Warner Bros. // 1996 // 650 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // June 16th, 2011
The not so fresh Prince...
The sixth season of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air brought the show to a close, 1996 finding Will Smith right on the cusp of superstardom. The season was clearly pitched as a definitive conclusion (the last episode wraps thing up succinctly, if not a little flatly), and is unfortunately possibly the worst year the program endured. It's still pretty watchable, but at this juncture the format felt stale, and unlike other seasons this sixth entry rarely attempts to move outside of its goofy comfort zone. I suppose the performances are still adequate and the writing occasionally peaks with a great gag, but on the whole this isn't essential television.
Do I really need to go over the premise of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? No you say? Well for the sake of professionalism I'm going to anyway. After getting into excessive trouble in Philadelphia, Will (Will Smith, Independence Day) is shipped off to live with his wealthy Aunty (Daphne Maxwell Reid, Murder, She Wrote) and Uncle (the exquisite James Avery, Dr. Dolittle 2) in Bel-Air, a pair who parent their own preppy set of kids. They proceed to straighten Will out a bit, whilst he instills in them some traditional values they may have forgotten...and it went on like that for six years. Don't get me wrong, at the height of its powers The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was a fabulous sitcom, but y'know, every concept eventually runs afoul of its sell by date.
This sixth year finds all of the principals in good form (Smith and Avery in particular), and spends more time than usual celebrating the show's legacy. There's an extended blooper episode that's surprisingly tolerable, some obvious and welcome glimpses behind the scenes, and a fantastic cameo from a fledging Chris Rock (The Longest Yard). These are the highlights of the sixth season, and the only facets that really lend it any distinction. Every other component feels achingly familiar, and even the usually uproarious squabbles between Will and his Uncle start to feel tired. The sixth season feels short on heart, something I can't recall The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air ever lacking before. The episodes based around emotional upheaval and basic morals feel pedestrian, a chief offender being one in which Will's cousins Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro, Temptation Island) and Hilary (Karyn Parsons, The Ladies' Man) learn the value of sacrifice at a homeless shelter. It's this sort of lazily hatched filler episode that damage this season so notably, leaving it as a pale and unadventurous shadow of its predecessors.
That's really all that has to be said about the quality of this set. It's okay viewing, but ultimately finds this particular show at its nadir. Fans probably won't care, but I urge you to simply enjoy one of the earlier more inspired offerings and leave this particular batch of episodes in the rearview mirror. I also have to express mild disappointment with the finale, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air deserved better than the formulaic and oddly humorless denouement it received. Warner have packaged the season over three discs, with mediocre sound and video capability and absolutely no extra features. It's just one more reason to boycott this lackluster release.
It's hard to slam a down a guilty verdict, but the court would like to express disapproval nonetheless.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Not Rated