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"The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" The Complete Sixth Season DVD Review

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: The Complete Sixth Season DVD cover art -- click to buy DVD from Amazon.com The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: Season Six (1995-96)
Show & DVD Details

Creators: Andy Borowitz, Susan Borowitz / Executive Producers: Quincy Jones, Jeff Pollack, Will Smith

Writers: Adam Markowitz, Joel Madison, Tom Devanney, Michael Soccio, Lisa Rosenthal, Matt Tarses, Robert Bruce, Jeff Pollack, Mort Scrivner, Larry Wilmore, Felicia D. Henderson, Kandace Yvette Williams, George Tricker, David Wyatt, Mary Beth Pemberton, Tanya Ward / Directors: Shelley Jensen, Madeline Cripe, Alfonso Ribeiro, Werner Walian

Regular Cast: Will Smith (Will Smith), James Avery (Philip Banks), Daphne Maxwell Reid (Vivian Banks), Alfonso Ribeiro (Carlton Banks), Karyn Parsons (Hilary Banks), Tatyana M. Ali (Ashley Banks), Joseph Marcell (Geoffrey Butler), Ross Bagley (Nicky Banks)

Recurring Characters: Jim Meskimen (Werner), Jeffrey A. Townes (Jazz), Jenifer Lewis (Helen), Virginia Capers (Hattie Banks), Bree Walker (Herself), Monica Allison (Michelle the Mail Carrier), Nicole Bilderback (Janet), Yunoka Doyle (Keesha), Ajai Sanders (Candace), Darryl Sivad (Fire Chief / Counselor), Jeff Maynard (Joel / Salesman), Spankee Rodgers (Student / Party Guest)

Notable Guest Stars: Robert Munns (Judge Walker), Chris Rock (Maurice Perry, Jasmine Perry), Joel Madison (Mr. Stimple), B.B. King (Pappy), Kevin Brief (Mr. Bradley), Chalante Phifer (Kyle), Michael Clarke Duncan (Tiny), Milo Ventimiglia (Party Guest #1), George Wallace (George Howlings), Jay Leno (Himself), Garcelle Beauvais (Sandra), Tamala Jones (Tiffany), Jaime Cardriche (Mad Dog), Jaleel White (Derek), Wayne Newton (Casino Manager), Zachery Ty Bryan (Steve), Vernée Watson-Johnson (Viola Smith), Elayn Taylor (Sylvia), Rosey Brown (Tiny Williams), Duane Martin (Dr. Duane), Galyn Görg (Helena), Dorien Wilson (Juggles), Joan Van Ark (Jewel Pemberton), Craig Kirkwood (Frederick), Richard Roundtree (Reverend Gordon Sims), Dick Clark (Himself), Allan Wasserman (Frank), Regis Philbin (Himself), Jim Jansen (Bob Mercer), William Shatner (Himself), Pat Crawford Brown (Lady), Isabel Sanford (Louise "Weezy "Jefferson), Sherman Hemsley (George Jefferson), Marla Gibbs (Florence Johnston), Conrad Bain (Philip Drummond), Gary Coleman (Arnold Jackson-Drummond)

Running Time: 537 Minutes (24 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio) / Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French; Not Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $29.98; DVD Release Date: April 19, 2011
Season 6 Airdates: September 18, 1995 - May 20, 1996
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s); Clear Keepcase in Cardboard Box

Buy The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air on DVD from Amazon.com: The Complete Sixth SeasonThe Complete Series


By the numbers, Will Smith is the biggest movie star in the world and he has been for some time. Before that, he was a rapper and a television star. While his standing in those industries was not on par with his future Hollywood clout, Smith had much success in each.
He began as a teenager, the MC latter half of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. The duo's first album, 1987's Rock the House, went gold. The second, He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper (1988), went triple platinum, and its hit single, "Parents Just Don't Understand", won the first Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance. Smith was living large, but perhaps a bit too large; underpayment of income tax earned a $2.8 million assessment from the IRS.

Nearly bankrupt, Smith signed a contract with NBC to star in his own sitcom. "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" was, as the title suggests, Smith's vehicle, parlaying his familiar handle and keeping him front and center. It was not a small gamble to put a 21-year-old rapper with no acting experience in primetime, but Smith's charisma and comedic chops were already established by his music. Beating the odds, the show was a hit, kicking off NBC's Monday night lineup for years to come and ranking around 20th among all network shows in viewership.

"The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" hangs onto its original opening title logo and sequence in its sixth and final season. Will Smith (Will Smith) freaks out, having realized he's just given his cousin Hilary nighttime cold medicine in the day.

The sixth and final season of "Fresh Prince" began in 1995 and though the Nielsen ratings were down, Smith's movie career was on the rise. In 1993, Smith had garnered critical notice for his turn in the acclaimed independent drama Six Degrees of Separation and he got a taste of box office success with a supporting role in the Whoopi Goldberg/Ted Danson comedy Made in America. The profitable Bad Boys, released in the spring of 1995, introduced Smith as a leading man of action cinema. In his summer hiatus that year, Smith shot Independence Day, which would become one of the highest-grossing films of all time.

From production of that big-budget, effects-heavy alien invasion flick, Smith returned to his television family, now wielding an executive producer credit. The ratings on "Fresh Prince" had put it on the verge of cancellation; Monday night follow-up "Blossom" had been axed in 1995 with identical numbers. Reportedly, "Fresh Prince" was saved by two things: passionate fan letters and reruns' strong ratings in syndication, the latter of which led station managers to oppose cancellation and agree to buy the final two seasons at inflated rates.

Will, Geoffrey, and the Banks family gather around for a celebration of Carlton's 21st birthday. Carlton Banks (Alfonso Ribeiro) performs his signature "It's Not Unusual" dance one last time in the closing moments of the series finale.

Smith's theme song is one of the most famous features of "Fresh Prince", so I'm sure even if you haven't seen the show, you know its premise, of a young, street-smart Philadelphian moving out west to live with his wealthy aunt and uncle in Los Angeles' affluent Bel-Air community. The kind of high concept which long thrived in television comedy, this starting point wasn't too important during the course of the show. "Fresh Prince" quickly became a family comedy, albeit with a family somewhat different from other sitcom units and comedy less middle-of-the-road.

Those qualities distinguished "Fresh Prince" back in the '90s and continue to do so today as the show prospers more in syndication than many of its better-rated contemporaries. That is in part because "Fresh Prince" feels ahead of its time. Sure, the references (2Pac, Biggie, the introduction of blue M & M's) are anchored to the time of production and the methods (multiple cameras, studio laughter, and establishing shots) are passé today. But the writing and comedy hold up better than in many other shows that aimed for audiences of all ages and tastes.
The series' tone is particularly winning: it's a little edgy in its barbs and banter and a little sweet in its foundation of family interactions. If either were less deftly handled, the show would be far less appealing. They aren't, though, and "Fresh Prince" thus remains something easy and enjoyable to watch any time you encounter it.

It used to be pretty easy to encounter, too, as a fixture on Nick at Nite from 2004 to 2009. Now, TBS airs it for an hour and a half on weekday mornings. That lessened accessibility makes the DVDs a lot more welcome. One of the shows most wanted on DVD, "Fresh Prince" made its debut in February 2005, with Warner Home Video releasing the first four seasons over the next eighteen months. With DVD sales slowing all over the place, Warner seemed to reconsider their plans for Smith's acting launchpad, going nearly four years without a new release. Then last May brought the penultimate season and now fans can complete their collections with this week's release of The Complete Sixth Season.

Judge Philip Banks (James Avery) is not pleased to be served a rice cake sandwich per his wife's new nutrition kick. Still high on a dentist's laughing gas, William Shatner and Will Smith clown around hilariously on the set of the talk show "Hilary."

In Season 6, Will Smith (Smith's character, that is) is 20 years old and still living with the Banks family, claiming the pool house on their mansion's premises. Though vaguely still attending Los Angeles University, Will also takes on a new job this year, getting hired as an assistant talent coordinator for the daytime talk show hosted by his ditzy, vain cousin Hilary (Karyn Parsons). Often, Will butts heads with self-centered Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro), his short, buttoned-down cousin, and portly patriarch Uncle Phil (James Avery), a respected judge to society and a butt of fat jokes at home. Rounding out the regular cast are matriarch Vivian (Daphne Maxwell Reid), hormonal teenaged daughter Ashley (Tatyana Ali), young son Nicky (Ross Bagley), and amusing courteous yet impatient British butler Geoffrey (Joseph Marcell), whom Will calls "G."

Season 6 boasts an impressive amount of guest stars. In between "Saturday Night Live" and stand-up success, Chris Rock appears both as a comedian and, in drag, his sister. Music icons B.B. King and Wayne Newton play small roles, while Smith's old collaborator Jeffrey A. Townes (better known as DJ Jazzy Jeff) maintains his diverting presence as Jazz in a handful of appearances. Also recurring is Jenifer Lewis, returning as sassy Aunt Helen in 1˝ of the season's three 2-parters. A couple of TV personalities laughed both at and with appear: Jay Leno tapes a monologue gag, while Jaleel White tries to shake his Steve Urkel image (the same time "Family Matters" began regularly using his alternate Stefan Urquelle persona) playing Ashley's long-distance boyfriend.
Watch a clip from the final season of "Fresh Prince":
Also turning up: William Shatner, Regis Philbin, Dick Clark, eldest "Home Improvement" son Zachery Ty Bryan, and, reprising their most famous roles in the series finale, Conrad Bain and Gary Coleman of "Diff'rent Strokes" and Sherman Hemsley, Isabel Sanford, and Marla Gibbs from "The Jeffersons."

While Smith's rap career wasn't incorporated, music still featured more prominently in "Fresh Prince" than in most sitcoms. Though some studios have found DVD licensing costs insurmountable on certain shows, leaving them either unreleased ("WKRP in Cincinnati", "The Wonder Years") or with song replacements ("Happy Days", "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch"), Warner has quietly and thankfully cleared evidently every tune featured or sung in this final season. That is not some trivial feat. There are quite a few recognizable songs briefly heard within. Among them: Chic's "Le Freak", Soul for Real's "Every Little Thing I Do", Naughty by Nature's "Feel Me Flow", Sugarhill Gang's "Apache" (twice), Jennifer Holliday's "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from Dreamgirls, Sister Sledge's "We Are Family", Kool and the Gang's "Celebration", George Thorogood and the Destroyers' "Bad to the Bone", Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy", James Brown's "I Got You (I Feel Good)", and, Carlton's favorite, Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual" (also twice). All of these songs add some value and some are simply irreplaceable, so the retention is most appreciated. And as someone who primarily discovers and rediscovers music through film and television, I know these artists are sure to get some downloads from this preserved exposure.

Episode synopses follow, with a red star () designating my ten favorites of Season 6.

The sixth season begins with Will doing battle with flambé flames. Though the fire wins, the damage is quickly repaired. In drag as Jasmine, Chris Rock makes for an ugly date upon whom Will's job depends. Will finds a dejected Carlton taking comfort in a blues bar.

Disc 1

1. Burnin' Down the House (22:31) (Originally aired September 18, 1995)
A bored Will tries to flambé and burns down the kitchen instead. With Phil having an important judge over for dinner, Will and Geoffrey try to keep the disaster a secret.

2. Get a Job (22:15) (Originally aired September 25, 1995)
Will and Carlton vie for the same job at Hilary's workplace. When Will gets it, he has to keep a potential guest comedian (Chris Rock) happy by taking his sister (also Rock) for a night out.

3. Stress Related (22:17) (Originally aired October 2, 1995)
Hoping that some initiative will get him noticed at work, Will covers for Hilary when nighttime cold medicine makes her loopy and sleepy for a meeting with an important sponsor. Viv makes everyone eat healthy food.

4. Bourgie Sings the Blues (22:21) (Originally aired October 9, 1995)
Depressed by his dwindling prospects, Carlton runs away from home. While Ashley throws a house party, Will poses as Carlton for his Princeton interview. Blink and you'll miss this episode's brief appearances by The Green Mile Oscar nominee Michael Clarke Duncan and "Heroes" star Milo Ventimiglia, each in their first year of acting.

Seeing Hilary and Will on television at the electronics store gives Phil not pride but embarrassment. Carlton and Will question Derek's (Jaleel White) intentions to deflower Ashley in "Not With My Cousin You Don't." After their luck at Las Vegas gambling runs out, Will and Carlton try dance, grooving to the sounds of Sugarhill Gang's "Apache."

5. The Script Formerly Known As... (22:31) (Originally aired October 16, 1995)
A dismissed juror from the news-making Show Biz Madam case shares disparaging remarks about Phil on Hilary and Will's show. This episode is noteworthy in that the scene in which Will lip-synchs to "And I Am Telling You..." supplied Jennifer Hudson's first exposure to Dreamgirls,
the 2006 filming of which would win her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

6. Not, I Barbecue (22:41) (Originally aired October 23, 1995)
Will and Carlton's double date goes badly when they end up hiding in their dates' closet in their underwear.

7. Not With My Cousin You Don't (22:32) (Originally aired November 6, 1995)
Ashley's boyfriend Derek (Jaleel White, Steve Urkel of "Family Matters", a new character despite implications otherwise) is in town and thinks he'd like to take her virginity. When Will and Carlton find out, they wrestle with whether or not to intervene.

8. Viva Lost Wages (21:41) (Originally aired November 13, 1995)
While the women enjoy a girls' weekend back home, Will and Carlton gamble in Las Vegas casino to celebrate Carlton's 21st birthday.

Phil and Will's jail cell meal is far from the 4-stuffing feast they were looking forward to in the Thanksgiving two-parter "There's the Rub." Hilary Banks (Karyn Parsons) runs quite the emotional gamut as her self-titled talk show goes national in "I, Ooh, Baby, Baby." Will is reluctant to spar with his cousin's boxing instructor Helena (Galyn Görg).

Disc 2

9. There's the Rub - Part 1 (22:31) (Originally aired November 20, 1995)
Thanksgiving is here. The women compete to see whose stuffing is the best, Carlton and Hilary volunteer in a homeless shelter, and Will takes Phil to have his back pain treated.

10. There's the Rub - Part 2 (22:32) (Originally aired November 20, 1995)
Will and Phil spend Thanksgiving in a jail cell. Carlton and Hilary warm to helping the less fortunate.

11. I, Ooh, Baby, Baby (22:32) (Originally aired December 11, 1995)
When the happiness Hilary feels over her talk show going national quickly fades, she decides she wants to have a baby. Carlton and Ashley bicker while decorating the Christmas tree together.

12. Boxing Helena (22:07) (Originally aired January 8, 1996)
To get into shape for the new year, Will and company hit the gym, where he is embarrassed to get knocked out by Nicky's female boxing instructor (Galyn Görg). Ashley starts working at Dippity Do Dog.

Emotionally disturbed clown Juggles (Dorien Wilson) holds a courtroom hostage in the strange "I, Clownius." While working at a food court Dippity Do Dog, Ashley (Tatyana M. Ali) gets discovered by an important modeling agent. Viv (Daphne Maxwell Reid) and Phil are set up for reunion in a Hawaiian-themed karaoke restaurant.

13. I, Clownius (21:52) (Originally aired January 15, 1996)
Following a verdict in the high-profile Show Biz Madam case, Will and Carlton act as Phil's personal security detail, but they can't prevent Juggles (Dorien Wilson), a clown with dynamite strapped to him, from holding them hostage and holding court.

14. Breaking Up is Hard to Do - Part 1 (21:15) (Originally aired February 12, 1996)
Ashley gets discovered by a modeling agency, but her prospects there vanish after Will and Carlton try to negotiate her contract.

15. Breaking Up is Hard to Do - Part 2 (22:14) (Originally aired February 19, 1996)
Continuing on the marital discontent that marked last episode, everyone imagines what life might be like if Phil and Vivian get and stay divorced.

16. I, Bowl Buster (22:07) (Originally aired February 26, 1996)
Worrying that he won't be able to live up to Phil's legacy, Carlton decides to skip Princeton and become a bowler. Hilary has her hands full leading a group of young girl Blueberries for the weekend.

As Malcolm X watches from the pool house wall, Will stops himself from punching G's conniving son (Craig Kirkwood). Will Smith takes us to James Avery's dressing room as part of his behind-the-scenes "Fresh Prince" tour. Ashley practices the art of soda advertisement with a can of Pepsi, er, Jet Cola.

Disc 3

17. The Butler's Son Did It (22:22) (Originally aired March 18, 1996)
Frederick (Craig Kirkwood), the son Geoffrey never knew he had, visits the Banks family and reveals a secret dark side to Will.

18. Hare Today... (22:32) (Originally aired April 8, 1996)
Phil sits on Nicky's new pet rabbit, scrambling to cover and replace it. Ashley and Carlton vie for the church choir's Easter solo. Also at the church, Will helps old ladies decorate and Reverend Sims (Richard Roundtree) confesses feeling for Viv.

19. Whoops, There It Is (22:32) (Originally aired April 15, 1996)
Will Smith the actor takes us behind-the-scenes of "Fresh Prince", hosting a show of six years of bloopers and outtakes.

20. I, Stank Horse (22:32) (Originally aired April 22, 1996)
Will and Phil object to Ashley appearing in a bikini for a soda commercial she hopes will be her break into the performing arts. Carlton adopts a race horse about to be put down.

Phil (James Avery) and Will (Will Smith) discover that a golf tournament can be fun without playing well in "I, Stank Hole in One." In the "Fresh Prince" series finale, classic sitcom characters like George Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley) are among the Banks mansion's prospective buyers.

21. I, Stank Hole in One (22:31) (Originally aired May 6, 1996)
To Carlton's chagrin, Will enjoys golfing in a tournament with Phil. Hilary fills in for Kathie Lee as Regis Philbin's co-host.

22. Eye, Tooth (22:32) (Originally aired May 13, 1996)
Will and Carlton hang out and get crazy on dental laughing gas with Hilary's guest, William Shatner (in an Emmy-worthy turn).

23. I, Done - Part 1 (22:24) (Originally aired May 20, 1996)
As Phil turns 50, big change comes to everyone in his life, except for Will, who announces he's moving out but secretly doesn't have anywhere to go.

24. I, Done - Part 2 (23:08) (Originally aired May 20, 1996)
As the Banks family prepares to move out, Will comes clean about not having found an apartment of his own. This finale hits the right notes of fun and sadness, with some fitting sitcom nods.

Although the DVD contains no bonus features, the Season Six episode "Whoops, There It Is" feels like one, with its bloopers from throughout the show's run. A shot of the eight regular cast members with which the show ended adorns each disc's main menu, which pays tribute to the show's graffiti title design.

VIDEO and AUDIO

DVD presents "The Fresh Prince" as network television did, in 1.33:1 fullscreen and stereo sound. Neither is any better than you'd think it'd be for a 15-year-old sitcom. The picture is a little grainy and not particularly well defined. The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack isn't very clear or substantial. Both components are fine and possibly the best we can hope for from this show,
but other '90s sitcoms have definitely looked and sounded a bit better than this.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Disappointingly, no bonus features are included here. You would think standard items like electronic press kit interviews and year-end gag reels would be easy enough to provide and worth the minimal costs and efforts required. But few catalog TV series are joined by DVD extras of worth and "Fresh Prince" hasn't gotten anything since Season 3, so this is expected and ordinary (but still unfortunate).

Displaying a cast photo against a graffiti backdrop, the static main menu loops the entire theme song. Featuring a shot of a character or two and no music, the episode menus list each disc's eight episodes over two pages.

The set is packaged in a clear standard keepcase with a cast list and colorful design showing through inside. That slides into a five-sided cardboard box mostly repeating the artwork below. (Though you'd think this is a sturdy design, a spindle from the tray on my review copy sadly didn't survive transit.) A nice 4-page booklet offers episode synopses, credits, and airdates. Uncreatively, the three discs recycle the cover's Smith image with a different color background.

Will Smith (Will Smith) takes one last look at the now-emptied Bel-Air mansion he called home for six years.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I've got a soft spot for '90s sitcoms and I've long appreciated "Fresh Prince", so it is no surprise that I enjoyed watching and writing about it here. I'm not familiar enough with the series to know how the final season compares to the five that preceded it, but this lot holds up quite well and better than many past TV series. Season 6's DVD presentation is no dazzling revelation and the lack of bonus features is quite unfortunate. Still, all the licensed music seems to have been cleared and the series entertains enough to consider getting at the reasonable list price.

If you haven't bought "Fresh Prince" on DVD and would like to, it makes sense to start at the beginning; Seasons 1 and 2 are currently selling for under $15 each on Amazon and under $20 together. Otherwise, you could hold out to see if a complete series set is in the cards. Warner has issued such collections for only a few of their best-selling series ("Full House", "Friends", "Gilligan's Island", "Gilmore Girls", "Scooby-Doo") and the monetary savings aren't always that significant.

More on The Fresh Prince: Season Six / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy The Complete Series on DVD

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Reviewed April 17, 2011.



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