Series: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
is a sitcom
that aired on NBC
from 1990-1996. It 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 equally grim: A Grammy-winning rapper is forced to take the lead role in a family sitcom
after evading his taxes
. In both cases, Hilarity Ensues
Somewhat 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 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 than 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 airheaded
to really notice him. The show was unique in how it presented a major clash between a stock inner-city teenager and his affluent black family. Unlike The Cosby Show
or Family Matters
, Will would frequently call out his relatives' upper-class lifestyle, and even suggest that Carlton was white beneath the skin; this was phased out through character development
when Will saw others discriminate against Carlton that way
The show used many standard tropes, including:
- Aborted Arc: Jackie Ames (played by Tyra Banks) was introduced in the fourth season of the show as one of Will's childhood friends and one of his old flames from his Philadelphia days. They partake in several chemistry-ridden arguments and witty battles throughout the first half of the season, hinting at a possible rekindling of their relationship and possibly giving Will his first stable girlfriend since moving to Bel-Air. However, after Will and Jackie's boyfriend, Hank Farley, engage in a drinking contest over her and their threatened manliness, Jackie gets fed up and asks for Carlton to take her home. She is never seen again after this, with no real explanation as to why she left and where she went other than a passing mention by Will that she's away.
- The Ace: Will.
- Acquired Situational Narcissism: During the two part episode late in the series where Ashley becomes a pop star, the fame quickly goes to her head and she suddenly starts being mean to the entire family, even though she'd never done this before. The entire family naturally gets upset at her suddenly snobbish behavior (except for Carlton, who tries to be her sycophant). At the end of the episode, when her short-lived pop career crashes and burns, Ashley realizes how the fame had gone to her head, and goes back to normal.
- Adorkable: Carlton.
- All Girls Want Bad Boys: This sometimes applies and other times doesn't. Will's bad boy routine has led to him getting many women. On the other hand, there's been times women have acted repulsed and turned him down. In one episode, his date rejects him in favor of the more sensitive Carlton. Hilary's disgust towards Jazz shows she's not generally into bad boys either.
- All Just a Dream: A Halloween episode where Will inadvertently gets the family hexed when he mocks the fortune teller doing a séance to communicate with Hilary's dead fiance, Trevor. Ends with a Or Was It a Dream? when the end of the episode plays out exactly like the beginning much to Will's horror.
- All There in the Manual: The extended version of the theme song (which only played for the first three episodes) reveals that Will flew first class across the country. The full version of the theme elaborates even further, revealing that Will got out at LAX, and thought the limo driver sent there to pick him up was a cop looking for him, so he hailed a cab. The shortened version of the song doesn't reveal how Will arrived in Los Angeles.
- Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Uncle Phil's mother is like this. Bonus point for the fact that Phil is middle-aged, and she manages to humiliate him in front of his children. They all think it's hilarious.
- An Aesop: Usually every other episode.
- And There Was Much Rejoicing: See Black Comedy.
- Annoying Patient: Vivian, near the end of her pregnancy.
- As Himself: William Shatner. Unfortunately for him, Carlton is a big fanboy.
- Aside Glance: Often, courtesy of Will. Always intentional. See Actor Allusion. It was even lampshaded once, in the episode "It Had to Be You:"
Janet: William! What are you looking at?
- Asshole Victim: After Judge Robertson spent his entire campaign lying and smearing his protégé Philip, it's kind of satisfying to see him not only drop dead but everyone is glad he died (people actually came to his funeral to make sure that he really was dead).
- Bad Guys Play Pool: An entire episode is dedicated to Will going to a pool hall and getting into debt with thugs, despite Phil's warnings (he disregarded them as "uncool"). Phil has to show up to bail him out. It turns out Phil is a pool playing master. He warned Will to stay away, because he knew how bad the pool bars got.
- Bad Job, Worse Uniform : Ashley gets a fast food job in season six, and laments having to wear the "same stupid uniform day after day." Geoffrey looks down at his "butler suit" and comments "Gee, wouldn't that suck?"
- Berserk Button:
- Big, Thin, Short Trio: Uncle Phil, Will, and Carlton, respectively.
- Big "YES!": This is Carlton's reaction in "Will Steps Out" when he receives Will's chicktionary.
- Black and Nerdy:
- Mostly Carlton, although apparently Will collects Transformers figures and reads comic books.
- Will was bullied and ostracized at school in Philly for actually studying.
- Also, those Beast Wars figures were toy-only characters, properly named, from the first line of Beast Wars toys, before the show had even aired. Historically, the Transformers franchise was nearly dead at this time, and it was the Beast Wars show that revived it. Someone working on the show (Will Smith himself, several of those are his personal figures) had to be a fan to get that specific.
- Black Comedy: No, not literally. Well, yes, but it applies both literally and figuratively, and, um... oh, forget it. Just have some examples:
- Black Gal on White Guy Drama: Will's aunt marries a white man in a Very Special Episode. She never told her family he's white before she introduced him because she knew how they'd react.
- Blown Across the Room: Jazz does this to himself with a defibrillator. Also happens to Geoffrey when an antique shoe buffer he's using short-circuits.
- Book Ends: The show starts with Will moving out west to attend school in a better environment and ends with the Banks' moving east while Will stays in California to finish his education.
- Bowties Are Cool: Carlton and Geoffrey, more often than not.
- Brainless Beauty: Hilary.
- Bratty Teenage Daughter:
- Hilary, although she's in her twenties.
- Ashley became one during the last 2 or 3 seasons.
- Lady Penelope.
- 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, it also happens to Will when he looks down on Carlton for not being "black" or "street" enough.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: One of the best TV shows as far as incorporating this from time to time.
Will: If we so rich...(camera pans up to studio lights) why we can't afford no ceiling?
: So, who's playing the wife
- In one instance during The Tag, Will counter pranks Carlton by claiming that he killed Lisa, a woman who would later become his girlfriend. She was initially supposed to embarrass him due to how he treated women. The "revelation" causes Carlton to run out the house shrieking. The camera follows him for over a minute as he runs around the various sets, passes through the studio audience and eventually exits the studio where he hugs Will.
- In one episode, the family goes to visit West Philadelphia and Will hunts down one of the guys who gave him trouble. When Carlton asks specifically who he's looking for, Will says:
Will: The dude that be spinnin' me over his head in the opening credits.
- In another episode, Will spends the entire episode trying to cram for a test, only to not ever get past the first page. At the end of the episode, he tells Carlton that he got a passing grade from cheating off another girl only to retract his statement and say that he failed the exam, just so that the audience wouldn't get the wrong impression of him. He even gives an Aside Glance afterwards!
- The fourth season ends with Will deciding to move back to Philadelphia and be with his mother again. The fifth season begins with NBC network executives hunting him down, kidnapping him and forcing him to come back to Bel-Air so the show can continue.
Executive: "What does this contract say?"
Will: "Um... Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."
Executive: "That's right. Bel-Air. Not Philadelphia. Bel-Air."
Will: "But... y'know... my moms..."
Executive: "Get in the van." [picks Will up and throws him into the van] "Yo homes, to Bel-Air."
Jazz: Man, I'm going back to the streets where things make sense!
- Briefcase Full of Money: Appears in one episode where Will becomes an intern for a family friend and is told to deliver a bribe to a local politician.
- Brick Joke:
- The Whodunit game in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum".
- three times...
- 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:
- A broken aesop is featured the episode where Vivian teaches Black History at Bel-Air Academy, in which Will and Carlton are the only two black students in their class. Will is reprimanded for thinking that he would just ease himself through the class, but it turns out that Vivian gave more work to him and Carlton because they were black.
- In the drug episode "Just Say Yo", the moral should obviously be "Don't do drugs". However, as Will never wanted Carlton to do any drugs in the first place, it was actually Carlton's own fault for taking pills from an unlabeled 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!", "Don't take pills from an unlabeled 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.
- A third one is about how Will quits a Western Philosophy class in college because he thinks it will be too hard for him. The moment after he dismisses Will from the class, the professor changes into a total different person, one who Will starts to like. Will is reprimanded for quitting the class too soon, but nobody seems to care about how wrong and weird it was that the professor changed his personality like that.
- Brutal Honesty: Happens after Will and Carlton come clean about things they did to each other.
Will: Uh, Aunt Viv, in keeping with this whole honesty thing, this oatmeal kinda tastes like drywall with raisins in it. And Uncle Phil, you shouldn't wear silk no more, because it's like, when big people wear silk—
- But for Me, It Was Tuesday: The bully who attacked Will and got him sent out to Bel-Air in the first place. He's only able to remember Will after Will bounces a basketball off his head.
- Butt Monkey: Carlton falls into this at times, though Jazz gets into the act.
- The 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.
- The Cast Showoff: Alfonso Ribiero getting to show off his dancing chops, as did Janet Hubert-Whitten (a Julliard graduate who danced in Cats on Broadway). Both she and Tatyana Ali showed off their singing skills in multiple episodes.
- Casting Gag: "By the way, dude — your Isaac Hayes impression STINKS!!"
Isaac Hayes: I-I-I dunno, I thought it was pretty good.
- 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 "'Twas the Night Before Christening," Will lies that he's friends with Boyz II Men and promises to get them for Nicky's christening. He didn't know it, but he actually did have some contact with Boyz II Men: he stole Nathan's girlfriend long before they became 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, and Malcolm Jamal-Warner specifically, but in one episode, he tells a detailed story claiming that Jamal-Warner is a close, personal friend of his who calls him for advice on women. A later episode has Jamal-Warner playing Hilary's boyfriend Eric.
- In "Kiss My Butler", Will references Ben Vereen by name when he talks about Geoffrey's attire. Vereen would later portray Will's father, Lou, in "Papa's Got a Brand New Excuse".
- Ashley is shown to be a fan of both Tevin Campbell and in-universe teen heartthrob Little T (who was played by Campbell).
- George and Louise Jefferson make a couple of appearances despite earlier episodes having established The Jeffersons as being a fictional show in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air universe. Also, Sherman Hemsley had already made several appearances as Judge Robertson, who at one point made an Actor Allusion joke.
- In another episode, Hilary references a magazine that has "that supermodel Tyra" (who was then going by Only One Name) on the cover. During the show's fourth season, Tyra played Jackie Ames, one of Will's love interests.
- 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 2, she became just shallow and spoiled.
- Childhood Brain Damage: A slight variation, when Will asks Carlton if he was deprived of oxygen.
- Children Are Innocent: Well, Nicky anyway. Cousin Bobby, however...
- Chronic Villainy: Geoffrey switches back and forward between plotting against and hating the family and feeling genuine affection for them throughout the series.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Toni, Hilary's friend, disappeared after the first season.
- Also happened to Will's friends Tyriq and Cornflake after the second season.
- Basically this happened to anyone that wasn't Jazz, Vy, Helen, Werner (though to be fair, he only appears in the final season), or a member of the main cast. Hattie also returns in the final season, but prior to that she hadn't been seen since season two.
- Clark Kent Outfit: Carlton.
- Cloudcuckoolander: All of them have their moments, except Vivian and Ashley.
- 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. A good example of this is when 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!
- Compressed Abstinence: In one episode, Phil attempts to lose weight, and he and Vivian force the entire family to be more health conscious as well.
- Cool Old Lady: Hattie Banks (Uncle Phil's mother).
- 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, Carlton has been shown to be a very able dancer in the 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, who, depending on the episode, is a total smartarse, or simply plays off the next half-baked plan from Hilary. 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 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 heard you like dancin'... (grins)
- The Dog Bites Back: Geoffrey quits in one episode because he's sick of the low salary Phil pays him and only agrees to come back after Phil offers him a raise. Another episode had Edward Haskell, Phil's law clerk rob the Banks home after he became sick of the abuse Phil put him through.
- Doting Grandparent: Hattie Banks (Uncle Phil's mother) ironically to Will.
- Disapproving Look: Will liked to give this a lot, especially to Carlton when he acted particularly childish.
- Double Meaning Title: "Ill Will". Will is hospitalized; Geoffrey contemplates slandering the Banks' in a tell-all book.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: Invoked by a personal trainer to get Carlton to work out.
- 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 fiance, got killed during a botched bungee wedding proposal. On live television. With the entire family watching.
Trevor (on TV): HILARY BANKS!
Hilary (at home): YES, TREVOR!
Trevor: WILL YOU MARRY ME— (thud)
Will: I ain't no bungee expert or nothing but I dont think he's supposed to be slamming in to the ground like that.
to the family walking in from the funeral)
- 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 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?"
- Early Installment Weirdness: The house is set up differently in the first season. The living room and the kitchen are much different. The kitchen could've been remodeled which isn't unheard of in real life, but that doesn't explain the living room. The setup is much different and it's been established they live in the same house.
- Elephant in the Living Room: "Am I alone in this, or did y'all know he was white? I mean - tall."
- Embarrassing Middle Name: Geoffrey's middle name is "Barbara".
"It's a family name!"
- Engineered Heroics: Subverted. To impress his girlfriend, Will has a friend hire a thug to pretend to rob a store, so Will could beat him up and save the day. A real robber enters the store, but Will hams it up, thinking this was the staged robber. His girlfriend ends up pissed that he stood up to a man with a gun.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: "The Baby Comes Out", "Sooooooooul Train", "The Wedding Show (Psyche!)".
- Expansion Pack Past:
- Expository Theme Tune Rap: Now a meme; functions much like the Rickroll.
- For Halloween, I Am Going as Myself: In one episode, it's stated that Uncle Phil always goes to Halloween parties as a judge. In the end, he simply wears street clothes and says he's "someone who doesn't want to be here."
Hilary: (at her costume party) Daddy, you need a costume.
Uncle Phil: (in casual clothes, unamused) I'm in my costume- I'm Comfortable Man.
Ashley: Is he a super-hero?
Uncle Phil: Sort of. He has super-human bill-paying powers, so he gets to dress however he wants.
- Franchise Zombie: Averted. James Avery (Uncle Phil) even commended Will Smith on wanting to leave the show on a high note instead of keep it dragging on.
- Gaussian Girl: Frequently, usually involving Carlton.
- Gender-Blender Name:
- When Will joins the cast of a soap opera and reads the script, he thinks the Jodie that his character is in love with is a woman. Then the character comes on stage and is revealed to be a man.
- Another case is when Philip is interviewing potential babysitters. One of the applicants is named Lindsey, which leads the audience to believe it's a woman. But then the camera angle changes, and shows us a muscular man who mentions being released from prison.
- Genius Ditz:
- Even Will was like this a little bit, a friend mentioned how he would hide his textbooks and study times from people back in Philly, lest he be targeted for fights and mocked. It helps said friend was there to protect him. It was based on the real Will Smith being a surprisingly excellent student.
- Gilligan Cut: So often that it could be renamed the "Fresh Prince Cut".
Vivian: I'm so happy you guys are here! I was beginning to feel like nobody understood me!
Vy: Oh, hey! We're family! We love you! *Vivian, Vy, and Janice all share a hug*
* Cut to the rest of the family sitting in the living room, looking exasperated*
Vivian: *Rings her bell loudly*
Family: *Yelling upstairs in unison* STOP WITH THE DAMN BELL!
- Gosh Darn It to Heck!: Carlton. Actual quote: "Heck, you guys! Heck!"
- Grand Finale: Geoffrey moves back to England to be with his son. Philip, Vivian and their children move to different parts of the northeast. Will stays in California so that he can finish his college coursework.
- Groin Attack: Attempted upon Carlton by a girl who had been bullying Ashley. He had been trying to preach non-violence to her, and immediately before that, said that she could not make him angry.
- Grounded Forever:
Phil: You're grounded for 10 years.
Ashley: What? But that's not fair.
Phil: Tell it to the judge... Oh yeah. That's me.
- And then the next morning:
- There's also the time when Carlton is grounded until he begins to lose his hair.
- Ha Ha Ha No: Used many times by Uncle Phil, which is always followed by an explosion.
Vivian: Will, honey? Run.
- Happily Married: Phil and Vivian. There was a two-part estrangement episode, however.
- Happy Dance: After Will and Carlton trick Geoffrey into believing that he had won the lottery, he dances around his room to "For the Love of Money" by The O'Jays...
- Heterosexual Life-Partners:
- Will and Jazz are a... mild version. They even had a break-up episode.
Will: You're not making any sense, Jazz.
Jazz: You used to think that was cute.
- There was also this exchange:
Will: Look at us, arguing like an old married couple!
Jazz: So now I'm old?
- From that same conversation:
Jazz: Maybe it's because you never take me out anymore!
Will: Well, maybe I would if you fixed yourself up a little bit!
- Although Will was slow to admit this, he was also this with Carlton after a while.
- Hidden Depths: In "Mistaken Identity", the person in jail with Will and Carlton apparently has a really good singing voice, as evidenced when he finishes the lyrics of "Go Down Moses".
- Hidden Disdain Reveal: In the episode "To Thine Own Self be Blue...and Gold", Philip discovers that his old college friend, Ernest, decided to bribe a city councilman with a briefcase full of money and uses Will to deliver it. Because of this, Philip returns Ernest the briefcase and bluntly tells him to Get Out, leaving Ernest to smugly tell Philip that he was always so damned naive.
- 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.
- Historical Character Confusion:
's one of my heroes, too!
Oh, I idolize Malcolm! He's the only reason I watch The Cosby Show
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Sorry, Carlton, but you can't blame Will for your failure to get into Princeton near the end of season 3 by pretending to be him rather than being yourself for the recruiter.
- Holiday Volunteering: Carlton and Hilary volunteer at a homeless shelter but purely for their own interests; Carlton wants a note of recommendation to help get into Princeton, while Hilary wants to promote her TV show by filming a sob story for Thanksgiving. After the food runs out, the two pay for a posh meal complete with waiters and Hilary decides not to exploit the poor for one day of the year.
- 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: Almost half of the last season, including the last six episode titles. While "I, Clownius" and "I, Done" make sense, and "Eye, Tooth", sort of does...note the other five episode titles with this motif seem out of place in hindsight.
- Identical Grandson: Carlton looks just like the younger version of Philip.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: See I, Noun.
- Insistent Terminology: "They're ACTION FIGURES!"
- I Was Quite a Looker: Philip, in an episode flashback taking place from before he became a corporate lawyer and still lived in the old neighborhood, was shown to be svelte, good looking and had a full head of hair.
- Ivy League for Everyone
- The Jeeves: Geoffrey.
- Jerk Jock: One shot character Hank Farley.
- The fraternity Will and Carlton join. Though they're only this way to Carlton because they don't want him in their frat and are fine with Will (until he tells them they can shove it for leading his cousin along like that).
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Except for Nicky, all the main male characters in the show (Will, Carlton, Uncle Phil, Geoffrey and Jazz) could be described as this. Hilary is the female equivalent.
- Just Smile and Nod: When Will and Carlton are about to have a meeting with some record company executives:
Now remember: agree with everything I say and disagree with everything they say. Carlton:
Why don't I just smile and nod? Will: [beat]
- Killed Mid-Sentence: HILARY BANKS! WILL...YOU...MARRY...ME—*THUD*
- Lampshade Hanging: A frequently used device, sometimes as a way to break the fourth wall but sometimes as a way for the famously outspoken writers to editorialize on something (like Nicky's soap opera aging).
- Large Ham:
- Let's face it, a good chunk of the show hinged on Will being this.
- Carlton evolved into this in later seasons. In fact, both Will Smith and Alfonso Ribeiro comment on each other's tendency to overact in "I, Whoops, There It Is."
- Last Disrespects: When Phil's political opponent dies, everyone save for Will attends his funeral primarily to check if he's really dead. When Will proclaims that he was the one that killed him (albeit through telling him to drop dead) as he attempts to call them out on it, the attendees give him a standing ovation.
- Last Name Basis: This is how the staff at Bel-Air Academy address their pupils, with the exception of a third grade class of one episode wonders.
- Leaning on 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.
- And a few episodes later, Will comments that the Bill Cosby's show is having a "hip, street smart niece" to joining the cast.
- Let's Get Dangerous: Threatened by Vivian to a racist cop who wrongfully locked up Will and Carlton:
Could you please sit down? We're busy here
. Vivian: (taking off her earrings)
Oh, honey, we're about to get very
- Life Isn't Fair: Played for Laughs.
: 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 (though sometimes reluctantly). 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 refilmed the punchline.
- Mama Bear: Vivian. Especially evident when Will's dad comes back. Will's mom Vi also counts.
- Man Child:
- Carlton. Quite a few of the episodes revolve around Will trying to break him out of this.
- Will has his moments, too - such as when he gets a hold of some Beast Wars: Transformers action figures.
- Will academically (sometimes) and Carlton socially, in general, so they both see each other, but not themselves, this way.
- May-December Romance: Will with Phil's college sweetheart when she seduces him.
- Meaningful Name: A rich family called "Banks".
- Medium Awareness: See Reset Button.
- Mistaken for Quake: Once when Uncle Phil is caught dancing and again when Will gets a car with a sound system loud enough to shake the Banks' kitchen.
Phillip: Oh lord, this must be the big one.
Geoffrey: Not unless it's down with OPP.
- Motive Rant: It happened off-screen, but when Edward Haskell, Phil's law clerk is arrested for robbing the Banks home he rants to the police about all the crap Phil put him through, which motivated his crime.
- Musicalis Interruptus: In "Twas the Night Before Christening", Will walks in on Boyz II Men while they are recording their single, "Let it Snow". One of the band members spots him, keeps singing, and signals the producer in the booth to cut the music. This keeps the recording intact.
- My Friends... and Zoidberg: From the last episode:
Ashley: Let's have another toast. To all of us going on with our new lives. And Will.
- 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 (which could arguably be counted as rape by deception). 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-Age Retro Hippie: A friend of Philip and Vivian's who never moved on from the '60s shows up for an episode and has an influence on the kids (especially Will and Ashley). She gives Will a Swahili name, asks where she can plug in her 8-track, and calls Geoffrey "a pathetic servant of the capitalist fat-cats." She also happens to be on the run from the FBI for busting migrant workers out of an internment camp, breaking into government buildings and shredding important documents, and causing general trouble for the South African embassy in Washington. She's ultimately a Black Power variant of this.
- New Year's Resolution
- Nice to the Butler: The family members' treatment of Geoffrey. Vivian and Ashley are the nicest to him (Geoffrey makes it clear Ashley is his favorite of the family especially when she was a child), while the rest of the family tends to take him for granted, especially Hilary. Philip tries to be professional with him, but doesn't pay him nearly enough for Geoffrey's liking. Will takes him as for granted as Carlton does, but is also the first to help him out when he's got personal issues.
- The Nineties: The feel of the decade is especially notable in the opening sequence for the show.
- No, Except Yes: A variation in "Take My Cousin, Please," when Will tells Hilary the reason why she should not back out on her date with Professor Burton because of his mole,note that Will, who's on academic probation, wanted her to keep seeing him in order to get a passing grade on a test and avoid expulsion:
Hilary: So, you've been using me just to get a good grade?!
Will: No! Not at all! A little.
- 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.
- There's also an episode which starts with Will at the pool house playing sax for a girl. When he finishes, he excuses himself for a second and walks out of the house to pay the actual saxophonist, who was just outside. It's none other than Branford Marsalis, who at the time was the bandleader for The Tonight Show. After he leaves, Will comments "there's definitely some perks to working for NBC!"
- Another one has Will sitting up late watching TV when Uncle Phil comes in and starts badgering. An irritated Will simply takes the remote and turns him off, then turns to the camera and asks, "Isn't that fly? Don't you wish you lived on TV?"
- No Periods, Period: Two adult women and a girl who undoubtedly reached the age of menarche at some point, yet this trope was played completely straight.
- 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:
- In-universe example. Geoffrey's secret was that he was a long distance runner who cheated while representing Britain at the 1976 Olympics. 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."
- Another in-universe example: Phillip's Farm Boy upbringing was this to him until halfway through the first season.
- Once an Episode: Hilary being a ditz, Will calling Carlton short, Will calling Uncle Phil fat.
- One Phone Call: Will and Carlton were arrested. Will used his call to phone Geoffrey, who was so upset about having his day off interrupted he hung on Will before listening. Carlton called his dad but he and his friends were so entertained by a game on TV they didn't listen. Will and Carlton got their attention by making a deal with the authorities: they'd confess if they got to do it during a live broadcast interrupting the game transmission.
- 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.
- Palm-Fist Tap: Both Will and Carlton do this.
- Papa Wolf:
- Uncle Phil, full stop. Usually either a Crowning Moment of Awesome / Heartwarming, or a Crowning Moment of Funny.
- Will is one towards Ashley as well especially in the earlier seasons. You don't mess with his youngest cousin. Hilary or Carlton's fine but mess with her and he'll show you he inherited Uncle Phil's genes as well.
- Parental Abandonment: Will's father, left when he was younger without a word of goodbye to him. He shows up later during Will's college years and even offers to let him travel with him...only to run off without a word once again much to Will's dismay.
- Parents Know Their Children: When Bel-Air Academy goes coeducational, Carlton and Will are captivated by all of the beautiful new students, Ashley among them. Will recognizes her first.
- Periphery Hatedom: Dougie the Orange Whale, who is totally not Barney. Will, of course, finds the idea of someone loving everyone to be impossible:
Will: Dougie... loves everything. People. Am 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!
- Perp Sweating: The police inadvertently do this when Edward Haskell, Phil's law clerk, robs the Banks home. When a police officer asks him to move his van because it's double-parked, Edward has a nervous breakdown and immediately confesses his crime.
- 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". Feeling bad about the situation, Will eventually 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!
- 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 (it's a very fancy BMW). Carlton was convinced that the police were only doing their job, as their behavior was generally suspicious (they were arguing in the car and driving very slowly), but Will believed it was racial profiling, as does Phil. It ends on a down note. 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." The episode ends as Carlton sits there in a depressed funk, pondering what just happened.
- Primal Scene: In a scene where Will walks in on his mom having sex, and screams in terror loud enough to attract the attention of the rest of the house.
Will: Mom, I just wanna say that I'm hurt. And I don't think that mothers are supposed to... do... what you — (cringes and clutches his face) Oh my God, I just got a mental picture! (starts beating himself over the head) Get out! Get out!
- Prison Episode: "Mistaken Identity" has both Will and Carlton arrested. If you ask Will, it's racial profiling, and if you ask Carlton, it's because they were driving really slowly. In "There's the Rub", Will and Phil are mistakenly jailed for solicitation.
- 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 right 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 (on the court only) 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. Hilary is sometimes hinted to be quite promiscuous as well.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
- Will gives one to Juggles the Clown after he holds up a courthouse to display his "comedy" routine.
- Uncle Phil also gave several of these speeches to different people over the course of the series.
- 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.
- Rhetorical Question Blunder: Phil tries to talk Hugh Hefner into cutting Hilary's Playboy spread by asking him what he'd do if his own wife posed for his magazine, or if his daughter got involved in it. Hef replies that his wife was Playmate of the Year and that his daughter runs the Playboy empire.
- "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 (with the sprinkler noise later added in). Only twice was the sequence reshot, including an instance where 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 during the credits bloopers).
- Jazz lampshades this in one episode, when after an annoyed Uncle 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 subverted in a dream episode where Jazz and Hilary announce that they're getting married. Uncle Phil goes to throw Jazz out — but it's Uncle Phil who gets kicked out the house.
- And then there's the time that they're already outside, and Jazz comments that Uncle Phil can't throw him out. Uncle Phil throws him into the house.
- The situation was also reversed once with Will, after Will showed some last minute edits to Philip's campaign commercial, Uncle Phil throws Will out of the house.
- After Will is kicked out of the house, he goes to Chalet Towers to try and convince Jazz to let him stay in his apartment for a few days — but Jazz has, ahem, company, and refuses to let Will stay. Will perseveres, to Jazz's chagrin, and Jazz reluctantly lets him in... only to throw him out of the building immediately afterwards.
- The Carlton Dance has remained a very popular gag, and Alfonso Ribeiro is frequently asked to perform it. Including his 2014 appearance on Dancing with the Stars.
- Sad Clown: Will. When his father walks out on him, his veneer of indifference completely cracks.
- Sassy Black Woman: Aunt Viv and all her sisters, Hattie Banks, Jackie (played by Tyra Banks), Deedee (played by Queen Latifah), Jewel (though she's arguably more scary), and sometimes Lisa.
- Saw "Star Wars" Twenty-Seven 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, who was the original trope namer. Sometimes it went to a ridiculous level where you had to wonder why Uncle Phil didn't fire him. Geoffrey did have his kindly moments, however.
- She Is All Grown Up: Ashley in the later seasons.
- 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.
- The music that plays when Will and Carlton enter the courtroom in "Will Goes A-Courtin'" is the Perry Mason theme ("Park Avenue Beat").
- "Edward Haskell," the name of Phil's two-faced, brown-nosing law firm assistant who later burglarizes his home in "Robbing the Banks," is a reference to "Eddie Haskell", the name of Wally Cleaver's two-faced, brown-nosing best friend on Leave it to Beaver.
- 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 version of the theme).
- The training montage in "The Philadelphia Story" is a shout out of Rocky.
- Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome: Nicky goes from a baby to six over a season break.
- So Proud of You: In the grand finale, Uncle Phil tells Will that he considers him to be his son. Considering Will's real father, that means a lot coming from him.
- Stop Being Stereotypical: A recurring theme of some episodes.
- Stupid Statement Dance Mix: What Will does to Philip's Superior Court Judge advertisement.
- 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 that 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, a talking anthropomorphic animal kids' show host, for 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.
- Threatening Mediator: In "Grumpy Young Men", Will and Carlton were bickering because the girl Will likes kisses Carlton in front of him. Philip tells the two that they either settle their differences or he will do it himself.
- Title Sequence Replacement: When TBS reacquired the rerun rights in 2007, the network switched the opening theme out of the intro for the closing theme, shortening the intro in the process. To a longtime fan of the show, it was very jarring, especially when TBS had rerun the show several years earlier with the original theme intact.
- Token White:
- Kellogg "Cornflake" Lieberbaum functioned as this in the first two series, being Will's only recurring friend at the school.
- 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.
- Tough Love: Uncle Phil. A perfect example occurs in the Season 3 episode "Just Say Yo." Carlton mistakes amphetamines (a recreational drug known as "Speed"), that he finds in Will's locker, for vitamins, and ends up in the hospital. When Will admits to Uncle Phil that the drugs came from his own locker, he has an emotional breakdown out of guilt. Despite the fact that the normally jovial Will is beginning to cry, Phil forces Will to come clean in front of the whole family. After the fact, with Will sobbing over the possibility that he could have seriously hurt Carlton, Uncle Phil embraces him as the episode ends.
- 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.
- Played straight in a season one episode, when Carlton gives Will etiquette lessons.
- 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 was built like a friggin' tank — which the show occasionally acknowledges. 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.
- The Ugly Guy's Hot Sister: In "It Had to be You", when Jazz mentions that he has a sister, both Will and Uncle Phil imagine Jazz in drag at different points. When they finally meet Janet, she turns out to be a very beautiful woman.
- Unfortunate Names: Dr. Whitehorn, the marriage counselor from "Will Is From Mars...":
Dr. Whitehorn: "My name is Dr. Whitehorn."
: "Then let's get to it, Horny!
- Upper-Class Twit: Hilary to a T. Hell, the entire Banks family qualifies, though they all get moments that subvert it.
- Uptown Girl: Geoffrey fell in love with a woman who moved next to the Banks' mansion. Everything was right until he learned she's rich instead of a servant. What really troubled him wasn't her money but her social class.
- 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 his acne medication), an arc on Will getting shot and Carlton buying a gun for protection (and possibly revenge), and the episode where Will reunites with his deadbeat father (played by Ben Vereen), only to see him leave again.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Will and Carlton are a textbook example. They are regularly at odds with each other, and Will spends most of his time picking on Carlton, but they are still best friends (if they weren't this at first, they become much closer in later years).
- What Are You in For?: Oddly, Will ends up fielding this question as a hospital inpatient.
- Wham Line: "How come he don't want me, man?" Becomes even more of a wham line when you realize that the line was unscripted.
- Wham Shot:
- Literally in "Bullets Over Bel-Air".
- And at the end, when Will opens up Carlton's gun... and finds that it was loaded.
- The Whitest Black Guy: Several characters, most notably Carlton and Geoffrey:
- Carlton is a stereotypical preppy, aspires to attend an Ivy League university, enjoys dancing to the music of Tom Jones, and idolizes Macaulay Culkin and William Shatner. Will used to give him endless grief about it.
Carlton: Wait 'till we come downstairs in these tuxes. People may not think we're twins, but I'll bet they'll think we're brothers.
Will: You know, I don't think you'll have to worry about anybody mistaking you for a brother.
- Used a bit more seriously in the episode "Blood is Thicker Than Mud", where Will and Carlton try to join an all-black fraternity. Although they're both hazed, Carlton's hazing is more severe than Will's. Even after he endures everything they put him through, the pledge master, Top Dog, still refuses to let Carlton join because he believes that Carlton is a "sellout". Will quits in disgust when he finds out. After they return home and tell Uncle Phil and Aunt Vivian what happened, Phil laments: "When are we going to stop doing this to each other?"
- Geoffrey is a black British man and has more in common with the Servile Snarker butler archetype than the typical American black man. This fact doesn't go unnoticed.
- 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.
- You Look Familiar:
- Sherman Hemsley made multiple appearances as Philip's mentor, Judge Carl Robertson. After Robertson's death, Hemsley later went on to make two more appearances as some guy named George, with Isabel Sanford as his wife, whom he calls "Wheezy".
- Nia Long once played a one-shot role as Will's girlfriend before playing Lisa, his long time girlfriend, several seasons later. Queen Latifah also played two characters. First she was Hilary's bad boss that had a crush on Will, then she came back as another character that Will actually liked, but was too afraid to admit it because of her size.
- 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 Isaac Hayes impression sucks; the priest (played, of course, by Isaac 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.