The Fresh Prince of Bel Air

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air Reunion

Dept. of Television As Therapy


Damn, that was emotional. I always knew The Fresh Prince of Bel Air Reunion was going to make me weep, I just didn’t know how much. Caught up in their acute reminiscing, I too felt like I was reunited with old friends. I cried tears of sadness and I cried tears of joy. And it wasn’t because of some misplaced sense of nostalgia on my part, but rather because of how genuine and honest these 75 minutes were.

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air was revolutionary. But you knew that already. The secret to its longevity, however, goes beyond its cultural impact. You see, the reason this series continues to resonate, almost three decades later, is because of the way it connected with its audience. And I don’t mean that figuratively.


By constantly breaking the fourth wall, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air ingratiated itself with us in a way that no other television show did at the time. It wasn’t a schtick. It wasn’t a punchline. It was a way to drag us into the conversation that was taking place on screen. We were active participants.

It is why, despite being separated by race, and culture, and distance, and geography, I was so invested in the lives of Will and the Banks. It is probably why I still am.

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air

If you’re lucky in Hollywood, like really lucky, you might get to be a part of one great and wonderful thing. It’s why people might stop you in the street. Or go conspicuously quiet whenever you walk into a room. Now Will Smith has been luckier than most. He’s had something of a charmed career on screen, having grown up before our very eyes, in one iconic role after another. But as incredible as he was in Independence Day, or in Men in Black, or as Muhammad Ali, I truly believe that the first line of his obituary will be about The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

This show, over its six seasons and 150 episodes, spoke to millions across the world. There has been nothing quite like it. Funny. Truthful. Loving. Important. Sadly relevant after three decades. And universally appealing. What’s more, with the tarnished legacy of The Cosby Show, it became, and remains, the standard bearer of Black excellence on American television. (It also stands out for having aged incredibly well.)

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But for all of its acclaim, there remained one black mark on its record, the decades-old feud between Janet Hubert, the original Aunt Viv, and the rest of the cast of The Fresh Prince.

The story goes that Hubert, who had played the show’s matriarch for the first three seasons, was fired in 1993 after disputes with both Will Smith and the producers of the show. Her role was eventually recast and replaced by Daphne Maxwell Reid. The whole thing was incredibly bitter and their acrimony has continued to play out in the media. Until now.

As a family, we have our things that we talk about and then we have our things that we don’t talk about. We never really, together, publicly talk about Janet. And what happened. And, for me, it felt like I couldn’t celebrate 30 years of Fresh Prince without finding a way to celebrate Janet. 

Will Smith
The Fresh Prince of Bel Air

We learned a lot of new things in this reunion. Will Smith told the story of his impromptu audition for Quincy Jones. Alfonso Ribeiro spoke about how the infamous Carlton Dance came to be. And the entire cast looked back on the impact that the late James Avery had on their lives and careers.

But it was that honest and raw exchange between Will and Janet that made this episode trip over from good to great. It was the both of them coming together and talking for the first time in 27 years, telling their sides of the story, and then apologising for holding on to their individual truths for so long.

That was cathartic. That was powerful.

Now I’ve seen a lot of these sorts of reunions, as I’m sure you have too, and the problem with them is that the scripted ones often feel a little haphazard, while the unscripted ones often feel a little self-indulgent. Even the ones that have managed to dig deep and give us all the warm hug we so desperately craved, still felt somewhat hollow and fleeting.

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air Reunion was the first one that felt important. It felt substantial because it transcended fan service. This was an episode that returned to its roots and channelled all the things that made the series great. It was about family and friendships. It was about being able to look past ego and arrogance. It was a reminder that it’s never too late to say “I’m sorry.”

My God, that Friends reunion really has a lot to live up to.

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air Reunion
75 minutes
Director: Marcus Raboy
Cast: Will Smith, Alfonso Ribeiro, James L. Avery, Daphne Maxwell Reid, Karyn Parsons, Tatyana Ali, Joseph Marcell, Jeffrey Allen Townes, and Janet Hubert

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air Reunion is now streaming on HBO Max.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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