The Second Season
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is the show that started Will Smith's acting career. It is a family oriented sitcom about the culture clashes of an African-American family living in Bel-Air, California. The main star of the show, Will Smith, plays Will Smith, and when he gets into a little trouble back home in West Philadelphia, his mother sends him to live with his aunt and uncle in Bel-Air. Since Smith grew up in a completely different environment than his cousins Carlton, Ashley, and Hilary, there are plenty of jokes from their indifferences. Like many, I grew up watching this show and I have very fond memories of it. Before this review, it had been a few years since I last saw an episode and I was looking forward to seeing the Prince in action once again. Unfortunately I found that the show is not nearly as funny as I used to think it was. It is funny enough that it is worth watching an episode here and there.
In general what I find attractive about this series is not its stories, as most of them are pretty similar to every other sitcom out there and sometimes they get beyond cheesy and a little hard to stomach. Instead it is the characters. They are all very animated and the goofy way they act together makes them funny and likeable. And while the stories tend to get cheesy, the characters never feel that way, despite their over the top attitudes.
In the series' first season, the general premise was setup, the characters outlined, etc. Smith was slowly adapting to his new way of life, as well as the Banks household getting accustomed to having him around. By the time we hit the second season, Smith has obviously found his niche. He is no longer the tough street kid from Philly, but a kid who thinks he's a tough guy living in a million dollar mansion and thoroughly enjoying the fruits of life. This brings up a silly, but serious episode "Will Gets a Job". The homecoming dance is coming up and Will asks Uncle Phil for money to pay for his tux, tickets, dinner, etc. After realizing he has become soft and taking the easy way out, he gets a job to pay his own way. What made this a funny episode are the small things that happen in it. Will's basic reaction to finding out people think he's becoming a lot like his cousin Carlton, Ashley's childish behavior, Will's work clothing, and much more are what deliver the comedy.
In terms of funny and serious episodes, there are quite a lot. Each episode tends to have a serious bed manner that is offset by Will's (and the other cast member's) goofy behavior. In "Guess Who's Coming To Marry?" the family goes through a different kind of culture shock. Will's aunt is getting married and the husband turns out to be a Caucasian. Will's mom does not react well to her future brother-in-law and puts the family in quite a predicament by refusing to bless the marriage and vocally voicing her concern. What's funny about this episode is the general reaction by the family at first when they meet the future husband and the way Will tries to balance his mom's attitude with humor. The episode "Christmas Show" isn't quite funny, but it shows a nice tender side of the family. Will and all of his aunt's corresponding families go on a ski trip for Christmas. On Christmas Eve their cabin is robbed and the thieves didn't even leave the toilet paper. At first everyone is dark with despair, but they slowly find a way to keep the holiday spirit and rejoice in the fact they are all together. As previously mentioned, this episode just adds a nice tender likeable feeling to the characters.
Another fun episode is "The Big Four-Oh". Vivian is approaching the tender age of forty and she goes through a mid-life crisis, which leads her to returning to her former passion, dancing. The episode's main story about Vivian struggling to keep up with the twenty-something girls in dance class is worth a laugh, but the real fun comes from the confused state of the family trying to understand Vivian's sporadic behavior. The season finale has the funniest episode. Will and Carlton sell some of Vivian's jewelry to a pawn shop and invest the money in the stock market. Unfortunately, the stock tip Carlton received from a friend was completely off and they lose all of their money. In an effort to get enough money to buy back the jewelry, they get jobs as male strippers. It is a memorable episode that you can't help but love.
Overall this season offers twenty-four episodes of light hearted comedy that is family oriented. The characters are goofy and generally work well together to make common situations into a few laughs. This season set is good for a watch, but I can't say that it has aged very well. I have found that while I used to find the show very appealing, it is not nearly as good. The goofy demeanor of the characters can only make you laugh so many times before it starts to get slightly old.
1. Did the Earth Move for You?
2. The Mother of All Battles
3. Will Gets a Job
4. PSAT Pstory
5. Granny Gets Busy
6. Guess Who's Coming to Marry?
7. The Big Four-Oh
8. She Ain't Heavy
9. Cased Up
10. Hi-Ho Silver
11. The Butler Did It
12. Something For Nothing
13. Christmas Show
14. Hilary Gets a Life
15. My Brother's Keeper
16. Geoffrey Cleans Up
17. Community Action
18. Ill Will
19. Eyes on the Prize
20. Those Were the Days
21. Vying for Attention
22. The Aunt Who Came to Dinner
23. Be My Baby Tonight
24. Striptease for Two
The video has been re-mastered for DVD. It looks pretty good and is presented in its original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full frame color. The picture gets a little grainy and the darker segments tend to show it off more. There are hints of edge enhancement and color distortions from video compression. Overall a pretty average looking release.
The audio is given in English 2.0 Dolby digital stereo sound. The quality is average with respect to most TV on DVD releases. The track is fairly flat, dialogue is clear and easy to understand, and it includes a laugh track. There is little distinction between left and right channels. The release does come with subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
There are not a lot of extras included with this set. The first extra is Best Bits of Bel-Air. It is almost eight minutes of clips from the second season. The clips are organized in a way that the have specific meaning. For example one segment points out all of The Cosby Show references. The last item on the bill is Bel-Air Bloopers. It is a pretty traditional bloopers reel and offers some comical mishaps during filming.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is one of many television series that I hold in high regard. I grew up watching episodes of Will Smith getting into crazy situations with the Banks family and always enjoyed them. However, I have come to realize that the show is not quite as rich as some other sitcoms in its stories or dialogue. The characters are goofy enough to make you laugh, but typically the focus on comedy is the same thing in each episode. This season set is fun and worth sitting through, but I believe it has fairly low replay value.