The sixth season of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air seemed to put a fitting conclusion to the show. They had hit that magical fifth year of syndication, and the show's star Will Smith had just had a solid success in the summer before the sixth season with Bad Boys and was about to embark on bigger and better things with his next film after the show ended, a sleepy project named Independence Day. So while the final season served as a slight celebratory lap for nostalgia's sake, the underlying impact Smith would have on the summer box office couldn't be ignored.
For those unfamiliar with the tale of the Fresh Prince, he was just "shooting some b-ball outside of the school when a couple of guys, they were up to no good." They started picking a fight with him and as a result, his "mom got scared and said 'You're moving with your auntie (Daphne Reid) and uncle (James Avery) in Bel-Air." The Banks family had several children, including the oldest Hilary (Karyn Parsons), the middle child, son Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro) and the youngest Ashley (Tatyana Ali). Midway through the show's existence the Banks added another son, named Nicky (Ross Bagley), who all had a butler named Geoffrey (Joseph Marcell) at their beck and call. But the show remained a starring vehicle for Smith throughout, despite the various levels of scene-chewing that the supporting cast would employ. It was Will's brash and outgoing nature that would soften the Banks' collective stiff upper lip.
There are very little hidden wrinkles to the show, as the format is a by the book sitcom. In most cases, Will does something silly that could potentially get his family mad at him (or a character encounters a particular problem), and it's usually resolved in 23 minutes. Looking back at the show now while some of the clownish mugging and yelling can grate on one's nerves, there was an occasional moment of subversion, most of which surrounded Smith's streetwise sense clashing with the Bel-Air neighborhood. Considering the show was airing episodes shortly after the L.A. Riots, they might not have known it was a bold move to include those for jokes, but kudos nonetheless.
That aside, most, if not all of the comedic ground the show could mine had already been done when it came to its sixth season. Though Smith's broader Hollywood exposure (combined with longtime music producer Quincy Jones' involvement in the show's production) helped land marquee television names like Regis Philbin and Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner. An earlier episode in the season titled "Get a Job" when Chris Rock appears both as a comic (humorously described as a "Martin Lawrence knock off" by Will) and the comic's sister, much in the same vein of Lawrence's Sha-Nay-Nay character of the same era. Although seeing Rock in a blonde wig and drag is something you can't unsee.
The hidden gem in the season is "I, Whoops, There It Is," a clip show mainly comprised of bloopers, with Smith interviewing the cast in the hopes of submitting the episode to Dick Clark for airing. This has always had a soft spot in my heart because in an age where blooper and gag reels are included as an extra, this episode has always been at the top of my list. When the cast makes flubs (particularly Smith and Ribeiro), they go all out, or ham up a flub for the camera and make it funnier than perhaps it had any right to be. Along with the cast interviews, we also see the pre-show ritual the cast and crew has, with Smith and Ribeiro (among others) dancing to the Sugarhill Gang's song "Apache," a.k.a "Jump On It." Seeing the cast in this lighter moment even after six seasons make their departure sad, but the timing appeared to be right with all involved.
The final season of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air strictly from a content perspective does not bring anything new to the table; if anything the show has not aged well at all in the 15 years since it went off the air. But for novelty's sake, it's fun to see Smith just before he got Godzilla big for the movie studios and America, and seeing him in an environment he arguably hasn't had much time in since is worth taking a gander at.
The last season of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air has a 24-episode run spread out over three discs, and all of the episodes are in full-frame viewing. There really is not much to get worked up about here, the image looks natural without any noticeable edge enhancement or image noise that isn't inherent in the source material. The straightforward video presentation comes through when you're watching the show.
Two-channel stereo for all of the episodes. I wasn't really expecting much and for its time the show shows clear as can be on DVD. All of the action occurs in the front channels without little in the way of rear speaker or subwoofer activity. Dialogue sounds clear and there is no hissing or background distractions when listening to the shows. It's acceptable listening material.
Nine hours, three discs, no extras. For shame Warner, for shame.
There isn't much of an argument for buying The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, to be honest. There are no extras and one can presume a boxed series set will be in the offing at some point down the road. Technically it's not winning anyone over, but the material is worth looking at here and there, particularly for the series finale which has an underlying poignancy when you see what Smith has done since. But I wouldn't go further than renting this for the curious.