Warner Bros. // 1992 // 554 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // March 29th, 2006
Will: You gotta do something or go someplace that gets her off your mind.
Carlton: It's impossible. Everywhere I turn, I see something that reminds me of her. Something we've shared together, a patch of grass, a beach blanket, a swing...
Will: Maybe you should go to bed?
A staple of syndicated afterschool television, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air's third season keeps up the good track record of laughs on DVD.
But what I can't figure out is, is that an iPod on the front cover? How can that possibly be?
After spending the summer with his mother in Philly, Will (Will Smith, Men In Black) returns to Bel-Air to finish off his high school year, sporting the latest urban hair and fashion styles that irk Uncle Phil (James Avery) and thrill Ashley (Tatyana M. Ali). Meanwhile, Hilary (Karyn Parsons) gets a job as a local weather reporter, Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro) works hard on cramming for college applications, and Geoffrey (Joseph Marcell) continues to clean up after the lot of them. This season, however, the family is stunned by Vivian's (Janet Hubert-Whiten) surprise revelation -- she's pregnant!
Season Three contains the following episodes:
"How I Spent My Summer Vacation"
"Will Gets Committed"
"That's No Lady, That's My Cousin"
"Hilary Gets a Job"
"Mama's Baby, Carlton's Maybe"
"P.S. I Love You..."
"Here Comes the Judge"
"Boyz in the Woods"
"A Night at the Oprah"
"Asses to Ashes"
"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"
"The Cold War"
"Winner Takes Off"
"Robbing the Banks"
"Bundle of Joy"
"The Best Laid Plans"
"The Alma Matter"
"Just Say Yo"
"The Baby Comes Out"
"You Bet Your Life"
"Ain't No Business like Show Business"
"The Way We Were"
"Six Degrees of Graduation"
Season Three may have been the defining moment in the show when the creators realized that Fresh Prince had legs beyond the wacky racial/cultural gap sitcom and could actually elevate itself to the levels of genuine social relevance. The pinnacle episode of the season, "Just Say Yo," tackles drugs and peer pressure, and remains one of the highlights of the show's six-year run. In one of the first genuine dramatic episodes the series attempted, Smith flexes a surprisingly strong set of acting muscles which the show would begin to make more frequent use of as the series continued. His music career may have landed him a television show, but it was his rapidly developing acting skills that launched his movie career into superstardom. It is fascinating to watch Fresh Prince and see the early days of his dramatic talent begin to emerge (almost as fascinating as seeing Will Smith in a role where he doesn't say "Oh hell, no" every ten seconds.)
Here's the thing with Fresh Prince: it hasn't aged well. Certain elements of the show have aged incredibly badly, like the fashion sense. How it was ever acceptable to dress in such foolish clothes, I'll never know, but it certainly looks downright silly a decade later. The formula of the show is indicative of the sitcom style of the late 1980s and early 1990s, heavy on scripted dialogue, laugh tracks, and unnatural pacing. Such shows have gone out of fashion like the sasquatch and, when compared to shows like Arrested Development, appear antiquated and stiff; but so long as you are able to suffer through the inherent corniness, the laughs and genuine humor have survived intact.
Smith, for lack of a better word, is hilarious and could carry the show on his natural charm and good-natured personality alone. Luckily, the show's ensemble cast is fantastic and everyone manages to carry their weight quite well. You can also tell that every single person is having the time of their life making this show and struggling desperately not to crack up. Yes, some of the jokes are a bit scripted and artificial, but every single episode managed to get at least one laugh out of me. Even when the jokes fall flat and the cultural references fizzle, the eagerness of the cast manage to make the entire affair hilarious. Fresh Prince has that nice, wholesome Cosby appeal to it, but repackaged into a youthful and vibrant form (with a hip-hop soundtrack, because the kids today don't know what the jazz is all about).
The presentation to DVD is acceptable, but the more time you spend staring, the more you start to notice strange flaws. The colors are quite vibrant, but reds have a nasty tendency to bleed. Any level of magnification on the transfer reveals disturbing levels of pixelation. It is certainly an acceptable presentation, but it fails to meet the high quality set by most recent television releases to DVD.
Audio comes out a bit better, with a simple Dolby Digital 2.0 presentation that does the job quite nicely. Bass response is adequate, dialogue is clear, and there are no noticeable flaws in the presentation. It's nothing to get particularly excited about, but it sounds good. One excellent feature is the inclusion of three subtitle tracks -- English, French and Spanish -- which are often omitted by television shows when they make the jump to DVD.
The extra material sucks. We get a blooper reel (which is just a collection of the closing credit bloopers, sans green credit text) and an amateurish and annoying featurette called "Best of Bel-Air Crust" that looks like somebody whipped it together on a home computer. Composed entirely from clips, it has no relevance whatsoever and its inclusion is a waste of space.
With such a poor offering of supplementary material and a so-so transfer to DVD, these discs feel like horrible afterthoughts, as if they simply limped themselves into existence rather than being labors of love from the creative minds that gave birth to it. This is a shame, because the show deserves better, like cast commentary tracks. Still, I do enjoy me that blooper reel. They so crazy.
In my head, I classify Fresh Prince with a show like Cheers, and for reasons other than total eerie racial hegemony. Rather, both are instantly comforting to me, like a warm pair of dryer-fresh slippers waiting for me at the end of a long, weary day. I could take any random episode from Fresh Prince, throw it on, and be consistently amused each and every time. This is comfort television at its funniest and most accessible.
Despite lousy extras and a half-hearted technical presentation, this one is not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2006 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 554 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Best of Bel-Air Crust": Season 3 Highlights
* "Bel-Air Bloopers"
* DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (Official Site)
* DVD Verdict Review of Season One
* DVD Verdict Review of Season Two