The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Was Way Ahead Of Its Time

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It's easy to look back on pop-culture artifacts — TV shows, movies, songs — and praise them for being "before their time." But The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air truly was leaps and bounds ahead of television when it premiered in the fall of 1990. The family sit-com starred a young Will Smith in his breakout role playing...Will Smith, our titular teenage "Fresh Prince." The show begins when his streetwise smart-aleck, a Philly transplant, is sent to live with his Uncle Phil (James Avery) and the bourgeois Banks family in the posh L.A. neighborhood of Bel-Air.
The show was reliably hilarious thanks in large part to Smith's impeccable timing and knack for physical comedy. But it also took the time to slow down and veer away from the standard sitcom fare. Over six seasons, Fresh Prince tackled sensitive issues with confidence, candor, and a little humor. We watch Will grapple with systemic racism, classism, gun violence, drug use, absentee fathers, and, not least, the politics of Black identity — best played out by the dynamic relationship between Will and his preppy cousin Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro). So on the 20th anniversary of the progressive comedy's series finale, here are the show's most significant, touching, and meaningful moments.