moment. Will, whose dad abandoned his family years ago, sets his cousin straight in a couple powerful, tough love-laden sentences: “You can eat with him and argue with him — he’s there for you. You know where my father is? Neither do I.” Carlton snaps out of it and visits Phil in the hospital, telling him, “You’re like Superman to me.”
“You’ve Got to Be a Football Hero”
As the only Fresh Prince episode where Will gets drunk, this one doesn’t turn out great for him. After drinking far too much at a party, Will contemplates driving home drunk, but (thankfully) passes out instead, and ultimately comes to in a cemetery. There, he’s haunted by several ghosts — including a young boy named Billy, who was killed by a drunk driver. After that reveal, Will realizes his stupidity, and passes out on a gravestone again. He wakes up, sobers up a little, and vows to Carlton that he will never drink again.
“Papa’s Got a Brand New Excuse”
The finale of this episode is among the most tear-jerking in sitcom history. Will’s dad, Lou (Ben Vereen), comes back into his life after a decade of absence, only to disappoint him and walk out once again for the last time. Enraged, Will tells Uncle Phil that he doesn’t need Lou before defeatedly asking, “How come he don’t want me, man?” Phil embraces him, with the camera panning to show a sculpture of a father and son (a gift Will had gotten for Lou) in the foreground, suggesting that their relationship is the father-son dynamic Will deserves.
“Bullets Over Bel-Air”
A gunman holds Will and Carlton up at an ATM and shoots Will, hospitalizing — and nearly paralyzing — him. Traumatized, Carlton goes out and buys a gun, ultimately carrying it while visiting Will in the hospital, saying that he will never let what happened to Will happen to him. In a rare moment for the series, Will gets outright angry with Carlton, demanding that he hand the gun over because “that’s not you, man. That’s them.” Will then opens the gun’s chamber, and, seeing it is loaded, empties it and begins silently weeping as the scene fades out.
“I, Done (Part 2)”
The series finale is second only to Will’s breakdown over his dad. Here, we watch as the Banks family prepares to finally leave their Bel-Air home, with everyone moving on — Carlton to Princeton, Phil and Aunt Viv to New England, and Will to his own apartment. After watching them be a family for six seasons, the cast goodbyes are almost too much to bear. And as Will turns out the lights and walks away, the camera pulls back to show the home’s familiar living room, once filled with life and love, now empty and dark in a bittersweet closure to the series.