"The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" was a groundbreaking show that helped shape not only television but pop culture. It as a show featuring a black family but it wasn't just about racial identity. The characters were rich, flawed and multidimensional. The show didn't shy away from discussing racial issues or any other hot-button topic. It was brave, original and above all else, funny. Every show has it's lines that just don't land the same after a while. Some jokes have a cultural shelflife. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is certainly no exception. Some of the lines were pushing it even when the show aired, after more than a decade of cultural change they haven't gotten less controversial.
10 DJ Jazzy Creep
A staple of the show is the obsessive crush of Will's best friend on his cousin Witney. The determined DJ is shot down every time he approaches the lovely miss Banks. She's very direct and forthcoming about how she feels. She's never been coy or dishonest. These pick up lines were creepy and heavy-handed even in the 1990s but now they're downright awful. We've advanced a lot as a society. Women are no longer expected to accept sexual harassment as a personality trait. We now expect men to stop pursuing women who show no interest. Long gone are the days of encouraging guys to never give up.
9 Brutal Humor
As uncle Phil works in the field of law the show frequently includes scenes set in courtrooms. In the episode, "Cased Up" Jazz and Will find themselves before a judge. Jazz raises both hands above his head as if he were being confronted by the police. Uncle Phil implores him to lower his arms. Jazz looks over at the courtroom bailiff suspiciously. "Nah, he's got a gun.
I lower my hands and the next thing you know I've got 6 warning shots in my back.". The line was certainly topical and macabre even in the 1990s. The laugh track played after it demonstrates a different attitude toward police brutality than our current culture holds. Perhaps it's because people are tired of waiting for progress but in 2019, this line isn't a charming nod toward a social issue. It's a chilling reminder of an all-out crisis.
8 Shoots And Misses
It wasn't just the jokes in this episode that missed the mark, but the whole premise. In the episode, "My Brother's Keeper" Will is being scouted for a big scholarship. His basketball skills appear to be his ticket to his own future success. The only problem is, he's not alone in the running. Will has competition for the scholarship. The other player just so happens to be a young father. Once Will finds this out he decides to throw the game thinking his opponent needs the free ride more. Will's opponent makes a fine point, he has plenty of opportunities for success. He's more than his athletic ability. Implying the only way a black man can become wealthy is by playing basketball would not fly today.
7 Pleasure Island
There have been several instances of homophobic humor on the show. After all, it was produced in the 1990s when it was largely socially acceptable to pick on someone for their sexual orientation. Thankfully we've evolved as a society and become more inclusive. In this particular instance, uncle Phil attempts to open up and praise Will in a pirate-themed restaurant. After baring his soul to the man he believes to be his nephew the server turns around and reveals the mistake. He rebukes what he believes is a come-on from the confused Philip. Then he points out that his parrot is on the left shoulder, not the right. This is a nod to the outdated stereotype that gay men pierced their right ear as a sign of their sexual preference. Not only is the stereotype silly but it's so outdated that it's doubtful a current audience would even catch the joke.
6 Leave Whitney Alone
DJ Jazzy Jeff is one of the most colorful characters on the show. He's large than life and often problematic. He has plenty of other redeeming qualities too. Jazz is a great lover of the incredibly talented Whitney Houston. Several times on the show he was seen carrying around a lifesize cardboard cut out of the recording artist and actress. At one point the cut-out is swapped out for Bill Cosby.
Will asks his best friend what happened to Whitney and Jazz delivers a reply that breaks hearts today. "She fell apart in the shower" Jazz replies. Obviously there was no way the show's writers could have predicted Whitney's tragic death in her bathtub in 2012. For anyone still mourning the loss of this colossal talent would likely feel the sting of this line.
There were so many celebrity guest stars on the show that it's easy to forget a few. It's hard to believe but even the president of the United States made an appearance. Of course, he wasn't president then and no one saw his election coming either. Donald Trump and his then-wife appeared on The Fresh Prince Of BelAir as themselves. In the episode, they're looking into buying the Bas' home. The Donald delivers a line that just doesn't have the same care-free impact that it had n the 1990s. "Everyone blames me for everything" he claims with a coy smile implying that he's responsible for plenty but not fessing up.
4 Tone Deaf
There is a lot of color preference talk surrounding The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. When the actor portraying Aunt Viv was suddenly recast many fans theorized that it was because the actor replacing her had a different complexion. In the episode, "Blood Is Thicker Than Mud" Carlton is criticized for his personality and choices. Many of his peers accuse him of selling out and acting "white". At one point Will is accused of "looking a little pale" for hanging out with his prim and proper cousin.
This joke is wrong on so many levels. The black community has dealt with skin tone preference for a long time. The issue has been a problem both within the community itself and from the outside world. People with beautiful dark complexions have been treated as "less than" than those who have lighter skin. Not only is the reference to skin tone uncool but this episode treats black men as if they're only allowed to behave one way. It implies there is only one way to act "black".
3 Phil Shaming
Will is a flawed character. He has a lot of problematic behaviors. In the 1990s it wasn't uncommon to hear quite a lot of uncomfortable jokes about people's bodies. Size acceptance wasn't exactly mainstream. Will's character owes a lot to uncle Phil. For example, he provides for him financially and treats him like a son. None of that love or generosity is enough to get Will to treat his uncle with respect. He constantly makes rude jokes about everything from Phil's waist size to his appetite. The man can't eat a meal in peace in his own home. This kind of judgment just isn't okay anymore.
Geoffrey is arguably the funniest character on The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. His wit knows no match. He has dedicated his life to serving others as a talented and highly trained butler. Will seems to have a hard time treating anyone with respect but his toxicity toward the staff is on another level. It's not just Will who has been known to crack jokes at Geoffrey's expense. Carlton and Hilary have both looked down their nose at their noble caretaker. Rewatching episodes in which Geoffrey is treated poorly is really hard for the audience of today. Just having domestic staff has become passe. Treating them poorly is downright outdated.
1 Poor Ashley
Long gone are the days of male relatives casually policing women's bodies and lives. It's no longer seen as "cute" or "protective" for older brothers, male cousins or fathers to guard their family members like possessions. Unfortunately for Ashley Banks, these cultural shifts weren't quite as far along in the 1990s. In the episode "Not With My Cousin You Don't" Will and Carlton overhear Ashley talking about "doing the deed" with her friends. Instead of doing something appropriate lie minding their own business the pair decide to meddle in and control the young lady's life. Toward the end of the episode, Ashley tells her cousin that she didn't do anything with her date. Will makes a celebratory gesture and the laugh track is qued. Not only is this uncool but it's also pretty creepy. Girls don't belong to anyone.