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STUDIO: Warner Bros.
RUNNING TIME: 562 Minutes
• Best Bits of Bel-Air
• Bel-Air Bloopers
There have been several ethnic comedies on the air in the past few decades. The first, Amos & Andy, was more of a minstrel show than a sitcom, and was understandably met with protest. The 70s ushered in shows like Sanford & Son and The Jeffersons and, while the characters weren’t quite as polarized, they were still somewhat stereotypical. Protestors of Sanford & Son were upset about the characters’ lack of education and money and while The Jeffersons made up for the success factor, there was an underlying theme of "You can take them outta the ghetto…." Not only that, but the humor relied very heavily on the racial jokes. And then came The Cosby Show. For the first time we had a black family who was well educated and very successful. The jokes weren’t racial, but rather natural, focusing on the family and the natural humor that comes from the family situation. The problem with the Huxtables, however, was that even though they were played by black actors, they could have been any race. It seemed as if the writers were trying so hard to erase the stereotypes of the other shows, that they lost any sort of connection with the people they were trying to relate to. So, with all of these shows sitting at either one end of the spectrum or the other, surely there had to be a happy medium, right?
So, this is a story all about how one guy’s life got flipped, well, pretty much turned upside down. Now, I’d like to take a minute, if you’ll just sit right there, as I’d like to review the second season of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Ahem. Uh, yeah. My apologies – moving on…
So many Clinton jokes…
So, even though this is the second season, to my knowledge CHUD never reviewed the first season so allow me to be comprehensive for just a second. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air hit NBC in 1990 as the network’s flagship program was nearing it’s final season. From the opening title sequence you knew that this show was different from the other ethnic comedies you’d seen before. While the Banks family was slightly more than a carbon-copy of the Huxtables, it was the Will Smith character that made the show stand out. It was the first time that an ethnic series had equal representation from both ends of the social spectrum. Not only that, but the humor was equally representative as well. There was a healthy balance of cookie-cutter family humor and good-spirited ethnic humor. Unlike The Jeffersons, or All in the Family, you’re not going to hear "honkey" or the N-Word on the Fresh Prince. Will spoke in popular hip-hop slang and while he would refer to one of his white friends as "Cornflake," there was no sense of disrespect or a sinister ulterior motive. It was all in good will and the fans ate it up.
So, we start season 2 with the Banks family having gotten used to Will being a mainstay in the home. Whereas season 1’s humor revolved around the "fish out of water" themes and the culture clash between Will & his cousins, this second set of episodes let the stories and jokes expand into other territory.
You can break these episodes down into three categories:
The Ridiculous Problem – These usually involve Will & Carlton having gotten themselves into some asinine predicament and having to resort to some off-the-wall scheme to set everything right, usually ending with the two being grounded. A perfect example of this is the episode where Will & Carlton sell Aunt Viv’s diamond bracelet for stock market money. When their stock plummets they take jobs as male strippers to make back the money. Another is the episode where the boys think Zsa Zsa Gabor stole Aunt Viv’s silver and break into her house to find it, steal it, find out it wasn’t Vivian’s to begin with and break in again to put it back. The funniest parts in these episodes are the blowups Uncle Phil has. The threats and punishments he hands down are wickedly funny, topped only by the boys’ reactions.
The Regular Problem – The majority of the episodes fall in this category. Basically any one of the cast members find themselves in a normal situation and spend the episode dealing with it. Will is scared to have his tonsils removed. Ashley has trouble with a bully. Hillary decides to find a job, etc. Even though these are the most forgettable episodes as a whole, some of the funniest jokes can be found within. Will’s little self-defense lesson for Ashley is an example of this and still makes me laugh to this day.
And then of course there are the requisite Very Special Episodes. These are the episodes that, while still having their fair share of jokes, play to the more dramatic side of things. Will’s mom has a serious problem with her sister’s marrying a white man, Aunt Helen suspects her husband is cheating on her and, of course – little Ashley needs to have the sex talk. These episodes work well because the writers and actors are able to take the drama fairly deep but still pull off the humor and do it all seamlessly.
"Candlestick my ass. I got that bitch with a baseball bat and enjoyed every minute of it."
So, while Will is the star, you’re going to see a lot of episodes that aren’t Will-centric. Even though Will gets most of the best jokes (with Geoffrey coming in second), the screen time is shared evenly and there’s a lot of room for each character to stretch out and make themselves known. It’s this balance that really makes the show work as it doesn’t try to force any one person down your throat.
Now, there are a few negative things that I really have to mention. For instance, this is one of the most self-aware shows I’ve ever seen. The first couple of times someone makes a Cosby Show joke it’s funny, but after a little while (and an appearance by Malcolm Jamaal-Warner – who ALSO makes a Cosby joke) it does get a little old. But if those were bad, Will’s in-jokes were horrible. If Carlton would say "Hey Will, I just [did something really exciting and unlike me]!" Will would retort with witty gems like "Yeah right and I’m a popular rap artist." Or "Yeah right and I just won a grammy." You know the phrase "It’s funny because it’s true?" Doesn’t apply here. And how many damn Jimmy Walker’s Lips jokes does one show need?
At the end of the day the series holds up pretty well. Even though some of the jokes are dated and stale, the basic structure still works and it’s still easy to relate to the characters. The majority of the humor still works and honestly – it was a good time revisiting this little spitfire of a show.
7.0 out of 10
The days were long as a professor at the Velvet Jones School of Technology
Well, there isn’t a lot to say here. All episodes are presented in full screen, as per the industry standard. The transfer is clean but nothing to get all worked up over. Basically, if you have a nice clean signal and a newer TV you’re not gonna see a difference between the DVD and the Nick at Nite reruns. But really, what else would you expect?
5.0 out of 10
Originally, Ray was slated to be a comedy. It obviously didn’t work.
Again, nothing surprising here – everything comes through nice and robust. The laugh track doesn’t overpower the dialogue and the music cues come across nicely without being too intrusive. Again, nothing fancy, but you wouldn’t expect anything fancy either.
5.0 out of 10
Well, before I go into what’s here, I’m going to talk about what’s not here. Most notably – no commentaries. During its initial run, Fresh Prince was one of the biggest shows of the time. I can’t imagine why the creator, or director or even Alfonso Ribeiro or Karyn Parsons couldn’t come back for something (Lord knows they didn’t have anything else going on). Other things missing? How about some promos? Or an introduction – or anything at all that showed that the people involved in the show cared at all about this release? Bah.
"So wait – he gave Doom a higher score than Batman Begins? This guy has officially lost his f’ing mind."
Anyway, what we do have are two little clip reels.
Best Bits of Bel-Air is a compilation of some of the more memorable scenes. It’s basically fluff. There’s nothing extra to go along with it save for some bumpers that group the scenes together.
Bel-Air Bloopers is…well…a blooper reel (Betcha didn’t see THAT comin’!). Everybody loves blooper reels and these are no different. The only problem is that half of the bloopers you’re going to see you’ve already seen in the closing credits of each episode. I HATE recycled extras and this is no exception.
So, basically – the extras on this set are pretty much shite and that sucks because this is a slightly higher-profile collection that deserved a little extra attention.
4.0 out of 10
"I swear to God if this hair moves out of place one more time I’m getting a refund."
Will mugging it up on the cover. I really wish they would have used another cast picture like they used on Season 1 as this makes it seem like Will is the only noteworthy cast member. Not a good choice. Also, the images on the disc showcase only Will and it’s the same picture on every disc. It actually does a lot to diminish the efforts of character balance in the series.
Case-wise, there’s a gatefold housed in a slipcover. Pretty standard for the TV sets, but the thing that bothers me is the little overlapped disc layout. Granted it is more efficient and saves real estate, but it makes getting the discs out a slight pain in the ass.
3.0 out of 10
Some guys will take a threesome anyway they can get it.
So, the all-important question: Should you buy it? Well, that depends. Do you watch a lot of Nick at Nite? If so there’s nothing about this set that’s going to make your viewing experience any different, save for the lack of commercials. The show is still fun and it was a nice little treat to revisit but Nick at Nite runs these episodes ad nauseum so I wouldn’t call this a must-own, unless you’re a fan that doesn’t have cable.
Overall: 4.8 out of 10