Cue the instrumental of the theme song music to the Fresh Prince, and you see Will Smith flip on the light switch of the “Banks” living room that fans remember from the 90’s sitcom that debuted on NBC on September 10, 1990.
The much-anticipated reunion brought together Will Smith (Will), Alfonso Ribeiro (Carlton), Karyn Parsons (Hilary), Tatyana Ali (Ashley), Daphne Reid (Aunt Viv), Joseph Marcell (Geoffrey), and DJ Jazzy Jeff (Jazz). Each familiar face walks onto the recreated set to resemble the Bel-Air home with plenty of hellos and hugs toward one another.
Like most “Fresh Prince” fans, I didn’t realize how much we needed this reunion in our lives. And has it really been 30 years?!
The cast, who, by the way, looks great, sits down and begins a conversation as if they’ve never stopped hanging out together. “We became a fast family,” says Parsons of their instant chemistry. At their first table read, Ali recalls how Smith and Ribeiro chased each other around the table in what would become a lifelong brotherhood. Marcel and Reid look on, resembling an older generation’s proudness that those who were once kids are now beautiful and whole adults no matter if it’s TV land. You can tell this group of people has developed strong friendships beyond what any 30-minute weekly show gave to its audience.
Parsons shares a funny tale when she reveals in the pilot episode of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Smith mouthed all her lines. “All rehearsal, you never did it, but the night of the audience, you look up at me, and”… says Parsons amused. Ali chimed in, “You did it to me too,” while Ribeiro nods in agreement and Smith in laughter. Smith’s side of it, “When we were on the set of the pilot, that was my first time really doing dialogue. Parson joked, “so you remembered everyone’s lines?” The most obvious is the episode that starred Don Cheadle, and where Ribeiro says, “Yeah, that was the one where we were like, we need to change this.” Pan the camera to Smith’s mouth as seen in the reunion clip, and you see him recite every word Cheadle is saying in their scene together. Five shows in, Smith says, Parson told him to “Stop it!” (laughs). “Yeah, I knew everyone’s line, I could have played Uncle Phil, Aunt Viv, I knew everyone’s words jokes, Smith as he sits in a black chair during a solo shot.
But no moment defined the reunion like the tribute to James Avery and the reconciliation of Smith and Janet Hubert respectively. Hubert played the original “Aunt Viv” for the first three seasons.
“He was the heart of the show,” says Ali. Adding that during the note sessions preparing for taping, “I learned what it is to be an artist from him.” Reid shared Avery “knew the answers or could guide folks to the answers”… while DJ Jazzy Jeff remembered Avery’s “deep love” for jazz music and how he would spend a lot of time in his dressing room and “he would give me jazz cd’s.” Ribeiro described the music coming out of Avery’s room as “amazing.” Smith says of Avery, “He pushed me so hard.” And then he talks about the famous “Father Episode” with actor Ben Vereen and how he flubbed his lines in front of the audience, and his “mind snapped” because of it.
James was this 6″4…300 lb stage-trained Shakespearean beast, and “I’m the little rapper from Philly under him, and I wanted him to think I was good, says Smith.
“Right here!” Smith recalls what the veteran actor said to him after Smith became frustrated with messing up his lines, “Use me and get yourself together.” Afterward, Avery yelled, “Action!” The scene fans have come to love and still cry watching today was done during that particular take. Smith fondly remembers falling into the late actor’s arms at the end of the scene when the shot pans away and says, Avery, whispered in his ear, “Now that’s acting.”
The cast looks away at a large screen in front where the audience used to sit and began to watch themselves in various scenes with Avery. Not a dry eye remained afterward. Smith, with tissue in hand, brought up another conversation and spoke with his castmates about his meeting with Hubert, before viewing the clip of their long-overdue sit-down. “I couldn’t celebrate the 30-years of Fresh Prince without finding a way to celebrate Janet,” says Smith. He adds, “There was a certain foundational element that was broken when Janet left.” Little known fact: Reid and Hubert (Two Aunt Viv’s) never met until the day of the reunion show.
Then there was the hug felt by many. A 27-year-old weight lifted. “You look good, says Hubert to Smith. “You look beautiful as always,” said the actor in return. Both acknowledged what little they knew of each other’s lives during their time working together along with Smith’s success as a rapper turned television actor soon to be a box-office movie star. Hubert says, “We knew you were going to be huge.” And also admitted part of the success of the show was because of Smith’s success.
“I just wanted to know one thing. Why?” was Hubert’s direct question to Smith. “I lost so much.” Smith sitting across from Hubert, says, “It would be helpful for me…I don’t know your story.” And it was a story not many people knew, including the cast; Hubert, pregnant, who dealt with abuse at home, began to find it challenging to show up to the set in the pleasant and fun demeanor her castmates knew of her early on.
By admitting their harsh words toward one another over the years and an apology on both ends heard around the world, Smith, and Hubert mended a rift that has lasted well over a couple of decades.
Smith vowed from now on to protect Hubert, and she, in turn, appreciating his words, hugged once more and said to each other, “We’re good.”
Whew! I don’t think anyone saw this coming in 2020, but aren’t we glad it happened?
With more laughs and a surprise visit from Ross Bagley, who played little Nicky, the reunion show was a much needed “feel good” event to laugh, cry, and heal.
Now, this is the story all about how… Smith says, a show like the Fresh Prince took a chance on a rapper from Philly and is as relevant today as it was 30 years ago.
Photo Credit: HBO Max