Warner Bros. // 1995 // 575 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // May 26th, 2010
"I'm just trying to protect your investment. After you guys put a couple of million dollars in this place, it'll be worth thousands!"
The fifth season of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was the juncture where many fans lost patience with the show. By 1995 Will Smith was less than a year away from starring in Roland Emmerich's Independence Day, and was already considered a huge star. For many people, Smith had simply become too big for this little sitcom; his superstar status devaluing any of the program's attempts to be routed in reality. Similarly this fifth season was criticized for breaking the fourth wall too often; albeit over the years Smith's winks and nudges at the audience had become a trademark. Folks started to ditch The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, meaning that when it climaxed one season later, it was playing to a much smaller viewership than before. Granted I agree this isn't the show's finest hour, but it's still a fun, frothy and well intentioned serving of nineties television. Will Smith had undoubtedly outgrown the property by this point, but hell; he still gives it in spades and oozes charm as the Fresh Prince. The rest of the cast follow his example, meaning that this is a familiar but undeniably enjoyable burst of sitcom nirvana.
The fifth season actually provides a roster of fondly remembered episodes. Remember when teenage Ashley (Tatyana Ali, Jawbreaker) had a short-lived pop career? Or can you recall when Hilary (Karyn Parsons, 13 Moons) and Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro, Infested) experimented with online dating? Or perhaps the episode in which Will gets shot sticks out in your mind? These all represent the show at its comedic and dramatic best, and whilst other segments don't measure up, it's hard to hate a season of television boasting such a delightful bunch of highs. There are some genuinely weak episodes here (one involving a hypnotist is a wasteful drag), but overall I have to say I like this season. It retains the astute (and mostly family friendly) comedic edge that the show became loved for; meaning that, if nothing else, it scores respectably in terms of laughs.
Will Smith deserves every success in the world, and I'm genuinely pleased he's morphed into one of the biggest performers on the planet. He's an actor of both depth and infinite charm, with a goofy comic style that never dithers into irritating territory. He could carry this role off in his sleep, but he always remembers to have fun...and his energy is boundless. The key supporting figures were always the irritatingly nebbish Carlton and the portly Uncle Phil (James Avery, Transformers 3), whose love/hate relationship with Will is always a joy to behold. Both Ribeiro and Avery stay within their character's previous template for this fifth spin of the dice, but their work is solid none the less. The rest of the family are fairly good (although mother Vivian feels a bit underrepresented during this season), with Joseph Marcell (Holby City) still firing out stingingly brilliant zingers as the surly butler Geoffrey. Certainly any deficiencies in this series can't be attributed to the regular cast.
The overarching dramatic arcs aren't as strong this time around, particularly those involving Will's new love Lisa (Nia Long, Premonition). The actress doesn't do much but stand and nag, it's actually pretty hard to understand how Will falls in love with her. She's not particularly likable and the episodes that rotate around her tend to be less impressive than those which don't. The relationship with Lisa is definitely this season's most prominent recurring narrative facet, and to be honest it left me cold. Other individual moments of dramatic potency (particularly one involving a pistol) are well acted and affecting, but the romantic elements offered by this spate of episodes are disappointingly banal and flavourless. Long also takes some of the sting out of Smith's performance, together they both seem stilted and frosty. Their chemistry lacks any genuine heat.
The dialogue is zippy and amusing, and personally the fourth wall breaking jibes don't really detract from the overall experience. A few of them aren't very strong, but occasionally a real gem comes along and you're glad the show had the courage to do it at all. This fifth season boats a few notable cameos; Isaac Hayes, Nancy Cartwright and Jay Leno all appearing in a small but notable capacity. One of the best characters in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was Jazz, Will's lowlife friend; and unfortunately he's a bit of a rarity in this season. However an episode in which Will and Carlton hustle him at poker, using a fabricated story is one of the best in this set, meaning that he is at least represented in some form. The set design on this show has always been cute, this series maintaining the high standards of tasteful production.
This 3-dsic set comes with no extra features. The only available content is the 25 episodes that make up season five. The audio and visual quality is better than some of the earlier DVD sets, but fans are likely to desire bonus content over crisp video presentation. As a result this is another release that disservices the fanatics and will only encourage them to stick with the reruns currently available on multiple channels.
The show remains fresh, but only crazed consumers like Hilary will be content
with the lack of extras. Give it a rental or wait until it drops in price.
Review content copyright © 2010 Daniel Kelly; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 575 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Video Clip: Honeymoon Horrors