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 discriminateagainst 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.
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 seance 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.
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.
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.
Carlton comes off far more nerdy than Will, but it shouldn't be forgotten that 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 placeyou'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.
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.
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.
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.
(Jump Cut 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?"
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Hilary: 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: The last six episode titles, including "Eye, Tooth," and "I, Done". While the first title makes sense, sort of...note As it is the (semi-)muffled exclaimation of "my tooth" William Shatner exclaims in the episode when his tooth is broken as a result of Will and Carlton fighting over a pool cue the other five episode titles with this motif seem out of place in hindsight.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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 Will points out to her minutes earlier at the opera theater that they and their dates go to that Hillary is really looking for a reason not to move on from Trevor. 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?"
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.
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.
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.
Uncle Phil also gave several of these speeches to different people over the course of the series, each one a certifiable Moment Of Awesome.
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.
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.
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 had his kindly moments, however.
Shout-Out: 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.
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.
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 can be very jarring, especially when TBS had rerun the show several years earlier with the original theme intact.
Token White: 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...":
Unintentional Period Piece: The show is laden with contemporary pop culture references, especially in the earlier seasons, which had frequent references to early 1990s politics-related things such as Operation Desert Storm and Dan Quayle, and celebrity scandals such as Zsa Zsa Gabor's slapping of a police and evangelist Jimmy Swaggart's arrest for solicitation.
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).
And at the end, when Will opens up Carlton's gun... and finds that it was loaded.
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.
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.