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Tear Jerker / The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

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  • "Papa's Got a Brand New Excuse" contains what many consider not only the greatest scene in the entire show, but some of the most powerful acting ever put to TV. In the episode, Will's deadbeat dad, Lou, comes back into his life after fourteen years, and Will tries his best to get to know him better. Even after Uncle Phil calls out Lou about not being there for him when he was a child, Will, for the first time in the show, outright defies Phil by telling him that he isn't his father. In the end, Lou becomes more concerned over some new business and has to cancel a planned summer trip with Will. It's clear from their last talk together that Lou's not coming back — and Will doesn't want him to. Will tries to shake it off and launches into a monologue about all of the things he learned to do, and hopes to accomplish, without his father around to help him. However, as the weight of the situation fully hits him, Will finally just looks at Uncle Phil with the saddest look on his face and says, "How come he don't want me, man?". Phil then gives him a Cooldown Hug (seen in the page image) as the camera then zooms in on the present that Will had bought for his father: an African-style wood carving of a father holding a young son.
    Phil: I'm sorry, Will.
    Will: You know what? Actually, this works out better for me. You know, the slimmies this summer come to class wearing next to nothing, you know what I'm saying?
    Phil: Will, it's all right to be angry.
    Will: Hey, why should I be mad? I'm sayin' at least he said goodbye this time. I just wish I hadn't wasted my money buyin' this stupid present! (furiously yanks the statue out of his bag and places it on the table)
    Phil: I'm... I'm sorry. You know, if there was something that I could...
    Will: (gradually getting angrier) Hey, you know what? You ain't got to do nothing, Uncle Phil. You know, It ain't like I'm still five years old, you know? Ain't like I'm gonna be sittin' up every night askin' my mom "When is Daddy comin' home?" You know? Who needs him? Hey, he wasn't there to teach me how to shoot my first basket, but I learned, didn't I? And I got pretty damn good at it, too, didn't I, Uncle Phil?
    Phil: Yeah, you did.
    Will: Got through my first date without him, right? I learned how to drive, I learned how to shave, I learned how to fight without him. I had FOURTEEN great birthdays without him! He never even sent me a damn card! TO HELL WITH HIM!
    (Phil breathes shakily)
    Will: I didn't need him then and I don't need him now.
    Phil: Will?
    Will: No, you know what, Uncle Phil? I'ma get through college without him, I'ma get a great job without him, I'ma marry me a beautiful honey and I'm havin' me a whole bunch of kids. I'ma be a better father than he ever was! And I sure as hell don't need him for that, cause ain't a damn thing he could ever teach me about how to love my kids!
    (Will begins to tear up)
    Will: (shakily) How come he don't want me, man?
    (he and Phil embrace, Will quietly crying into Phil's shoulders)
    • Also look carefully at the hug; Phil knocks off Will's baseball cap, symbolically removing his tough, outer street persona to take care of the scared, sad little boy still wondering why his father abandoned and doesn't love him that hides inside of it.
      • Most telling is the complete aversion of Sentimental Music Cue. There's no music at all in the scene, and it works wonderfully.
      • Likewise, the Studio Audience is completely silent throughout - you could hear a pin drop in the studio. No gasps, no "awww"s, no heartwarming applause, nothing that could possibly take the people watching at home out of the scene. This extends to the ending credits, which does not show the usual Hilarious Outtakes.
      • In addition, his tears were for the friends that he knew growing up that didn't know their fathers, not, contrary to popular belief, for his own father.
      • Will Smith reports this sequence was difficult for him to shoot, as he was not sure his acting was up to the task, especially when he was performing with a talented actor like James Avery. Finally, Avery told him to use Uncle Phil as the impetus for Will's reaction, as he needed his scene partner to get the character to that point. After doing a good take, Avery proceeded to whisper in Smith's ear as they embraced, "That's fucking acting right there."
      • According to Shelley Jensen, who directed this episode, most of the cast and crew weren’t aware of the ending monologue until the day the episode was taped. As a result, most of the cast were also in tears. If you listen carefully, you can hear Karyn Parsons (Hilary) crying backstage as Will and Phil hug before the statue is revealed.
      • Ben Vereen (who played Lou) said in an interview that he broke into tears himself after walking off-camera to leave Will. As a father himself, the idea of walking out on his kids like Lou did was impossible to imagine.
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    • Immediately preceding the rant, Phil confronts Lou for running out on Will, and Lou asks him to break the news for him. Phil refuses, and demands that Lou tell him himself, and Lou says he'll give him a call as he begins to leave. Then Will bursts in, all packed and ready to go for the trip, forcing Lou to come clean and say the trip isn't going to happen. When he says, "It was great seeing you, son," Will responds, "You, too..." before calling him "Lou" instead of "Dad", thus cutting off ties with him for good.
    • The last thing Vivian has to say to Lou, though it doubles as a Moment of Awesome on her part. In spite of these words, Lou just leaves anyway after talking to Will for the last time.
      Vivian: Lou, if you walk out of Will's life now... don't you ever come back.
    • Will still feels bitter resentment towards Lou in the seasons that followed. In one particularly heated argument in "Get A Job", Carlton loses his patience and says Will is no better than his father. Cue the Tranquil Fury as Will sets the record straight.
      Carlton: Well, you're mad at me for stealing your job?
      Will: You're doggone right. You shouldn't have done that. You knew how much I wanted this job.
      Carlton: And you demonstrated that by ditching your responsibility, Jasmine. Who may not be a looker, but is quite an entertaining gal.
      Will: Look, fine. Be that as it may, it does not change what you did and what you always do to me. Man, you are just so selfish. You got everything, but still on top of that you gotta take everything that everybody else has. Always about you. Carlton. Carlton. Carlton.
      Carlton: Oh, yeah? Well, you know what your problem is?
      Will: I don't.
      Carlton: You're a slacker. You say you want things but you're never willing to work for it! You never make the sacrifice. You think you're just gonna charm your way through; just like your father!
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    • Also worthy of note is what was perhaps the worst argument between Will and his uncle, when Will says that he has accepted his father's offer to take the trip, which Phil furiously objects to, knowing that Lou would betray him again. The fight escalates and Will finally shuts him down by screaming that he isn't his father, which leaves Phil at a complete loss for words. We see him spending the next day wondering if he's been a good father to his kids. It's truly upsetting to see Uncle Phil of all people so lost on what the right thing to do is, when it's clear he only wants to protect Will. Thankfully the two of them quickly make up and Phil gives Will his best wishes as he prepares to set out with his Dad, which only makes Lou's inevitable betrayal later hit home that much harder, as does Phil stepping in to comfort Will when Lou leaves.
      Will: Uncle Phil, that is not cool, the way you dissing my father like that.
      Uncle Phil: The hell with your father.
      Aunt Viv: Philip, for God's sake.
      Uncle Phil: He waltzes in here after 15 years?
      Will: Fourteen.
      Uncle Phil: Excuse me. Fourteen years and acts like nothing has happened. Wake up, Will. This is the same guy who didn't think enough of you to pick up the damn phone!
      Will: He made a mistake. I'm sorry that everybody can't be as perfect as you, Uncle Phil, but if I can forgive him, how come you can't?
      Uncle Phil: Because he's not doing this for you, he's doing this for himself and if you think any differently, then you're a fool!
      Aunt Viv: Hey, just cool it. Just cool down. We can talk about this another time.
      Will: You know what, Aunt Viv? Ain't even nothing to talk about. I've been waiting for this for a long time, my whole life and ain't nobody gonna stop me. Come tomorrow, I'm out of here.
      Uncle Phil: Oh yeah, I don't think so.
      Will: Who cares what you think? You are not my father!
    • While the scene is all about Will breaking down, it's obvious that Phil is on the verge of tears himself.
  • In "Bullets Over Bel-Air", Will takes a bullet for Carlton when the two are mugged while withdrawing money from an ATM. After seeing Will hurt so badly, Carlton's feelings of helplessness push him over the edge, and he buys a gun and even brings it with him to the hospital. Will ends up begging Carlton to get rid of it so that he doesn't intentionally or accidentally hurt someone in the same way that Will was. After convincing Carlton to give up the gun, Will breaks down in tears. Link
    • And then there was the way in which Carlton finally relented in giving the gun. Will tried joking about his situation, he tried to calm Carlton down, and he tried to reason with him. None of that worked. Will had to use a desperate, last-resort You Owe Me. You can hear his voice break as he was essentially ordering Carlton to give him the gun.
    • And when Will checks if the gun was indeed loaded, he finds that, yes, Carlton actually bought a gun and loaded it with ammo with the intent to shoot someone out of self-defense, or to defend a loved one, if the need came for it. This is Carlton we're talking about.
    Will: So, what, you don't think I'm mad, huh? I'm laying up in this hospital an inch away from being paralyzed. You don't think I wanna get up this bed and catch...
    Carlton: Well, it's not gonna happen again, not to me.
    Will: Carlton, Carlton. I understand that you're scared, man, but the world can be a scary place. You just got to learn how to deal with it.
    Carlton: Yeah, well, I found my way.
    Carlton: Look, I didn't come here for your approval, all right? I came here to see how you were. I'm out of here.
    Will: Carlton.
    Carlton: No more hugs, Will.
    Will: I saved your life, man. I saved your life. You owe me! Now, give me the gun, Carlton. Give me the gun. I saved your life. I want the gun!
    • Even before this scene, Carlton's despair was evident when he was arguing with Phil about whether any justice will come of it. This is the same Carlton who still believed in the system after being wrongly pulled over. Gone is such naïveté, despite his father's reassurances.
      Philip: Son, where are you going?
      Calrton: I don't know. I'm going for a walk.
      Philip: Carlton, it's after midnight. I don't need something to happen to you too.
      Carlton: Well, there's nothing you can do about it. These things just happen, right?
      Philip: Carlton, I know you're upset. You've been through a traumatic experience. Now, if you just calm down, we can talk about this rationally.
      Carlton: You're always in control, aren't you? Always know what to do, always know what to say. But you know what gets me? The police aren't gonna find this guy. And even if they do, so what? He'll be out on the streets in six months.
      Philip: That's not gonna happen!
      Carlton: Come on, Dad, it's happened to people you put away.
      Philip: Look, the legal system isn't perfect-!
      Carlton: Go talk to Will about our legal system! It's such a joke! People aren't even afraid of it.
      Philip: Carlton. Look, I'm frustrated too! But as a judge, I have to have faith in it, no matter how much I wanna go out and knock some heads! Eventually the system will come through.
      Carlton: I’m all grown up now, Dad. Don’t tell me any more fairy tales.
    • This commentary makes the moment even sadder.
      You gotta think, the whole concept of this show was Will growing up in a bad neighborhood where shit like this happened all the time, and Carlton grew up in a life of privilege and sheltered from this kind of life, and I think Will was crying because he came so close to seeing Carlton go down the wrong path and end up like some of his friends back in Philly.
  • "Not with My Pig, You Don't" involves Uncle Phil's parents coming to visit and telling tales of Phil growing up on a farm in North Carolina. At a certain point Will shares the stories grandma told him with a reporter. Phil finds out and is furious because he is ashamed of his background. By the end of the episode he realizes the depths of his ingratitude. His parents - who never had the opportunities that he had - worked insanely hard to provide him with anything he needed to build a good life. By the end of the episode Phil has come around and is very proud of his family. The episode ends with the slave song "Wade in the Water". It is immensely humbling , a reminder that many people didn't get your opportunities and that ingratitude can be the worst sin of all.
    Will: What did I do?!
    Uncle Phil: What did you do?! You destroyed my image!
    Will: Man, I didn't destroy nothing!
    Uncle Phil: Of course you did! Look at that story! I got to walk into that banquet room tonight, full of people who're gonna think I'm nothing but a hog-handling hick from Yamacraw!
    Hattie: But that is where you come from, Zeke!
    Uncle Phil: Mama. I was just having a few words with Will.
    Hattie: And I'm having a few words with you. What have you got to be ashamed of? We always put food on the table and clothes on your back!
    Uncle Phil: Mama, I'm not ashamed! There are just certain aspects of my life I don't want emphasized.
    Hattie: Where I come from, they call that being ashamed, Mr. Big Shot!
  • In "Here Comes the Judge", after Jazz inadvertently jeopardizes Phil's chances at being a judge, Will blows up at him and tells him to leave.
    Will: So, as of now, this friendship is over. You're not welcome here, so I'd like it if you just got the hell outta my crib!
    Will: You're not even worth it, man.
  • Most of the Series Finale, for long-time viewers of the show. Even Carlton's dancing to Tom Jones, because it was the last time we'd ever see it... and even more so when it was Will's idea and he actually joined in! In this case, though, you'll most likely be laughing your head off and tearing up at the same time.
  • "Home is Where the Heart Attack Is"
    • Will tearfully admitting that he "caused" Phil's heart attack by giving him a cheeseburger he bribed him to buy.
    • Carlton being afraid to see his father in such a vulnerable position, saying that he's like Superman to him. This one is softened by Mood Whiplash, though it still works pretty well in the context (one can see it as Phil not wanting to see his son so sad about his state):
      Phil: And cheesecake is my Kryptonite, huh? I'm sorry I let you down, son.
      Carlton: You could never let me down, Dad.
    • This is also the first time Will ever talked about his own worthless father and uses that to push Carlton into seeing Phil.
      Will: Man, you don't know how lucky you are. You can be with your father whenever you want. You can eat with him and argue with him. He's there for you. You know where my father is?
      Carlton: No.
      Will: Neither do I.
      Carlton: Look, I don't wanna see my father with tubes up his nose, okay?
      Will: There's gonna come a time when all he has is tubes up his nose.
      Carlton: (voice breaking) NOT MY FATHER!!!
      Will: Everybody's father!!! EXCEPT MINE, BECAUSE I DON'T KNOW WHERE THE HELL HE IS!!!
      Carlton: You just don't understand, Will.
      Will: Yes, I do. You're selfish.
    • And the whole thing becomes even harder to watch after James Avery's death during heart surgery.
  • "Mistaken Identity" has Carlton having his first encounter with racial discrimination when he and Will are pulled over by a cop for driving a borrowed Mercedes in a white neighborhood. Carlton tries to deny the racism involved and justify the cop's intentions as Will tries to tell him that the justice system has flaws and that he will experience racism his whole life.
    Carlton: Dad, if you were a policeman and you saw a car driving two miles an hour, wouldn't you stop it?
    Carlton: (to himself) ...I would stop it.
  • When Hilary finally comes to terms with Trevor's death and laments that she didn't get to say goodbye to him before the bungee accident. Will comes down and tells her that it's never too late to say goodbye and that Trevor is still there in her heart. After Will leaves, Hilary stops for a moment to say to the stars "Goodbye, Trevor."
  • The ending of the episode "Just Say Yo": Will confesses to Uncle Phil that the amphetamines Carlton took were his. Uncle Phil assumes Will was getting into drugs and forces Will to confess the truth to everyone in the house. What follows is Will tearfully confessing of his struggles for the week (several tests, basketball practice, and his girlfriend) and a classmate gave him the drugs (which he never took to begin with).
    Will: All I know, is that somebody real close to me, that I love a whole lot, could be dead right now. And it'd be all my fault....
    • Will's crying is just painful to hear, especially when Uncle Phil, who ended up assuming Will was getting into drugs, slowly embraces him.
    • Not helping is the fact that just before this confession, Phil intended to give Will season tickets to a game that he'd been saving for him for a long while. It's Will's guilt at being rewarded for saving his cousin who he accidentally allowed to overdose in the first place that prompts him to come clean to Uncle Phil.
  • In the 1st season, Trey, one of Will's buddies from Philly, comes for a visit. He's a nice guy and Hilary is smitten with him, but Vivian dislikes him due to the fact that he has no real goals in life. Later on, Will calls her out for her attitude towards him and explains that Trey didn't have the chance that Will did, that he looked out for Will and made sure he studied and did well in school at the cost of his own school life, and that if it wasn't for him, Will may have fallen in with the wrong crowd, causing Vivian to realize she was wrong to judge him like that.
  • "Asses to Ashes", in which Will told off Judge Robertson, causing him to have a fatal heart attack, was mostly Black Comedy, but Will's remorse over the man's death is quite saddening.
  • "Hex and the Single Guy" saw Will pissing off Scorpius, a flamboyant psychic who conducts a seance to contact Hilary's late boyfriend Trevor, who ends up hexing the whole family as a result. When Will returns the next day to have him remove the hex, the inside of Scorpius' house is completely redone, and Scorpius himself, now an unassuming man named Ralph Scorpius, claims to have no memory of Will from the night before and assumes he's robbing him. Will becomes convinced he's going insane and ends up having a Heroic BSoD, tearfully begging Scorpius to remove the hex, and while the scenario is Played for Laughs it doesn't make Will's breakdown any less heartwrenching to see.
  • The episode "It's a Wonderful Lie" in Season 5 has a lot of conflict in it, with the focus characters of the episode struggling with trust. Ashley in particular lies to her parents, is discovered at a party full of college boys and runs away from home for a short time. When she faces up to her parents about it at the end of the episode, Phil gets too angry to lecture her properly and leaves Vivian to talk to Ashley about it. It's one of the few times that Daphne Maxwell Reid gets an intense scene as Vivian, and she nails it. Ashley clearly realises during the discussion how much she betrayed and hurt them, but Vivian remains cold and distant while gently and logically reprimanding her about how fragile trust can be. You can see and hear how much Vivian doesn't like speaking to her daughter like this and it's very clear that Ashley regrets what she did, so right before Ashley leaves as she's sent to her room, Vivian calls to her with a shaking voice. She walks over to Ashley and the two of them embrace as Ashley breaks down crying and apologizes.
  • In "The Alma Matter" Will and Carlton are both interviewed by a Princeton official scouting for interested applicants, and so naturally Carlton has prepared for his make-or-break case for acceptance. Will's record does little to impress the man until he starts playing it cool with his usual antics, which greatly amuses the representative and earns Will a conditional acceptance, much to Carlton's shock. Not believing it, he springs the same act upon the man, only for him to be instead convinced that Carlton is clinically insane and turn him down flat. Carlton panics and tries to convince him otherwise, and when this fails, he attempts to bribe him with money or a date with Hillary. This only serves as proof to the man of Carlton's craziness, and Carlton, losing his patience, then actually threatens the man's life on an impulse and catches his mistake too late. Getting himself suspended, Carlton tries to pretend nothing is wrong and lies to everybody that he's been accepted with a full scholarship, much to the joy of everybody, especially Uncle Phil. And then they receive a call from the school:
    Uncle Phil: Hey, I just heard the good news! What? Well, how can he be suspended? He just got a full scholarship! (...) I'll, uh....I'll call you back.
    Vivian: Philip?
    Uncle Phil: Carlton.....Tell me you didn't threaten to kill the man from Princeton.
    Vivian: Oh, my God!
    Carlton: Dad, I...
    Uncle Phil: Just tell me that, please.
    Carlton: (...) I can't.
    • Carlton eventually makes peace with his father over the incident, but the pain and disappointment in Carlton's face as he sees how badly he hurt his family as well as himself is very raw, knowing he just blew his lifelong goal of attending Princeton as his father did. And at the time, it certainly looked like he would never be granted a second chance...
    • The rest of the episode before they make up focuses on Carlton moping over his screw-up and wishing he wasn't born. It takes a visit from his guardian angel Tom Jones to make his realize his worth as a person and to his whole family.
    • Really, this episode is the culmination of a theme that had been part of the show since the start, the way Will seems to effortlessly charm his way through everything in a way Carlton can't even hope to match, but this is the first time Carlton openly expresses how much it frustrates him. Sure, Carlton is disciplined and a hard worker, and there's always value in that, but Will has natural people skills. And you can't teach those, you either have them or you don't. And Carlton doesn't. And this time it looks to him like Will got his dream school without even wanting it.
      Will: Cause I don't say things like big poopy?
      Carlton: Why don't you go back to Philly?
      Will:: Do I detect a little hostility? You owe me some flowers mister!
  • Carlton losing his virginity in "It's Better to Have Loved and Lost It..." — First, he's made fun of by Will and their friends for being the only one among them to not have had sex, and is further ridiculed when he explains he's waiting for the right person. And he seemingly does in Jo Ann. They have sex after a date and Carlton is thrilled not only because of the sex but because he believes he's finally met the woman of his dreams... only to later find out she's married and was using him to get over her issues with her husband before coldly telling that the sex was a one-time thing. Carlton is crushed, to say the least.
  • A small one, but early in Season 2, when Phil's mother finds a new date a while after his father's death, Phil is rather upset and has a hard time even being civil to the new man. Eventually, he even ends up accusing her of not missing her husband at all, leading to the following exchange.
    Phil: Don't you feel anything for dad, anything at all?
    Hattie: You really wanna know how I feel? I'l tell you. I'm angry, Zeke.
    Phil: Angry? Why, Mama?
    Hattie: Because he promised he'd never leave me. Crazy as it may seem, I believed him. One morning last month, I woke up early. Went downstairs singing. Got a big breakfast on the stove. Suddenly I realized I was the only one there to eat it. Remembering is easy, Zeke. It's the times I forget he's gone that I can't stand.
    Phil: I'm sorry, Mama. It's just that I lost Dad and when I saw you with Ed, I was afraid I was gonna lose you, too.
    Hattie: You're not going to lose me, Zeke. 'Course, you may have to loan me out on occasion.
  • Uncle Phil's Broken Pedestal towards Judge Robertson was Played for Laughs, but it becomes this when you take into account one small yet significant detail. Judge Robertson's first name was Carl, and Uncle Phil's first son's name is Carlton. It's almost certain that Uncle Phil named his first son after his mentor because he respected the man so highly. To see a man he respected so highly become a corrupt politician who is willing to defame his own protege's character probably hurt him way more than he was showing.
  • In "I, Stank Horse", Carlton is devastated when he learns that the horse he bet on at the horse track is to be euthanized on the orders of the track owners due to being "too old and slow", and no longer in the physical shape to win races. The almost apathetic manner in which the doctor announces this to him does not help matters at all. Naturally, Carlton goes to great lengths to see that the poor animal is spared such an unfair fate, going so far as to sneak him home with Hilary's help. One must hope that upon being caught, Carlton convinced his folks to use their influence to see that the horse was given a new lease on life.
  • James Avery's death in 2013.
    • In the 2020 Reunion special, after watching a compilation video of James as Uncle Phil, the whole cast was left in tears.