Janet Hubert and Will Smith bury the hatchet after some cutting words, but not everyone was down for this reconciliation
THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL-AIR REUNION (Marcus Raboy) 74 min. Now streaming on Crave.
The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air Reunion is a satisfying nostalgia trip for one of the most iconic shows in our lifetime. Thirty years after the pilot plucked Will Smith from touring with DJ Jazzy Jeff and gave him a marquee show, the surviving cast got together to reminisce on their favourite moments in front of, and behind, the camera. Of course, the headline moment is Aunt Viv’s return. The original Aunt Viv, that is.
Smith teased fans months ago that actor Janet Hubert would join the reunion, burying the beef they’ve carried ever since she was replaced on the show by Daphne Maxwell Reid 27 years ago. But their open-heart session wasn’t the only highlight from the Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air reunion.
Here are five favourite moments.
Smith recalls how the show was pitched by Benny Medina, the creator whose life experience moving from Watts to Beverly Hills was the basis for the show. According to Smith, Medina invited him to Quincy Jones’s birthday. After an introduction, the music mogul, who had a few drinks and all the heads of NBC in his living room, “steamrolled” Smith through a makeshift audition. He only gave the rapper 10 minutes to prep for his first bid at acting.
“They did a deal memo that night,” says Smith. They were on set six weeks later.
According to DJ Jazzy Jeff, Smith attended that birthday party on a day off from touring in Detroit. “Will flew and came back and said, ‘I got a TV show.’”
Karyn Parsons, who played Hilary, recollects how annoying it was during shooting to watch Smith mouth her lines as she said them.
Smith learned everybody’s lines. And as a first-time actor, he had a unique tick, where he would whisper other people’s lines to himself. You could actually see him doing it in the earliest episodes until the creative team staged an intervention, showing him on-camera what he was doing.
Every reunion or piece of promo talks about how important, impactful or relevant a thing is. But when Tatyana Ali, who played Ashley, gets into it on the Fresh Prince reunion, she makes it count. She talks about where the show sat on the spectrum of Black entertainment, from Paul Robeson to now. She hits on who opened the doors for The Fresh Prince and how much more it achieved.
And the cast all chimed in to discuss the voice and input they would have over the all-white writers’ room to keep the characters and situations real. And the realness meant so much in the rare popular sitcom that regularly dealt with over-policing of Black communities and other matters of class and opportunity.
You think we’d have been ready. The reunion’s trailer teased bits from the cast recalling their moments with the late James Avery, who played Uncle Phil. But nothing could have prepared us for recollections of how Avery’s passion, politics and power offscreen infused not only his performances but also those of his cast mates. The moment when we learn how much of a hand Avery had in drawing out Smith’s strongest performances is a tearjerker.
“People don’t even know when they’re shaping you and crafting you and forming you,” Smith says. “He knew.”
There’s room for cynicism over this make-up session between Smith and Hubert, who exchanged nothing but vitriol or dismissals at each other for nearly three decades. Nothing brings age-old enemies together like the opportunity to cash in on a reunion.
Thankfully, Hubert brings the realness, and Smith wisely takes it. She immediately asks, “Why so far? You guys went so far. I lost so much.”
Without getting into full details, Hubert dredges up the animosity on set, the fourth season salary she refused to accept and how Smith labelled her a difficult woman in the years since. She also points out that she was going through an abusive marriage while pregnant on set.
“I was driven by fear,” says Smith, who for the most part listens. His only excuse is his youth and lack of empathy at the time for what anyone beyond a 21-year-old celebrity could be going through.
“It was you who banished me,” she says at one point. “You know those words. Calling a Black woman difficult in Hollywood is the kiss of death. It’s hard enough being a dark-skinned Black woman in this business.”
Whether they got together and had this conversation for the Banks family legacy or simply for the bank, these are words we needed to hear.
A few eagle-eyed viewers noticed that not everyone was down for the reconciliation. Alfonso Ribeiro, who played Carlton, was curiously absent when Hubert arrived on set for some hugs.
“Janet called him a media hoe and ‘Will’s ass wipe’ and a bunch of other lovely things,” said Bee Quammie, co-host of the AM640 radio show kultur’D. “So they’re gonna need Jada’s red table to get through that healing.”
The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air Reunion is currently streaming on Crave Canada.