The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

    Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
    Fresh prince of bel air 1013.jpg

    Now, this is a story all about how
    My life got flipped, turned upside down
    And I'd like to take a minute, just sit right there
    I'll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel Air!


    The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is a Sitcom that was created as a vehicle for the popular rapper "The Fresh Prince" (Will Smith) to get a break as a bankable actor. A young, street-savvy hip-hopper from Philadelphia is forced to move to Bel-Air, California with his rich relatives after he pisses off some gangsters. The Reality Subtext is just as grim: A Grammy-winning rapper is forced to take the lead role in a family sitcom after he pisses off the IRS. In both cases, Hilarity Ensues.

    Surprisingly, the show is well-regarded today, not just for launching Smith's acting career, but for being a well-written ensemble comedy despite the gimmicky premise. It also aired for a respectable six seasons (an intentional decision as to not make it a Franchise Zombie).

    The primary relationship was between Will and his uptight cousin Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro), who was about the same age. Will also got on his Uncle Phil's (James Avery) nerves more then anyone else, balanced only by Phil's wife, Vivian (Janet Hubert-Whitten for the first three seasons, Darrined by Daphne Maxwell Reid later). The youngest daughter, Ashley (Tatyana M. Ali), thought Will was cool and the older daughter, Hilary (Karyn Parsons), was usually too air-headed to really notice him.

    The show was unique on how it presented a major clash between what was a stereotypical black personality and a black family that was upper class. Unlike The Cosby Show or Family Matters, Will would suggest that Carlton was not as black as he was; this was phased out through Character Development when Will saw Carlton be discriminated that way.

    In February 2022, it received a Continuity Reboot as an hour-long drama series on NBC's "Peacock" streaming service. Called simply Bel-Air, the new series is set in the current era and was produced by Will Smith.

    Tropes used in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air include:

    Will: If we're so come we can't afford no ceiling? *camera pans up to studio lights*
    Jazz: So, who's playing the wife this year?

      • In one instance during The Tag, Will counter-pranked Carlton by claiming to have killed Lisa (a woman who would later become his girlfriend, was initially sent to embarrass him due to how he treated women). Carlton ran off the house shrieking. The camera followed him for a several minutes as he ran around the various sets, passed through the studio audience and eventually exited the studio where he hugged Will.
    • Break the Haughty: Done to Carlton a few times, mostly in the first season when he continues to look down his nose at Will's rough background. Ironically also happens to Will when he looks down on Carlton for not being "black" or "street" enough.
    • Brick Joke: The Whodunit game in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum".
    • Brilliant but Lazy: Arguably Will. In one episode, he scores higher than Carlton, someone who usually gets very good grades, on a standardized test. Will scores in the 91st percentile while Carlton scores in the 90th. The thing is, Will didn't even study for the test while Carlton studied his ass off. Naturally, Carlton is pissed.
      • Will won over a Princeton recruiter by solving a Rubik's cube in only a few seconds.
      • Will has also shown an adeptness for poetry and the piano.
    • Broken Aesop: In the drug episode "Just Say Yo", the moral should obviously be "Don't do drugs". But as Will never wanted Carlton to do any drugs, but was just tired and confused, it was actually Carlton's own fault, if he takes pills from an unlabelled container. The unbelievably stupid way Carlton acted on his own account marks even more important messages: "Don't just take pills when you aren't even exactly sure what it is!" and "Don't take pills from an unlabelled container!" and "Don't just assume the dose of pills you need to take!" The Aesop is not really about the willful use of illegal drugs at all.
    • Butt Monkey: Carlton falls into this at times, though Jazz gets into the act.
    • Casanova: Will and Jazz.
    • Cast as a Mask: The "Fresh Prince: The Movie" episode had John "Fingers" O'Neill (Brad Garrett) appear twice. The first time was in a story about Will and the Banks family going into the Witness Protection Program, the second time in person (when Fingers comes to hassle Will in Bel Air, Will runs off in terror). The second time, "Fingers" unmasks and reveals himself to be Jazz, out for payback after Will and Carlton used the story to hustle Jazz out of his cash at poker.
    • Casting Gag: "Hey! Your Isaac Hayes impression SUCKS!!"

    Isaac Hayes: Really? I thought it was pretty good.

    • The Cast Showoff: Alfonso Ribiero getting to show off his dancing chops.
    • Celebrity Lie: Early on, Hilary often claimed to be friends with a lot of celebrities as part of her activism and such. By "Deck the Halls", Will gets so sick of it that he tells her to stop lying about it - only to later be surprised to find the trope inverted. Both Evander Holyfield and later Ronald Reagan stop by the house due to the episode's events and personally greet her.
      • In another episode, Will claims to be friends with Boyz II Men and promises to get them for Nicky's christening. After he fails and prepares to admit the truth, the group actually does show up, singing "Silent Night" and telling Will "Merry Christmas".
        • In that last case, it turns out Will actually did vaguely know the Boyz II Men guys from Philly...he stole one of the singer's girlfriends. Of course Will doesn't realize this, as Boyz II Men weren't famous yet when this happened, causing him to brag about how he stole a girl named Neezy from some glasses-wearing guy who was always singing Silly Love Songs with three other guys...before stopping mid-sentence as it dawns on him that those were the members of Boyz II Men before they were famous. As a result, they throw Will out of the studio, though they eventually forgive him and sing for Nicky's sake (and because it is Christmas time).
    • Celebrity Paradox: Will not only repeatedly references The Cosby Show, not only references Malcolm Jamal-Warner specifically, but in one episode tells a detailed story claiming that Jamal-Warner is a close, personal friend who calls him for advice on women. A later episode has Jamal-Warner playing Hilary's boyfriend Eric.
      • Similarly, Ashley is shown to be a fan of both Tevin Campbell and in-universe teen heart-throb Little T (who was played by Campbell).
    • Characterization Marches On: The first season had Carlton as a pompous Smug Snake rival to Will. Starting in Season 2, after being a Butt Monkey and having emotional breakdowns, he became the lovable nerdy goofball we all know today. Likewise, in the first season, Hilary is portrayed as a shallow, spoiled, socialite and environmental activist. Since Season Two, she became just shallow and spoiled.
    • Children Are Innocent: Well, Nicky anyway. Those cousins that only occasionally show up, however...
    • Chronic Villainy: Geoffrey switches back and forward between plotting against and hating the family and feeling genuine affection for them throughout the series.
    • Clark Kent Outfit: Carlton.
    • Cloudcuckoolander: Carlton, at times. Geoffrey, if drunk. Jazz, most of the time. Hilary too. Even Will has his moments.
    • Cock Fight: The midpoint of a two-parter has Carlton and Will vying for the attention of the same woman.
    • Cold Turkeys Are Everywhere: A variant in "Be My Baby Tonight", when Ashley asks Will about sex, he suddenly hears double entendres everywhere. When Ashley's boyfriend comes in for their date, he asks if she's ready. Then, on the TV, the game announcer asks "Where is the most unusual place you've made whoopee?" Then, when Will turns on the radio, all that comes on is the song "I Wanna Sex You Up". Carlton comes in and says he's late for his date with his girlfriend who can "tie a knot with her tongue". You get the picture.
    • Colonel Bogey March: "The Peacock Strut", the fight song for ULA.
    • Comedic Sociopathy: Geoffrey has his moments.
      • Vivian is horrified when Will walks in the door with his long-lost father:

    Vivian: Will, honey, you should have called. You really should have called.
    Will: But I called and told Geoffrey to tell you...
    Geoffrey: Mm, I thought it would be more fun this way. And I was right!

    • Crossing the Burnt Bridge: Will and Carlton trick Geoffrey into thinking he's won the lottery, causing him to cheerfully dance around and call everyone out before the truth is revealed. In a variation, while everyone forgives him (the boys take most of the blame) he's too embarrassed to return, and is the one that needs to be coaxed back.
    • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: While there's the Memetic Mutation of the Carlton Dance, he's shown to be a very able dancer in Season 5 episode "Sooooul Train". Counts as an Actor Allusion since Alfonso Ribeiro used to be one of Michael Jackson's backup dancers.
      • Now, if anyone can pick Will's jaw up from the floor...
      • Not to mention his strip-tease in Season 2's finale, "Strip-Tease For Two", to what sounds very much like the music from "Billie Jean". He even throws in a Michael Jackson yell.
    • Daddy Didn't Show: Well, he did, but only to let Phil & Vivian know that he wasn't taking Will with him after all.
    • Deadpan Snarker: Geoffrey. The rest of the family sometimes snarks back.
    • Dead Pet Sketch
    • Depraved Homosexual: Will checks out an apartment and the landlord implies Will is going to have to have relations with him to stay there.
      • Also, in the episode where Will is in the witness protection program (coughnotreallycough):

    Random Hillbilly (to Will): So I herd u liek dancin'... (grins)

    • Double Entendre: In "Be My Baby Tonight", Will is on the phone with his girlfriend, when Ashley and her friend Kevin walk in. He then changes his the subject to his "book report on Alaska". "And the United States said, you know, I'm thinking of laying a pipeline, are you interested?"
    • Drop-In Character: Jazz, though he's more like "Throw Out Character"....
    • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Trevor, Hilary's vacuous co-host and later finacee, got killed during a botched bungee wedding proposal. On live television. With the entire family watching.

    Hilary! Will you marry--


    "It's a family name!"


    Vivian: Will, honey? Run.

    • Happily Married: Phil and Vivian.
      • There was a two-part estrangement episode, however.
    • Heterosexual Life Partners: Will and Jazz are a... mild version. They even had a break-up episode.
      • There was also this exchange:

    Will: Look at us, arguing like an old married couple!
    Jazz: Oh, so now I'm old?

        • From that same conversation:

    Jazz: How come you never take me out anymore?!
    Will: Well, maybe if you fixed yourself up a little!

      • Although Will was slow to admit this, he was also this with Carlton after a while.
    • High School Hustler: Will, although most of his schemes were done at home with Uncle Phil being the Dean Bitterman.
    • Hilarious Outtakes: The episode "I, Whoops, There It Is" was dedicated to this. Many episodes also ended with the credits playing over the flubs.
    • Hot Mom: Both Vivians. Take, for example, The Leotard.
    • I Call It Vera: One episode featured Phil's custom pool cue, named Lucille. Uncle Phil was hustling a pool hustler, and in the first game asked Geoffrey to hand him "one of those stick thingies." Then in the second game, where the stakes were far higher, he told Geoffrey to "break out Lucille."
    • I, Noun: The last six episode titles, including "Eye, Tooth," and "I, Done".
    • Insistent Terminology: "They're ACTION FIGURES!"
    • Ivy League for Everyone
    • I Was Quite a Looker: Phillip, in an episode flashback taking place from before he became a corporate lawyer & still lived in the old neighborhood, was shown to be svelte, good looking & have a full head of hair.
    • The Jeeves: Geoffrey.
    • Jerk Jock: One shot character Hank Farley.
    • Just Smile and Nod: When Will and Carlton are about to have a meeting with some record company executives:

    Will: Now remember: agree with everything I say and disagree with everything they say.
    Carlton: Why don't I just smile and nod?
    Will: [Beat] Even better.


    Jazz: So who's playing the mom this season?

      • Another occassion:

    Will: If we so come we can't afford no ceiling? *camera pans up to look at the studios lights hanging over the set*


    Cop: Could you please sit down? We're busy here.
    Vivian: (taking off her earrings) Oh, honey, we're about to get very busy here!


    Carlton: Life isn't fair, Will. I mean, was it fair when Bambi's mother died?

      • Played much more seriously during heavy moments, usually with Carlton. One particularly dark moment occurred when Will was shot.
    • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Ashley and Hilary.
    • Like a Son to Me: Uncle Phil's entire relationship towards Will. In the last episode, he even calls Will his son.
    • Limited Wardrobe: While Jazz did have a variety of outfits, in order to keep Continuity for a certain Running Gag, he only wore one particular set of clothing prior to being thrown out of the house. This is because they almost never re-filmed the punchline.
    • Mama Bear: Vivian. Especially evident when Will's dad comes back.
    • May-December Romance: Will with Phil's college sweetheart when she seduces him.
    • Medium Awareness: See Reset Button below.
    • Near-Rape Experience: In a manner of speaking; in one episode, Will's then-girlfriend tells him that she doesn't want to have sex with him because she believes in virginity until marriage. Rather than respect her wishes, he instead tries to trick her into bed by having Jazz set up a fake wedding ceremony for the two of them. He backs down and confesses at the last minute, and she responds by punching him in the face and stealing the car he borrowed from Phil.
    • Never Speak Ill of the Dead: Subverted with the death of Judge Carl Robertson. Will and Phil (who agreed to do his eulogy despite being humiliated by him in an election) did this trope, but everyone else at the funeral openly commented about what a lousy guy Robertson was. Will eventually chastises everyone for speaking ill of the dead. One of them asks who he is and Will responds that he's the one who killed him (Robertson died from a heart attack immediately after Will told him to "drop dead"). Everybody claps. Will eventually gives up, saying "tough crowd."
    • New Year's Resolution
    • No Fourth Wall: Will occasionally looks directly at the camera, once asks why the Banks' house has no ceiling and describes someone as "the dude spinning me over his head in the credits", but the pinnacle of this trope is probably the Season 5 opener. With the last season ending with Will deciding to move home it seems to be setting up for at least an episode of Will choosing between Philly and Bel-Air. Instead, he's working happily at his Philadelphia job when an NBC executive shows up, tells him his contract clearly states "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air", and bundles him into the back of a van. Roll credits.
      • That's the pinnacle? What about the episode where Carlton runs through all the different sets and the studio audience screaming (as described above).
    • Non-Actor Vehicle: A rare successful example.
    • Oblivious to Love: Carlton at times. For example, in the episode where he loses his virginity, he is describing his ideal woman to Will. A woman who fits all of the characteristics walks into the store and says she needs to find something, and he says "Listen lady, we're talking."
    • Old Shame: Geoffrey's secret was that he was a long distance runner who cheated while representing Britain at the 1976 Olympic. He got ahead of the other racers by taking a cab to the stadium. He was immediately found out and his gold medal was taken away. In England, he is "The Shame of a Nation".
    • Once an Episode: Hilary being a ditz, Will calling Carlton short, Will calling Uncle Phil fat.
    • One Steve Limit: As Geoffrey the butler is a regular character, DJ Jazzy Jeff's character goes by Jazz at all times.
    • Overprotective Dad: Phil, in regards to Ashley and sometimes Hilary. And, if in serious trouble, Will and Carlton.
    • Painting the Fourth Wall: The first episode had the catchy theme tune in its extended version, and concluding with Will knocking on the front door. The episode then starts inside the house where Geoffrey lets Will inside, dressed exactly as how the opening concluded.
    • Palm Fist Tap: Both Will and Carlton do this.
    • Papa Wolf: Uncle Phil, full stop. Usually either a Crowning Moment of Awesome / Heatwarming, or a Crowning Moment of Funny.
    • Periphery Hatedom: Dougie the Dinosaur, who is totally not Barney. Will, of course, finds the idea of someone loving everyone to be impossible:

    Will: Dougie says he loves I the only one who finds this disturbing? *starts sarcastically singing to the tune of Dougie's theme song* I love bugs and I love death, I love oozing flesh wounds!

    • Pick Up Babes with Babes: When Will sees how popular a single father at school is, he lies that his cousin, Nicky, is his son. He then embellishes the story even further which causes people to start giving more and more stuff, culminating in a trip to Hawaii because of his "courage". Will feels bad, comes clean and gives everything to a guy with a baby. When everyone leaves, the guy thanks him... and adds "Just Between You and Me, this isn't my kid. Aloha." OUCH.
    • Popular Saying, But...: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but a fifty-foot fall will kill y'all!
    • Primal Scene: In a scene where Will walks in on his mom having sex, and then attracts the attention of the rest of the house because of his exasperated cries.
    • Prison Episode: "Mistaken Identity" has both Will and Carton arrested due to racial profiling. In "There's the Rub", Will and Phil are mistakenly jailed for solicitation.
    • Profiling: Carlton and Will get arrested for Driving While Black while on their way to Palm Springs, as Carlton was assigned with driving the car of Mr. Firth, a work associate of Phil's. Carlton was convinced that the police were only doing their job, as their behavior was generally suspicious (mainly how slow they were driving), but Will believed it was racial profiling.
      • It ends on a Downer Ending, as Carlton strongly keeps his stance on the matter, even after Phil came to save them and threatened to sue the place down if they don't release Will and Carlton. Carlton asks Phil, "Dad, if you were a cop and you saw someone driving a car at two miles an hour, would you stop them?" To which Phil responds, "That's what I asked myself the first time I was pulled over." He then goes to bed, leaving a conflicted Carlton to ponder the events, seemingly incapable to realize, through his sheer naivety, that he was a victim to racism.
    • Put Me In, Coach: A failed version; Carlton airballs the final shot in a game, after wrestling with Will for the ball. It goes wide left of the basket. Granted, it's like he didn't have a reason: ever since Will had joined the school's basketball team, his talent caught the coach's eyes in a way that he practically played alone. This went to Will's head in such a way he became a kind of Jerk Jock (in-court only, so here's a subversion) and Carlton couldn't take it anymore.
    • Rags to Riches: Will can count. Jazz keeps trying to do this.
    • Raw Eggs Make You Stronger: Will prepares to fight the guy who spun him on his head on the opening credits. He goes through a full Training Montage, complete with drinking raw eggs, and by that we mean, trying to swallow them and then instantly spitting them out and fainting.
    • Really Gets Around: Before settling with Lisa, Will pretty much had a different girlfriend per episode.
    • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Will gives one to Juggles the Clown after he holds up a courthouse to display his "comedy" routine.
    • Reset Button: A season ended with Will moving back to Philadelphia. It was reset in two minutes flat in the next year's opener, and heavily, heavily lampshaded: he's kidnapped by NBC Executives to get tossed back into Bel-Air.
    • Risky Business Dance: Geoffrey does this, dancing through the Banks' living room.
    • Running Gag: Jazz (wearing a white and gold dashiki) being thrown out the front door of the house. Notably, the Jazz-being-thrown-out gag is Stock Footage (complete with tape-rolling noise). The first time it's used, it is used again for the typical cases (i.e. not described here). The only time the sequence is re-shot is when he gets thrown out along with a Bill Cosby cardboard cutout (the episode in which it happens shows him doing the take over and over again in the credits bloopers).
      • Jazz lampshades this in one episode, when after an annoyed Phil glares at him, he simply grabs the back of his own collar and, deadpan, throws himself out.
        • Defied in one episode where Will gets so mad at Jazz that when Jazz asks Will if he isn't going to throw him out, Will says that Jazz isn't worth it.
        • When the two make up, Jazz asks Will to do something for him "for old times sake". Will smiles and says "Sure." Next shot is of Jazz being thrown out of the house.
        • Also brilliantly subverted in a dream episode where Jazz and Hilary announce that they're getting married. Phil goes to throw Jazz out -- but it's Phil who gets kicked out the house.
        • And then there's the time that they're already outside, and Jazz comments that Phil can't throw him out. Phil throws him *into* the house.
        • The situation was also reversed once with Will, after Will showed some last minute edits to Phil's campaign commercial, Phil throws Will out of the house.
      • The Carlton Dance has remained a very popular gag, and Alfonso Ribeiro is frequently asked to perform it.
    • Sad Clown: Will. When his father walks out on him, his veener of indifference completely cracks.
    • Saw Star Wars 27 Times: When Carlton's ex-girlfriend comes back with a baby she claims is his, Will explains to Phil and Vivian that the baby belongs to "a young man who has seen The Little Mermaid eight times."
    • School Bullying Is Harmless: When Ashley is bullied by another girl, it turns out to have just been a misunderstanding, and they talk and reconcile.
    • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Carlton and Will.
    • Servile Snarker: Geoffrey. Sometimes it went to a ridiculous level where we really ended up wondering why Uncle Phil didn't fire him. Not that he didn't have his kindly moments however.
    • She's All Grown Up: Ashley in the later seasons.
    • Shout-Out: Though Will Smith's birth name is "Willard", his character's official name is "William". Occasionally people will call him "Willard", under the guise of giving him a hard time.
      • In one episode, Will relates a story that happened to a friend of his. Being Will, he begins to say his own name before changing it to "Willard".
      • Opening Shout-Out
      • The opening itself is a Shout-Out to the video for "Parents Just Don't Understand"; they have the exact same visual style (this is especially noticeable in the "extended" versions of the Theme Tune).
    • Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome: Nicky Banks goes from a baby to six over a season break.
    • So Proud of You: In the Grand Finale, Philip tells Will that he considers him to be his son.
    • Staying with Friends
    • Stop Being Stereotypical: A recurring theme of some episodes.
    • Stylistic Suck: A funny variation, as the "Carlton Dance" is meant to look ridiculous and Carlton is generally made fun of for dancing that way. The truth is you can see there is actually a great deal of coordination required and the few times Will performs the same dance, you can tell he isn't quite as smooth at it.
    • Take That: Will criticizes Dougie--talking dinosaur, kids' show host--of always being happy and loving everything. Hmmm...
    • The Talk: Happens in one entire episode involving Ashley's curiousness about sex.
    • Tempting Fate: After Will overdecorates the house in the Christmas Episode, he yells at the neighbor who calls them to complain, demanding they meet face to face so he can confront them. When the guy shows up, it's Evander Holyfield, the heavyweight Champion of the world.
    • Theme Tune Rap: Now this is a story...
    • Title Sequence Replacement: Recently, TBS shortened the opening credits and switched the soundtrack, so it seems more like the end credits. To a long time fan of the show, it can be very jarring.
    • Token White: Occasionally, Will would have a white friend at school. Most didn't last long as characters. However, one of Will's aunts got involved with a tall man, who would eventually become so accepted by the family that he and Will would make jokes about Carlton being the token white member of the group.
      • Lampshaded in one episode at a ski resort when one of Vivian's sisters complains that they (the family) are the only black people they see there. Her white husband remarks, "Don't be silly. Everywhere I turn, I see another black person", after which she almost falls down laughing.
    • Training Montage: Parodied in the Season 4 finale, when Will returns to Philadelphia (which is appropriate, since that's Rocky Balboa's hometown): after he finishes climbing up the staircase of the Museum of Art, he starts celebrating, but he's so tired that he faints - and then some guy comes by and steals his wallet and his hat.
    • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Uncle Phil isn't ugly, but he's definitely overweight. But in true Dom Com style, in Vivian, he has a gorgeous, svelte wife. In fact, given the recasting of Janet Hubert-Whitten with Daphne Maxwell Reid, he technically gets TWO. Unlike most cases, the difference is acknowledged (thanks to Will's constant teasing and Vivian's occasional gentle ribbing), and Vivian makes a point of telling Will that Phil's weight does not bother her "one bit".
      • And underneath that gut James Avery is built like a friggin' tank. The man was also in the Navy and fought in Vietnam.
      • Also in some flashback episodes, it shows Phil as thin with a full head of hair, so he wasn't always a CHUD.
    • Upper Class Twit: The entire Banks family, Hilary in particular. They all get moments that subvert it, though.
    • Very Special Episode: A few, including two on racial profiling (one where the head of a fraternity chooses Will over Carlton because Carlton doesn't act stereotypically black, and another where Carlton and Will are arrested by a racist cop), one on drug abuse (where Will buys amphetamines and Carlton takes them, thinking it's medication he needs to get rid of a pimple), an arc on Will getting shot and Carlton buying a gun for protection revenge, and the episode where Will reunites with his deadbeat father (played by Ben Vereen), only to see him leave again.
    • Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?: A character played by Darryl Sivad has appeared various times as a park ranger, emergency medic and fireman, always with a laid back attitude and making inappropriate jokes, much to the consternation of the main characters.
    • Why Waste a Wedding?: Will and Lisa decide not to get married during their wedding ceremony, so Will's mother and Lisa's father get married instead.
    • Your Costume Needs Work: In one episode, Will and Lisa almost get a quickie Vegas Shaft-themed wedding, but come to their senses at the last minute. As they're leaving, Will tells the priest that his Issac Hayes impression sucks; the priest (played, of course, by Issac Hayes) says he didn't think it was that bad.
    • Zettai Ryouiki: In the later seasons, Ashley, her friends and some extras often wear Grade B socks.