My life got flipped, turned upside down
And I'd like to take a minute, just sit right there
I'll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel-Air!"
The year is 1990. 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.
In both cases, Hilarity Ensues.
We kid, but the show is well-regarded today, not just for launching Smith's acting career but for being a well-written ensemble comedy in spite of its' gimmicky premise. James Avery didn't do too badly out of it either. It aired for a respectable six seasons (an intentional decision as to not make it a franchise zombie).
The primary relationship is between Will and his uptight cousin Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro), who is about the same age. Will also gets 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 younger daughter, Ashley (Tatyana M. Ali), looks up to Will and the older daughter, Hilary (Karyn Parsons), is usually too airheaded to really notice him. The show is unique in how it presents a major clash between a stock inner-city teenager and his affluent black family. Unlike The Cosby Show or Family Matters, Will frequently calls out his relatives' upper-class lifestyle, and even suggests that Carlton is white beneath the skin; this is phased out through character development when Will sees others discriminate against Carlton that way.
Has a Best Episode Crowner.
The show uses many standard tropes, including:
- Aborted Arc: Jackie Ames (played by Tyra Banks) is 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 went to her head and goes back to normal.
- Adam Westing: "I can take it out on anyone I want! I'm William Shatner!"
- 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 are times when women act repulsed and turn 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 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 plays 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: When Judge Robertson dies, everyone starts badmouthing him at his funeral. Will tries to stop them, and when asked, tells them he's the one who killed Robertson.note Everyone immediately starts applauding.
- Annoying Patient: Vivian, near the end of her pregnancy.
- As Himself: William Shatner. Unfortunately for him, Carlton is a big fanboy.
- Aside Glance: Often in the first one or two seasons, courtesy of Will. Always intentional. See Actor Allusion. It is 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).
- A dark aversion. In the episode where Will confesses to marrying a girl with the intent of marriage, Phil shows disappointment, and also threatens to hurt Will, in a comedy sequence, set 3 years later, finds a vicious way to hurt Will. This obviously doesn't happen and is just a joke.
- Attractiveness Isolation: Invoked in "Soul Train" when Hilary complains about being the only one without a date ("I'm a beautiful celebrity and men are intimidated by me").
- Author Appeal: Considering how frequently it was referenced, it's safe to assume at least one writer was a huge of The Flintstones.
- 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: Philip, Will and Carlton all share a common Berserk Button when anyone implies that the Bankses are Category Traitors and somehow less black because of their upper-class lifestyle.
- Big, Thin, Short Trio: Uncle Phil, Will, and Carlton, respectively.
- Big "SHUT UP!": Will says this to Carlton in "Day Damn One", cutting off Carlton's explanation as to why he ratted out Will as the one who defaced the alumni desk at school. Will clearly thinks Carlton's "for your own good" excuse is bullshit (though whether or not it actually is bullshit is not made clear.)
- Will: You're not worried about my own good, you're just worried about yourself.
Carlton: It may seem like that to you now, but one day you'll -
Will: Oh, Carlton, SHUT UP!.
- 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:
- The entire episode in which Hilary's fiancé, Trevor, is killed during his "extreme" proposal (bungee jumping).
- The episode in which Judge Robertson dies and everyone who shows up to the funeral celebrates his death.
- An in-universe situation revolves around Will getting shot during a robbery. He spends most of his time in the hospital making jokes about it and his overall demeanor seems to be playful. However, it's later revealed that it's just an act and Will is suffering emotionally from the incident.
- 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.
- 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.
- The opening moments of the pilot episode feature Will trying to get Geoffrey to call him "Will" instead of "Master William". The closing moments of the series finale has Geoffrey initially saying goodbye to him as "Master William", then finally relenting and calling him "Will".
- The first season ends with Will and Carlton going all big brother on Ashley's first date. Halfway through the final season, they do the exact same thing with her current boyfriend upon overhearing that they plan to sleep together.
- Both Sides Have a Point: In "Vying For Attention", Vy tells Will that she has needs, too and that if she wants to date a new man (Robert), she has a right to. However, Will points out that she practically started a new family without him and that he feels like a third wheel to Vy and Robert — which is understandable, seeing as although Robert is making an honest attempt to befriend Will, Vy is using her trip more to show off Robert to the family rather than as a bonding opportunity between her, Robert, and Will.
- 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?Jazz: So, who's playing the wife this year?
- 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 treats women. The "revelation" causes Carlton to run out of 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 whom he's looking for, Will says:Will: The dude that be spinnin' me over his head in the opening credits.
- In "Sleepless in Bel-Air", Will spends the entire episode trying to cram for a midterm, only to not ever get past the first page. At the end of the episode, he tells Carlton that he got an 85 from cheating off another girl. However, after Carlton asks "You're not really gonna let people think you cheated?", Will decides to redo the scene so that he admits he failed, espousing An Aesop over the importance of studying (although it's painfully clear that Will getting an 85 from cheating is what actually happened). 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.
[The executive picks up Will and throws him into the van, labelled "NBC Star Retrieval Unit"]
Executive: [to van driver] Yo homes, to Bel-Air.
- When Jazz is astonished to see a much older Nicky, who was just a baby the previous season, Will turns to the audience and makes a growing motion with his hands.Jazz: Man, I'm going back to the streets where things make sense!
- Briefcase Full of Money: Appears in "To Thine Own Self Be Blue...and Gold" 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: Even though Will acts like a slacker, he is shown to be this on several occasions:
- 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 whereas Carlton scores in the 90th. The thing is, Will didn't even study for the test whereas Carlton studied his ass off. Naturally, Carlton is upset. At the end of the episode, Will calms him down by pointing out that they each have their own strengths — Will did better on some parts of the test whereas Carlton did better on other parts — and their total scores are only one point apart. Also, he says, it's an aptitude test, not something studying ought to help with.
- Will wins over a Princeton recruiter by solving a Rubik's cube in only a few seconds.
- Will shows an adeptness for poetry and the piano.
- Broken Aesop: 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 acts 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.
- Subverted in "All Guts, No Glory", in which Will quits a Western Philosophy class in college because he thinks it will be too hard for him. Even though the professor ends up being funny and charming as soon as Will drops the class which can raise some eyebrows given his initial Dean Bitterman qualities, Will shouldn't have been so unnecessarily rude and obnoxious to the guy earlier in the episode by making cracks about his looks and calling him a geek for calling him out on his shallowness (and while working behind the register at the school store, no less) and proudly admitting to be a troll to his then-unidentified teacher. Plus, his behavior can be viewed as a necessary Tough Love Secret Test of Character to weed out the serious students from the slackers on the first day.
- "Vying For Attention" had Will learn to be okay with Vy dating even when Will's not in her life as much. Her next appearance in "Mommy Nearest" reveals she broke up with him because of how Will felt about him, even though he grew to like Robert after giving him a chance. She claims she wasn't sure if she wasn't sure wanted to marry him, which seems odd because she expressed vast hopes of marriage in "Vying For Attention" when Robert wasn't in earshot
- 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—
[Will gets dope slapped by Philip]
- 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.
- By "No", I Mean "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.
- The Casanova: Will and Jazz.
- Cast as a Mask: The "Fresh Prince: The Movie" episode has John "Fingers" O'Neill (Brad Garrett) appear twice. The first time is 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.
- 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, who makes a reference to watching The Cosby Show.
- 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.
- Will Smith himself was not exempt from this one. The episode "Hare Today..." opens with Nicky lamenting that he is not allowed to see Bad Boys.
- "Save the Last Trance for Me" has Geoffrey noting that he got one of his recipes from the "Gary Coleman Cookbook." Coleman himself appeared as his most famous character, alongside Conrad Bain, in the series finale "I, Done".
- Multiple references were made to Queen Latifah after she'd already made two separate appearances on the show.
- 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.
- In the first season, Will, while still being goofy and fun-loving, he was also stated to be a hard-working good student and was apparently bullied at school in Philly for actually studying. In early season 2 he is Brilliant, but Lazy and manages to score higher than Carlton on a standardized test, without even studying. In season 3 ("The Alma Matter"), he's stated to be a mediocre student. In college, he's still portrayed as a slacker, introducing his professor to Hilary to improve his failing class or cheating to get a good grade.
- In the first season, Geoffrey was very respectful and gentlemanly, but he eventually becomes a cynical Deadpan Snarker who openly complains about his job with the Banks family, and he's far more prone to making sarcastic remarks.
- Childhood Brain Damage: 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. Will's friends Tyriq and Cornflake disappeared after the second season. After that, this happened to basically anyone who wasn't Jazz, Vy, Helen, Werner (who only appeared in the final season), or a member of the main cast. Hattie returns in the final season, but prior to that she hadn't been seen since Season 2.
- Clark Kent Outfit: Carlton.
- Cloudcuckoolander: All of them have their moments, except Vivian and Ashley.
- Cloudcuckoolander's Minder: Carlton thinks he's this to Will. In reality, it's actually the opposite.
- 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, Bob Eubanks is heard asking "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.
- Darker and Edgier: Starting around season 4 the show began veering this territory with plot lines like Carlton losing his virginity to a married (albeit separated) woman, Will nearly losing his sanity after being hexed ( though that turned out to be All Just a Dream), Carlton facing brutal torture for "not being black enough", Hilary posing for Playboy despite her father being against it, Uncle Phil having a heart attack, Hilary having to come to terms with her fiancé's death, and Will nearly dying after getting drunk at a party. That was just the first half of season 4
- 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.
- Denser and Wackier: Though it wasn't too straight-laced to begin with, the show began heading into this territory starting around season three.
- Depraved Homosexual:
Random Hillbilly (to Will): So I heard you like dancin'... (grins)
- 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):
- Disproportionate Retribution: Mildly deconstructed in "The Script Formerly Known As...". Will and Hilary accidentally humiliate Uncle Phil on TV and despite being genuinely apologetic, the entire family gives them the silent treatment. The next day, Hilary dedicates her show to her father but ends up worsening his reputation farther after revealing he isn't talking to them for what they did.
- D.I.Y. Disaster: Philip, whenever he tries to fix... well, anything, really. His attempt at ridding the phone of static causes it to quit entirely (though he proudly boasts about getting rid of the static), and trying his hand at fixing the toaster resulted in Geoffrey getting a scratched cornea.
- 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.
- Domestic Appliance Disaster: In the episode "Burnin' Down The House", Will is inspired to try and "poof the flambe" after seeing Geoffrey do it, but his own attempt accidentally burns the entire kitchen to a crisp.
- Doting Grandparent: Hattie Banks (Uncle Phil's mother) ironically to Will.
- Downer Ending: The entire arc focusing on Will's Disappeared Dad comes to this, when Will finally meets him face-to-face only to realize what a deadbeat he really is.
- 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)(Beat)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?"
- Dude, Not Funny!:
- When Geoffrey unveiled his hidden shame of leaving England because years ago he was caught taking a taxi in order to win a marathon (he thought the information might ruin Philip's political campaign, and yes, that marathon thing has happened in real life, albeit accidentally). After showing them the video, everyone sat in silence for a good ten seconds before bursting into laughter. Geoffrey was not amused. He gets back at them by claiming he never got his green card, which prompts this reaction from the family.
- Will tended to make plenty of jokes about Uncle Phil's weight. After Phil's heart attack, though, Will and the family remarked in the waiting room that the jokes were suddenly way, way less funny in retrospect. (Not that it stopped Will from making them in later episodes, though.)
- Will used to constantly get on Carlton's case for not being "black enough". However, Will stopped making these jokes when he saw the negative impact this belief had.
- 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.
- In season 1, Will occasionally had trouble finding a date, in later episodes he could go outside to get the mail and come back with a date
- 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 robbery. 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: Geoffrey claims to have been butler to both Chuck Norris and Led Zeppelin before his tenure with the Bankses. It also turned out he was a hilariously failed Olympic runner, the "Shame of a Nation", as the documentary on him was titled. The taxi story actually happened, to Rosie Ruiz at the 1980 Boston Marathon, and led to much more race security since.
- 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.
- The "Fun" in "Funeral": In "Asses to Ashes", Will yells at Judge Robertson for running a dirty campaign after Robertson wins, after which Robertson dies. Phillip is supposed to give the eulogy, but Vivian tosses it away, forcing Phillip to try to improvise before admitting he's not in a position to do so, having recently lost the election to the man and asked people to speak on Robertson's behalf—only to discover that everyone there is glad to see the man dead. Will's attempt to call them out on this not only falls on deaf ears, but Will gets applause when he reveals his role in Robertson's death.
- 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.
- 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.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar:
- A scene from "She Ain't Heavy" had Will and Uncle Phil watching a commercial for something called the Sandwich Pocket, which could put all sorts of topping in a sandwich. While Phil is intrigued, Will is disgusted, saying he hadn't heard if anything that gross since "Clarence Thomas found that hair on his cola."
- Probably the grand daddy of them all came from "The Alma Matter", after an angry Carlton confronts Will over why Princeton wanted him as a student, he begins to randomly quiz about various things. He then asks who said that "It's better to die at your feet than to live on your knees" note , only for Will to reply, "I'm guessing it wasn't Madonna."
- In "Community Action", when Jazz tries to move into the Banks' mansion, Will quips that he's about as welcome there as "Mike Tyson at a beauty pageant". At the time the episode aired, Tyson was in prison for raping a contestant at a beauty pageant.
- In "Mother's Day," Will is at a sperm bank to help Jazz and Jewel have a child. Jazz shows up with a card that reads "Heard you were having a stroke," which seems like a complete non sequitur until he justifies it by saying, "It was the closest one they had."
- In "Reality Bites", Will takes Nicky to see Dougie the Orange Whale perform at the mall, before Dougie's rather foul-mouthed actor decides to take a smoke break, leaving Nicky and the other kids (including Carlton) disappointed. Will then goes backstage to have a "mammal to mammal" with Dougie's actor, who then proceeds to irk Will further with his attitude, to the point where Will calls him a "big orange Moby-Dick". What pushes this into Getting Crap Past the Radar territory is how Will emphasizes that last word.
- In "Mama's Baby, Carlton's Maybe", when Phil and Vivian question who is the father of Carlton's ex-girlfriend's baby, Will says, "I'm sorry, but for those of you just tuning in to Name That Father, this little bundle of joy belongs to a young man who saw The Little Mermaid eight times." While it can be seen as a way to showcase his immaturity, it can also be seen as something else completely.note
- 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.Carlton: You know, Paula, even the great Martin Luther King probably drew the line somewhere!
- 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 is a two-part estrangement episode, however.
- Happy Dance: After Will and Carlton trick Geoffrey into believing that he has won the lottery, Geoffrey 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 have a break-up episode:Will: You're not making any sense, Jazz.
Jazz: You used to think that was cute.
- There is 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 is slow to admit this, he is also this with Carlton after a while.
- Will and Jazz are a... mild version. They even have a break-up episode:
- 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 are done at home with Uncle Phil being the Dean Bitterman.
- Hilarious Outtakes: The episode "I, Whoops, There It Is" is dedicated to this. Many episodes also end with the credits playing over the flubs.
- Historical Character Confusion:
- 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.
- Hypno Fool: "Save the Last Trance for Me", which sees Will getting inadvertently hypnotized to act like a four-year-old whenever a bell rings. The end of the episode sees Uncle Phil turning into one of these as well, barking like a dog.
- I Call It "Vera": One episode features Phil's custom pool cue, named Lucille. Uncle Phil is hustling a pool hustler, and in the first game asks Geoffrey to hand him "one of those stick thingies." Then, in the second game, where the stakes are far higher, he tells Geoffrey to "break out Lucille."
- I, Noun: Almost half of the last season, including the last six episode titles. Of note are "I, Clownius", "Eye, Tooth" and "I, Done".
- Identical Grandson: Carlton looks just like the younger version of Philip.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming The second half of the last season has everyone episode starting with "I"; e.g., "I, Clownius," "I, Done," "I, Bowl Buster."
- Infant Sibling Jealousy: Ashley's subplot in the episode where the family thinks about how the new baby will impact their lives. She has a fantasy about the entire family ignoring her and even forgetting her name, as she will no longer be The Baby of the Bunch.
- Insistent Terminology: "They're ACTION FIGURES!"
- Ironic Echo: "Papa's Got a Brand New Excuse," where Will's estranged father comes into town, and he and Will reconnect. When they announce that Will's father will be taking him on a road trip, Uncle Phil does not take this sitting down. When Will discusses this with him and Aunt Vivian, Phil blurts out, "To hell with your father!" He then explains how this was the man who left Will 14 years earlier, and never once thought of him when he grew up. At the end of the episode, where Will's dad gets a new assignment and has to leave Will again, Will finally musters up the courage to admit that Phil was right, and says the same thing he said: "To hell with him!"
- It's a Wonderful Plot: "The Alma Matter", in which a disastrous meeting with a representative from Princeton ends in Carlton being denied enrollment, and he slips into a deep funk as a result. He happens to watch the trope namer and agrees with the main character, wishing he had never been born. This prompts his guardian angel — Tom Jones — to arrive and set him straight.
- 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, is shown to have been svelte, good-looking and carrying a full head of hair.
- I Wished You Were Dead: After Judge Robertson mocked Phil after Robertson defeats Phil, Will turns back and confronts him, culminating in Will telling Robertson that "he can drop dead"—which, much to Will's horror, Robertson promptly does.
- Ivy League for Everyone: Carlton wanted to go to Princeton because his dad went there. He would eventually transfer there in the series finale. Will could have also went there if he truly wanted to.
- Jerk Ass: Both Carlton and Will tend to be this way from time to time.
- 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:Will: Now remember: agree with everything I say and disagree with everything they say.
Carlton: Why don't I just smile and nod?
Will: [beat] Even better.
- Karma Houdini:
- While what Will did was way out of line in "Best Laid Plans", Monique still technically committed grand theft auto by stealing Uncle Phil's Mercedes. It's never mentioned if she got arrested for that which is weird because Uncle Phil's a judge.
- Lady Penelope in "Nice Lady" certainly qualifies, as she turns out to be an arrogant, self-entitled party girl who also resorts to stealing the car to escape Will and Geoffrey's watch when they volunteer to take her to the opera on the behalf of her wealthy father. She then goes to an exotic club where the two attempt to retrieve her before she slips away again, coming home pretending nothing had ever happened. Unlike the previous instance, Uncle Phil suspects that something was up, but decides he'd rather not hear it, and so she receives nothing for her actions.
- In "Cold Feet, Hot Body", Will is courted and seduced by Denise, who puts on the tears and a sweet face to win him over despite knowing full well that he's already with Lisa. After failing to seduce him in her apartment, Will asks for the keys to the car, which she pockets in her bosom, and he rushes out saying to just keep the car. He may have thwarted her advances, but nothing further is said of whether he gets the car back. One must wonder what Uncle Phil's insurer must be thinking.
- 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 Cosby Show is having a "hip, street smart niece" join the cast.
- Let's Get Dangerous!: Threatened by Vivian to a racist cop who wrongfully locked up Will and Carlton:Cop: Could you please sit down? We're busy here.
Vivian: (taking off her earrings) Oh, honey, we're about to get very busy here!
- Life Isn't Fair: Played for Laughs and combined with a Shout-Out:Carlton: 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 occurs when Will has been 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.
- Loophole Abuse: Philip and Vivian push Hilary to move out of the house because they need to move Nicky into it. They expect her to find an apartment, Vivian says she and Philip will pay first and last month's rent for her. Hillary ultimately settles on the pool house, as her parents only said they needed her to move out of the house. When Hilary points this out, Philip turns to Vivian and basically whines that Hilary cheated.
- Mama Bear: Vivian. Especially evident when Will's dad comes back. Will's mom Vi also counts.
- 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 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: Happens when an executive points out to Will that the contract says that the show is called "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and forcefully sends from Philadelphia to Bel-Air.
- 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.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Will after Judge Robertson dies of a heart attack right after Will tells him to drop dead. Will, however, is the only one who is miserable since almost everyone hated the guy.
- 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) play the trope straight, but everyone else at the funeral openly comments 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 room."
- 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 Job as the Plot Demands: A character played by Darryl Sivad appears as a park ranger, an EMT, and a firefighter. Each time, he appears with a laid back attitude. He also makes several inappropriate jokes during serious moments involving Will and the Bankses.
- New Year's Resolution: In "Hilary Gets a Life", Hilary makes a resolution that she will find a job right after Easter.
- Nice to the Waiter: 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's still a child), whereas the rest of the family tend 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 much for granted as Carlton does, but is also the first to help him out when Geoffrey's got personal issues.
- The '90s: The feel of the decade is especially notable in the opening sequence for the show.
- 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 spinnin' 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 has reached the age of menarche before the end of the series, yet this trope is played completely straight.
- Non-Actor Vehicle: A rare successful example.
- Not Even Bothering with an Excuse: Whenever the kids all come up with an excuse not to do some undesirable task, Hilary finishes up with, "I just don't want to."
- 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."
- Oh, Crap!: In an episode where Will pretends to be Ashley's father for a Parent-Teacher Conference, Will falls for the teacher around the time the PTC ends and goes back to attempt to woo her. However, all that ends up happening is her discovering his fake mustache, sending him into such a flustered panic, all he can say is "No, it's not!" - even after she rips it off.
- Old Shame:
- In-universe example. Geoffrey's secret is 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 is this to him until it comes up and is resolved halfway through the first season.
- Once an Episode: Hilary being a ditz, Will calling Carlton short, Will calling Uncle Phil fat.
- One-Hit Wonder: In-universe example when Ashley started her singing career.
- One Phone Call: Will and Carlton are arrested. Will uses his call to phone Geoffrey, who is so upset about having his day off interrupted he hangs on Will before listening. Carlton calls his dad but Phil and his friends are so entertained by a game on TV they don't listen. Will and Carlton get their attention by making a deal with the authorities: they'll confess if they get 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.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Jazz, though it's implied that it might even be his given name. Also played straight with his actor, DJ Jazzy Jeff, for much of the run; later averted when the show began crediting him under his given name, Jeffrey Townes, after DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince split.
- Open Mouth, Insert Foot: In later seasons, Uncle Phil develops a tendency to speak without thinking, often resulting in Aunt Viv storming off and him running after her trying to explain himself. This mostly occurred after the actress change.
- 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 picked up a lesson or two from his Uncle Phil.
- Paranoia Gambit: Phil does this in response to Will's antics once.Phil: ...I'm not going to punish you, Will.
Will: [Beat] ...That's radical, Uncle Phil, but it just might work.
Phil: I'm not going to punish you today. Maybe not even tomorrow. You see, I need to think a long, long time about what I'm going to do with you. I don't know, it might come to me... pfft, in the middle of the night. Or maybe next week, or, a few years from now. In the meantime, why don't you worry about it? Be afraid, Will... (pulls him in close) Be very afraid.
- 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.Carlton: *awestruck* She's cool, she's hot, she's -
Will: Your baby sister, man!
- Periphery Hatedom: In-universe example: 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.
- Playing Gertrude: In real life, Janet Hubert-Whitten was only 10 years older than Karyn Parsons and 15 years older than Alfonso Ribiero but was playing their mother.
- [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.
- Pyrrhic Victory: Carlton in "Some Day Your Prince Will Be In Effect- Part 2", though he won the bet by finding a date for the party first, his date turned out to be the shoplifter who Hilary was mistaken for in part 1 while Will had a great night with his date and even got her number.
- 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.
- Reality Ensues: Aunt Viv shows up a pair of girls in her dance class with an impressive routine. She walks out confident, then immediately passes out from exhaustion.
- 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.
- After finding pregnancy pamphlets in the trash (they're Ashley's, who took them home to learn about the consequences of sex before she actually has any), and the following conversation ensues between the parents and the three oldest kids:Phil: Alright. Who's pregnant?
Will: Hey, not me!
Carlton: Not me.
Hilary: (beat) I'm gonna go out on a limb and make that unanimous.
- Replacement Flat Character: Invoked in "My Brother's Keeper" with Marcus. Like Will, he's a basketball star from far more humble beginnings despite attending prep school. However, he has a young son and no rich relatives to fall back on. The situation makes Will take stock of his circumstances and contemplate not showing Marcus up in the big game.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
- Will gives a literal 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.
- Repeated Cue, Tardy Response: In one episode, Will and Carlton are telling Jazz about the time that the family got put into witness protection because Will got on the wrong side of an assassin. Will convinces some of his new neighbors (a bunch of stereotypical rednecks) to help him fight the assassin, but by the time the assassin shows up, the neighbors are in a drunken daze as Will helplessly repeats the code word that was supposed to signal The Cavalry.
- 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 was heavily lampshaded: he's kidnapped by NBC Executives to get tossed back into Bel-Air.
- Retcon: Ashley's age is inconsistent in season one. She describes herself as being nine years old in one episode while Will says she's ten in another. "Just Infatuation" has Ashley celebrating her 12th birthday and for the rest of the series, she ages appropriately.
- 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. This includes his 2014 appearance on Dancing with the Stars.note
- 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).
- 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" 27 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.
- The Carlton dance is based on Courteney Cox's dancing from the Bruce Springsteen video for "Dancing in the Dark"
- The gorgeous mother of Will's Girl of the Week who seduces him is named Mrs. Robertson. Not identical, but similar enough to make the reference obvious.
- 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.
- Status Quo Is God: The fourth season begins with Hillary engaged and preparing to move out and the boys moving out as well. By the episode's end, Hilary's fiance is dead and disaster has struck at the boys' new apartment, leaving them all back at home.
- 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.
- Sucks At Dancing: Played with. Will thinks he's the man when he starts dancing, but always gets negative reactions when he does. He once got thrown out of a club because he was that bad. Carlton, on the other hand, is often mocked for being a bad dancer, but as Stylistic Suck notes above, the Carlton Dance actually requires good coordination, and Carlton has been shown to bust out moves rivaling Michael Jackson himself on certain occasions.
- 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.Will: (upon meeting him and dusting his shoulder) N-Nice champion.
- A possibly unintentional one in "Mama's Baby, Carlton's Maybe", Carlton's ex-girlfriend is returning and Carlton tries to get back together with her saying he's ready for an adult relationship. When she comes in, she brings her baby whom she claims Carlton is the father of. Thankfully, he wasn't.
- Theme Tune Cameo: The closest we ever got was when Will, who was representing himself in court, quoted a few lines from the theme song as his "opening statement" in "Will Goes a Courtin'":Will: Your honor... I'm from West Philadelphia. Born and raised. On the playground was where I spent most of my days.
- Theme Tune Rap: Hands down the most famous example ever.
- 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.
- Tiny Schoolboy: Carlton during high school and then college much later.
- 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 seasons, being Will's only recurring friend at the school. Will would also occasionally have a different white friend at school, though most didn't last long as characters.
- Will's Aunt Janice married a... um... 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. Said "tall" man lampshades this in a later episode at a ski resort when Janice complains that they (the family) are the only black people they see there. The "tall" man remarks, "Don't be silly. Everywhere I turn, I see another black person", after which Janice almost falls down laughing.
- Toxic Friend Influence: Invoked in "You'd Better Shop Around". Will is offered a weekend job selling cars which eventually turns into a full-time job. Despite being an ideal employee, the job leads him down this path and makes him drop out of school. It's best illustrated when he goes from being extremely reluctant to fire an under-performing employee especially learning of his home life to pretending to fire people just for his own amusement. Justified as his boss, while nice to him, was a callous Bad Boss to his other employees. Thankfully, he gets better at the end when his mom forces him to quit and Uncle Phil tells him that after college he'll be able to do something more fulfilling.
- 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.
- Played for laughs when Carlton, Hilary and Ashley tried this on Will a few episodes earlier. Will was blaming himself for Judge Roberson's fatal heart attack. Instead of standing up for himself like Carlton thought he would, he brakes down crying and runs away!
- 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.
- Tuckerization: A minor case during the final season — Werner, the producer of Hilary's talk show, was named after Fresh Prince producer Werner Walian.
- 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...":
- Upper-Class Twit: Hilary to a T. Hell, the entire Banks family save Nicky 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).
- Wealth's in a Name: Will's rich relatives have the last name Banks.
- 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?"
- A less-powerful, but still notable one, in the pool hustler episode:
- Wham Shot: Literally in "Bullets Over Bel-Air". This is also true concerning the ending 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Yes, Virginia: In one episode, Will takes Nicky to see his favorite kids show character in person. Will meets the guy in the suit who's a huge jerk and they have a fight in front of the kids with Nicky saying he hates Will. Will tries to explain the character isn't real but Nicky won't believe him. Will is ready to explain it but then Santa shows up and tells Will Nicky needs to keep believing.
Ashley: Didn't you have someone you believed in when you were a kid?Will: Yeah. Shaft.Ashley: Okay, do you remember how you felt when you found out Shaft was just a character in a movie?Will: Wha...what are you talking about? That was based on a real guy!
- Hilariously inverted earlier when Ashley talks to Will about it.
- 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.