Case Number 10503


Warner Bros. // 1990 // 584 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Cynthia Boris (Retired) // December 20th, 2006

The Charge

"Mrs. Banks, since you had that baby, there's something different about you."

Opening Statement

Beginning the downside of a six year run, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air could hardly keep up with the star power of its star. At the end of the season, Will Smith hosted his first MTV Movie Awards. It wouldn't be long before he was breaking out in the hit movie Independence Day. It's Independence Day for Will's character, too, as he leaves high school behind and goes on to college in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: The Complete Fourth Season.

Facts of the Case

Will Smith has what every good Philly homeboy needs: a rich relative. This one happens to live 3,000 miles away in posh Bel-Air, California. Will's mother sees the potential in her son, but she worries about him getting into trouble when he starts hanging with the wrong kind of crowd. To assure that her son will have a future, she ships Will off to California. Will's new family includes Uncle Phillip (James Avery), Aunt Vivian (formerly Janet Hubert-Whitten now played by Daphne Maxwell Reid) and cousins, Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro), Hillary (Karyn Parsons), and Ashley (Tatyana Ali). The Banks Family as a whole are well-educated and well-bred, and they enjoy the finer things in life. But even though they live in a mansion and have a British butler (the droll and quick witty Geoffrey played by Joseph Marcell), they manage to come off as likeable people.

The fourth season of the show brings about several changes for Will and the Banks family. First off, Aunt Vivian has a new look! The lovely Daphne Maxwell Reid takes over the role and it's beautifully satirized by Jazz's statement of, "Mrs. Banks, since you had that baby, there's something different about you." There is a new baby in the house and eldest sister Hillary becomes a sort-of widow in a very unfunny storyline. The death of her fiancés opens up the pool house so Will can use it as his own bachelor pad now that he and Carlton are wild and crazy college students. And check out that street-tough chickie playing Will's ex-girlfriend (who has coincidentally moved from Philly to LA as well), it's America's first top model, Tyra Banks!

Here's what you get in this box set.

* "Where There's a Will, There's a Way" (Parts One and Two)
* "All Guts, No Glory"
* "Father of the Year"
* "It's Better to Have Loved and Lost It"
* "Will Goes a-Courtin'"
* "Hex and the Single Guy"
* "Blood is Thicker Than Mud"
* "Fresh Prince After Dark"
* "Home is Where the Heart Attack is"
* "Take My Cousin -- Please"
* "You've Got to Be a Football Hero"
* "'Twas the Night Before Christening"
* "Sleepless in Bel-Air"
* "Who's the Boss"
* "I Know Why the Caged Bird Screams"
* "When You Hit Upon a Star"
* "Stop Will! In the Name of Love"
* "You Better Shop Around"
* "The Ol' Ball and Chain"
* "The Harder They Fall"
* "M is For the Many Things She Gave Me"
* "Mother's Day"
* "Papa's Got a Brand-New Excuse"
* "For Sale by Owner"
* "The Philadelphia Story"

The Evidence

Any time you start a series with characters in high school, you run into the inevitable problem of what to do when the show runs more than four years! In this season, Will and Carlton both go off to college. But after a disastrous week of living away from home, they move back in with the family. The college twist in the plot is actually rather nice, giving the writers some new scenarios to deal with, testing both young men in a new and wondrous setting. As the class clown, Will struggles to get through college classes. He finds that a joke doesn't automatically endear him to his new peers, while the sheltered life that Carlton has been leading is coming back to haunt him. It's good stuff.

It's interesting to note that The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is one of those rare black comedies that crosses the racial lines, meaning it's as popular with Caucasian audiences as it is with the African American community. There's always been a nice sense of family in this show, much kissing, hugging, and support among the family members. Seeing the giant that is Will Smith with that new baby is just too sweet.

Along with Will, the show has grown up some with storylines such as "Papa's Got a Brand-New Excuse" with Ben Vereen guesting as Will's dead beat dad. "The Philadelphia Story" is a sobering look at that old adage, 'you can't go home again' and the whole family takes a hit when Phillip has a heart attack in "Home is Where the Heart Attack Is."

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Sadly, the series doesn't have the same zip it had in earlier years. Though I adore Daphne Maxwell Reid as an actress, she seems very uncomfortable and stiff here. It's difficult being the new actor in an established series. She's lovely and poised but she just doesn't quite fit.

The storyline about Hillary's fiancé being killed in a freak marriage proposal accident is just too dark for a series of this kind. Mary Tyler Moore made the death of Chuckles the Clown a riot but here it comes off morbid and cold. I must say, however, I did love the image of Hillary in a black designer wedding gown. This show has style; I'll give them that.

My other storyline complaint is about the level of sexually based humor in the show. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was a favorite of my sons and I always thought of it as a good family show with morals and consequences for erroneous actions. But this season is loaded with sex jokes; there's a whole episode devoted to ridding Carlton of his virgin status (and the reveal at the end of that one really threw me for a loop). I expect this kind of humor from Friends but it's a bit heavy-handed for a show that is obviously designed to attract a family audience.

Lastly, there are no extras at all in this set, which considerably lowers their overall score from me. Not that the first three season sets had extras to die for but at least Warner made the effort.

Closing Statement

If you're a fan of family sitcoms, this DVD set is light but fun fare. If you're new to this series, however, I'd recommend you try an earlier season.

The Verdict

I find The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: The Complete Fourth Season guilty of corruption. You shouldn't ever mess with a good thing.

Review content copyright © 2006 Cynthia Boris; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 87
Audio: 90
Extras: 0
Acting: 87
Story: 80
Judgment: 69

Perp Profile
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)

* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 584 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* None

* IMDb