Will Smith (himself) and Carlton Banks (Alfonso Ribeiro) are in jail on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990)

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When it comes to TV shows, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air sits among some of the most popular series to ever grace the small screen. The Will Smith-led comedy painted a humorous, yet grounded, portrait of an affluent Black family dealing with the ups and downs of everyday life. Those “downs” in particular were covered in a number of the show’s more serious installments or as many sitcoms used to call them, “very special episodes.” Those particular stories were standouts for Fresh Prince, and series alum Alfonso Ribeiro recently opened up about the episodes and where the ideas for the stories came from.

Alfonso Ribeiro, known affectionately for his role as Carlton Banks, is well aware of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s far-reaching legacy and understands just how important those “very special episodes'' were. During a recent appearance on The Kelly Clarkson Show, he explained that the premise allowed the show to tackle a variety of issues in a multifaceted way. Ribeiro made this point, by recalling one of the show’s most famous episodes, which sees Will and Carlton get pulled over by police:

The storylines always seemed to work because they came from real places. They came from real experiences that we all had to deal with. So, one episode where we’re pulled over by the police, right? And the idea that Carlton, right, was just like, ‘He pulled us over because we’re speeding. It’s not because we’re Black.’ He treated us this way because he understood right and wrong, that’s all he knew. So, you could touch on these subjects without really being preachy and really saying, ‘This is how it is.’

Will and Carlton’s varied views on life sometimes served as a source of strife, especially early in the show’s run but, as Alfonso Ribeiro and Kelly Clarkson both mentioned, they led to some interesting conversations. That episode, “Mistaken Identity,” tackled racism, and the actor is pleased that the show managed to approach crucial topics like this:

In every aspect of life, there are mirrors, and we are a mirror to every aspect of society. And so what was wonderful was being able to say that and show those stories, and have those real conversations. And a lot of those conversations happened on set as we were getting ready to film it.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air did a masterful job of balancing the comedy with the seriousness of the issues of the day. Not only did these episodes add new layers to the characters, but they also left viewers with a few things to ponder. Those episodes and more are available to stream on HBO Max, which you can sign up for using this link.

The “very special episodes” of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air only added to the rich legacy of the show and, to me, the show is only better for having them. And while it’s still only in development, it looks like the upcoming “reimagining” will follow in the footsteps of the original by not shying away from important topics.

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