Though you can still find it somewhere on TV just about any time of day, it’s been 25 years since the first episode of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” debuted on Sept. 10, 1990.
The series that launched rapper Will Smith as an actor — maybe you’ve heard of him? — ran for six seasons on NBC. In that time, viewers came to love Will, an LA transplant from Philadelphia, who moved in with his wealthy aunt, uncle and cousins. (They also fell in love with the Carlton dance.)
While it was a sitcom at heart, “The Fresh Prince” also tried fairly regularly to make those tuning in cry. Join Zap2it in looking back at five of the show’s most emotional moments and see how long you can hold back your tears.
1. Season 1, episode 6: ‘Mistaken Identity’
It was early in the first season when “Fresh Prince” decided to tackle important social issues like racial profiling. In “Mistaken identity,” Will and Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro) are arrested for doing little else then being black and driving a Mercedes at night.
While the event isn’t all that surprising to Will or Uncle Phil (James Avery), seeing Carlton try to justify what they were put through is tough to watch. Growing up as he did, he has trouble voicing out loud that such injustices are a reality. Still, viewers can hear in his tone how shocked he is upon realizing what the world can really be like.
2. Season 3, episode 19: ‘Just Say Yo’
It’s not uncommon for a sitcom to have a “very special episode” dedicated to drug use. For “Fresh Prince,” that meant Carlton almost dying after mistakenly taking drugs he found in Will’s locker.
Though his cousin lived, Will was racked with guilt and couldn’t stop the tears when he finally admitted to his family what he’d done. Failing the family that took him in is that last thing Will ever wanted to do, but admitting how he’d put one of their lives in danger may have been the hardest.
3. Season 4, episode 8: ‘Blood is Thicker Than Mud’
Throughout the series, Will constantly poked fun at Carlton for the music he listened to and the way he dressed. His ribbing was always with love, though. When Carlton was denied membership in a black fraternity because of who he is, that didn’t sit well with Will.
In a moment that showed how much he’d had grown since the first season, Carlton stood up for himself in the face of someone questioning his race simply because of his upbringing. “Being black isn’t what I’m trying to be, it’s what I am,” he says in one of Ribeiro’s finest moments on the show. “I’m running the same race and jumping the same hurdles you are, so why are you tripping me up?”
4. Season 4, episode 24: ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Excuse’
While this may go down as the most emotional moment in the show’s history, it’s also one that was completely improvised by Smith. After Will’s father disappears from his life, he was originally scripted to shrug it off.
Instead, Smith delivered one of the best performances of his career with a powerful monologue about how he’s gotten so far without his dad and doesn’t need him — while all he really wants to know is why his father would abandon him. Many thought this was because Smith’s own father abandoned him, but the actor has confirmed that’s not the case.
5. Season 5, episode 15: ‘Bullets Over Bel-Air’
It wasn’t often violence came to “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” but when it did it carried a heavy weight. After being mugged alongside Will — who was shot — Carlton was living in fear and decided carrying a gun was the best solution to his problem.
That leads to a showdown between the cousins, with a hospitalized Will being the voice of reason, telling Carlton that roaming the streets with a gun isn’t the answer. “That’s not you, man,” he tells his cousin. “That’s them.” It’s only after Carlton finally hands over the firearm and leaves that the full realization of what could have have been had Carlton used the gun hits Will full force.