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Carlton Banks doesn't get enough credit for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air's success

  • The NBC comedy, celebrated its 30th anniversary on Thursday, "was Carlton’s story as much as it was Will’s," says Julian Kimble of Alfonso Ribeiro's character. "His life was altered by Will’s presence just as much as being thrust into the upper class changed Will’s. It’s easy to paint Will as objectively 'cooler' than Carlton, but their dynamic isn’t that simple to describe. Carlton was an elitist Black Republican who believed capitalism and following a very narrow path of respectability would lead him to everything he wanted in life. He was frequently the subject of Will’s ridicule, but he was equally antagonistic: Perceived mental superiority and a condescending tone were his weapons of choice. Flaws considered, Carlton had layers that prevented him from being a one-dimensional snob. His insecurities humanized him. Part of the reason Carlton was so singularly focused on success was because he felt immense pressure to live up to the standard his high-achieving parents set. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air explored the connection between race and class in America that factored heavily into Carlton’s identity. And the older he got, the more he was forced to reckon with his identity in relation to his privilege. All of the above made for an intriguing character. There’s a reason Carlton Banks stands out after 30 years, aside from being responsible for a dance so iconic that it was recently at the center of a lawsuit against Fortnite. The tension between Carlton and Will was the tension at the heart of the show. Carlton was the more complex character because he wasn’t as easy to digest or categorize. But even if you disagreed with his politics or wanted to slap the haughtiness out of him, you were able to empathize with him. Love Carlton Banks or hate him, he was genuine."


    • Fresh Prince's iconic hug scene almost never happened: "There is one episode that stands head and shoulders above the rest," says Helena Andrews-Dyer in looking back at the 1994 episode. "It is Fresh Prince’s most iconic half-hour — the moment in which Will, the goof who plays it cool, became human, and (Will) Smith became an actor. 'Papa’s Got a Brand New Excuse' was a watershed 23 minutes for the situational comedy, which, until that moment, hadn’t fully explored the emotional depths of Smith’s character. The episode featured the man-hug loved (and memed) around the world as Uncle Phil (James Avery) doesn’t so much embrace as completely envelop his nephew, who is coming to grips with the loss of his absentee father for a second time." Andrews-Dyer adds that despite what fans may believe, the scene wasn't improvised. It came in the aftermath of Smith's first starring film role in Six Degrees of Separation, and was intended to show off his acting chops. “We tried to make him not a bad guy — sympathetic,” explained David Zuckerman, who wrote “Papa’s Got a Brand New Excuse” with veteran TV writer Bill Boulware after an initially disastrous table read of a different script had cast Will’s father, Lou (to be played by Broadway alum Ben Vereen), as a pool shark who breezes into town.
    • Fresh Prince co-creator Andy Borowitz recalls the show's development and naming Carlton Banks after Lost's Carlton Cuse, his college friend: "In 1990, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince were kind of on the hip-hop scrap heap," says Borowitz. "Will’s hits, like 'Parents Just Don’t Understand,' were a few years behind him, and the record industry considered him old news, with newer and edgier acts like 2 Live Crew grabbing the spotlight. Will was also massively in debt to the IRS, one of the occupational hazards of being having a hit record when you’re a teenager and spending all your money on crap. So, given the mess he was in, he observed a longstanding showbiz tradition of people whose careers were in trouble: he agreed to do a sitcom. The same year, fading movie star Burt Reynolds did the same thing—his show, Evening Shade, was scheduled directly opposite Fresh Prince."
    • Recalling the beef between Will Smith and original Aunt Vivian Janet Hubert in wake of their HBO Max reunion: "Hubert was pregnant during the show’s third season, which ended with Aunt Vivian giving birth to the Banks’ youngest child Nicky," says Laura Bradley. "During an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Hubert revealed that she’d worked up until two days before she gave birth—and that when she returned, she found out her role had been recast. (Daphne Reid took over the role in Season 4.) Hubert went so far as to sue Smith and NBC that same year for defamation, invasion of privacy, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Her suit alleged that Smith became hostile after she got pregnant and lobbied NBC to reduce her salary and screen-time, per the Chicago Tribune. During talk shows, she claimed, Smith had said she frequently 'gave me the middle finger and stormed off the set'—accusations she said hurt her marketability as a performer. Hubert lost the suit."

    TOPICS: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Alfonso Ribeiro, Andy Borowitz, Carlton Cuse, David Zuckerman, Janet Hubert, Will Smith, Retro TV