STUDIO: Warner Home Video
MSRP: $29.98
RUNNING TIME: 584 minutes

The Pitch

Season 4 of a rich black guy playing a poor black kid who lives with his rich black family in a rich white neighborhood…with hip hop.

The Humans

Will Smith, James Avery, Daphne Maxwell-Reid, Alfonso Ribeiro, Karyn Parsons, Tatyana Ali, Joseph Marcell.

“Is anybody else offended by this Urkel character?”
“You know I was gonna say something…”
“Who are they kiddin’?”
“And I thought Ted Danson in blackface at Whoopi’s roast was bad…”
“Uncle Tom motherf$%ker…”

The Nutshell

Season 4 pretty much takes up where Season 3 left off, surprise surprise. Although the biggest change of the show occurred when Janet Hubert-Whitten was replaced as Vivian Banks by Daphne Maxwell-Reid for the rest of the run of the show, reportedly due to contract issues. This is given a wink, wink, nudge nudge reference in the season premiere about Vivian being a completely different woman since she had her son, Nicky, which is also a new addition to the cast in the form of some nameless slobbering kid. Will and Carlton have graduated high school and their first foray into living on their own results in Jazz running a party scam and getting them evicted. So Will and Carlton have to move into the pool house. And Hilary�s planned marriage to stick-up-the-ass news reporter Trevor ends with a thud when Trevor�s bungee jump marriage proposal does likewise (season premiere, Where There�s a Will, There�s a Way).

Definitely one of the more bizarre episodes is when Ula, Big Bird’s homeless, crack smokin’, cousin showed up for a surprise cameo…

Other misadventures include Father of the Year, where Will uses Nicky as a chick magnet when he pretends to be a single father. Also, in Blood is Thicker Than Mud, Will and Carlton pledge a black fraternity, to which Will is readily accepted, but Carlton is shunned for being perceived as a rich boy sell-out. One of the more powerful episodes of the show�s run occurs when the subject of Will�s long lost father emerges after his dad, Lou (Ben Vereen) shows back up in his life after abandoning Will and his mother and tries to patch things up with Will, but ends up abandoning him again (Papa�s Got a Brand New Excuse). Finally, the season finale, The Philadelphia Story, Will makes a return trip to Philly and finds that he�s become a joke because of an old score that he has to settle, which prompts him to go into training, ala Rocky.

“Jeff, I didn’t want to upset you, but say hello to your replacement in the act…”

The Lowdown

I covered Season 3 (here), and pretty much everything I said for this show still holds. This is one of the few sitcoms I can still bear watching, despite it being dated worse than the jerry curl. The writing is patently obvious and you can almost see the jokes coming down the pike, even if you�ve never seen the show before. There are pop culture references that have aged about as well as a gallon of milk in the Sahara and many of the same inane situations that I deplore about 99% of all family sitcoms are present, as well as the life lessons taught every episode. I�ve hit upon those same topics pretty much every time I review a sitcom box set, and Fresh Prince is one of the biggest offenders. The show is also so goddamned wholesome, it�s a wonder that you can get through an episode without decorating the walls with your dinner. Canned laughs, yadda yadda.

“What the f&*k do you mean you had it better on Silver Spoons you little shit?”

Here�s the thing though: Will Smith and company are just so friggin� likeable in their roles and the wholesomeness of the show just works; don�t ask me how, it just does. You can see that the cast just really enjoyed working with each other for six years, so much so that Smith had a cast reunion last year when he was hosting the BET Awards. You give me The Cosby Show, Family Matters, or any other family sitcom, black or otherwise, and I�m flipping to anything else on the tube, even Oxygen. Fresh Prince has not aged well, just 10 years after it went off the air, and simultaneously, it�s just as funny now as it was then. It�s the weirdest thing going. I dug this show then, and still do now.

“Yo Will, don’t ask me to explain, but this is you calling from 2006. Just wanted to say you might want to rethink that boxtop haircut, homey…”

I always enjoyed Smith�s rapport with James Avery, and one of the best examples of that rapport is in the episode Papa�s Got a Brand New Excuse. And although Ribeiro never got the press that Jaleel White did, I think his Carlton character is just as iconic as Urkel, without being anywhere near as forced; and even more funny. Joseph Marcell was doing his best English Benson as Geoffrey and could be counted, although patently on queue, for some good sarcastic one-liners. Karyn Parsons still delivered as the painfully vain Hilary, and Tatyana Ali and Reid filled their roles well also, especially Reid, who had to come into an established show without making it miss a beat, which she did well. Based on everything that I say every time I go toe-to-toe with a sitcom box set, I shouldn�t like this show. I just shouldn�t. But damned if I don�t and Fresh Prince is just as fun now as it was when I was too young too know that I shouldn�t like it.

The Package

The show looks and sounds fine, TV standard format, Dolby Surround, the usual. There�s zilch for extras and Will Smith looks about 15 years old on a psychedelic cover with his Pepsi Generation sidekick.

7.0 out of 10