We love the 90s sitcom, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, where we all first fell in love with Will Smith as an actor. This hilarious sitcom was one of the first to touch on a rich, black family in the United States, and these characters are full of quirkiness and charm. While we may laugh at all of the ridiculous scenes the show has to offer, this sitcom also did quite an impressive job at tackling some real life issues. Some may be more obvious than others, but it's important to think about what exactly I am laughing at? Here are 10 episodes of this hit show that actually tackled some pretty deep issues.
10 "Mistaken Identity" (Season 1, Episode 6)
This episode is not trying to hide anything. When Carlton and Will end up driving one of Philip's rich friend's cars to Palm Springs, they are pulled over by a police officer. The officer immediately suspects that these two young, African-American boys most definitely stole the car, and arrest them on the spot. This episode is supplemented with some hilarious Will moments and a weird dude in the jail cell, but the deeper message of this one hits incredibly deep. They did an incredible job portraying this tragic phenomenon that is faced by too many. Carlton's internal dilemma in this episode and Will's total acceptance of this event are definitely honest and eye-opening.
9 "The Ethnic Tip" (Season 1, Episode 17)
When Will proposes a black history class at Bel-Air academy, Vivian signs up to teach it. Of course, Will and Carlton expect an easy A in the course. However, to their dismay, Vivian assigns them extra homework and teaches them that there is so much more to learn about regarding their struggle for equal rights, and that it should not be trivialized. This episode is comedic, but the ultimate lesson is pretty hard hitting, and ends with the staggering Malcolm X quote: "Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs for those who prepare for it today".
8 "72 Hours" (Season 1, Episode 23)
In this episode, Will makes a bet with Carlton that he wouldn't last a weekend in Jazz's neighborhood. Carlton accepts, and goes all out (we're talking bandanas and full on thug-like clothing). Then Carlton says he will go to MacArthur Park during the night, which Will knows is actually incredibly dangerous. Will ends up calling his parents to rescue him out of fear for Carlton's safety. While this episode is riddled with a ridiculous Carlton and a seemingly innocent bet, it actually touches on a much larger issue. These neighborhoods aren't just a joke, and honestly, they can be incredibly scary at night for young folk. This episode tackles the systemic nature of these places, and does so quite brilliantly.
7 "Granny Gets Busy" (Season 2, Episode 5)
When Carlton, Will, Ashley, and Hilary fight over gender, they make a bet that each pair can do something that the "opposite gender" should be able to do better. Ashley and Hilary build an exercise bike, and Carlton and Will sew a dress. When they're both finished, they all concede to calling it a tie. As it turns out, they all did a pretty decent job. This episode is pretty hilarious, but it's also kind of touching and actually pretty progressive for its time. Throw those gender stereotypes out the window, bud.
6 "Guess Who's Coming to Marry?" (Season 2, Episode 6)
When Will's Aunt Janice is about to marry her fiance, the entire family arrives at the Banks' house. However, tensions arise when the family finds out that Janice's fiance is a white man. Vy, Will's mom, refuses to attend the wedding and insists that Will doesn't either. Eventually, the family convinces her that love is more important than race, and they all attend the wedding to watch the happy couple get married. During this decade, interracial marriage was not as common, and we're applauding this show for tackling this theme and proving that love conquers all.
5 "Just Say Yo" (Season 3, Episode 19)
When Will is struggling to juggle basketball, school, family, and his social life, a friend offers him the drug Speed. He debates it, but decides against it and puts the drugs in his locker. Unfortunately, Carlton stumbles upon them, and not knowing what they were, takes them. He ends up in the hospital. While this sitcom usually takes a comedic spin on things, this episode is a huge nod towards education of drugs, and to the problem that high schools have with drug-taking as a solution to a stressful life. Bravo, writers.
4 "Blood is Thicker Than Mud" (Season 4, Episode 8)
Will and Carlton endure hazing as they try to pledge Phi Beta Gamma, a black fraternity at their college. However, the president of the frat despises Carlton for his wealth, as he equates being "black" to being working-class. He ends up denying Carlton entry even after making him endure brutal tasks. As a result, Will also refuses to join, and the other members of the frat ridicule the president for his prejudice bias. Upon hearing about this, Uncle Phil feels distant from his race. This episode tackles racial unity and how the system often turns people against each other, but that class shouldn't matter in the end.
3 "You've Got to Be a Football Hero" (Season 4, Episode 12)
When Will is challenged to a drinking contest, he consumes way too much alcohol and ends up collapsing in a cemetery. Will is confronted by four philosophical ghosts, who help him realize how dangerous and foolish it can be to drink so much. He also meets the ghost of a child who was killed by a drunk driver. While this episode literally has fake ghosts in it, the humor is only a piece of what this episode is trying to convey. Alcohol is a serious problem for young people (and old), and drunk driving can quite literally end someone's life. This message isn't all just a laughing matter.
2 "Papa's Got a Brand New Excuse" (Season 4, Episode 24)
When Will's father shows up in Bel-Air after 14 years of not seeing his son, Will is overjoyed by the chance to connect with him. However, it becomes evident that Lou only showed up for selfish reasons, and tries to leave again. Phil makes him explain to Will and say goodbye, which he does. However, this leaves Will heartbroken and feeling like his own father doesn't even want him. This scene is POWERFUL, and you're lying if it didn't make you tear up a little. This episode tackles what it's like to have an absent parent, but also how incredible it is to have other figures in our lives. Phil becomes Will's dad, and this heartwarming moment has us all in total admiration.
1 "Will's Misery" (Season 5, Episode 6)
When Will wins a date with Lisa, he discovers that she's part of a society that finds men disrespectful and vile. She ends up tying Will to a chair, and recruits a few other women to play pranks on him. The scene where Will discovers that Carlton set this whole thing up as a giant prank is pretty memorable (like Will is literally trying to burn through ropes with a candle). It turns out, Carlton wanted to teach Will a lesson about respecting women. While absolutely hilarious, this message stands, and we're loving this show's attempt at making sure that women aren't just treated as objects. Also, we're pretty sure Will learned his lesson.