Created by: Andy & Susan Borowitz
Starring: Will Smith, James Avery, Janet Hubert-Whitten, Joseph Marcell, Alfonso Ribeiro
- All twenty-four first season episodes
- Retrospective documentary: “Back to Bel-Air: A Fresh Look”
Released by: Warner Brothers
Anamorphic: N/A; episodes appear in their original 1.33:1 format.
My Advice: Fans of the show should own.
Will (Smith) is a teenager in Philadelphia whose family there freaks when he gets into a fight. Convinced he’s headed for trouble, they ship him off to relatives in Bel-Air. What follows is a fish out of water sitcom pitting wise-cracking, hip-hopping, rapping Will against his straight-laced, decidedly non-happening relatives. Both sides, in the end, will be better for it. Awwww.
[ad#longpost]Well, this is the show that formed the bridge for Will Smith to go from “Parents Just Don’t Understand” to punching aliens in the face in Independence Day, and then later punching Asimov in the face in I, Robot. And though now it’s mostly a show that lives on in syndication and gets flipped past whenever seen, giving it a second look on this DVD set shows that it’s aged fairly well. Sure, the fashion is terrifying but what counts is that the humor is still good. And Will Smith is just so…well, so darn likeable…that you’re sold the moment he starts using the door knocker at the beginning of the pilot episode to bust a beat.
As revealed in the special features, the idea was to get a bunch of solid actors to form a foundation for then-non-actor Smith to get support from. Probably the standout is incredibly proper and British Joseph Marcell as Geoffrey. If he seems like the archetypal proper English butler, that’s because it was exactly what he was aiming for. And he nailed it, thus getting to play straighter man to even the family. Also of note is Alfonso Ribeiro’s performance as the Bryant Gumbel-loving Carlton. He was one of those guys that B.B. King was concerned about. You know what I’m saying.
The feature here is a retrospective docu, but apart from missing Will Smith and some others, it’s pretty extensive. Debbie Allen, pilot director, is on hand to talk about her take on getting things started. The creators talk about how the series was conceived and how it evolved. And as stated, a number of actors are there to balance blowing smoke with giving you real info. So that’s nice.
It would have been cool to get some commentaries on here, or especially to get something from Smith, seeing as how this is what kicked off his entire career, but let’s face it: Warner Brothers probably can’t afford the guy now. They get points for having anything at all on here. And as an aside, there is a bonus disc with an episode each from Family Matters and Head of the Class, in celebration of Warner Brothers Television’s 50th Anniversary. Volume 1 of these bonus discs is what we’re talking about here.
Basically, if you’re a fan of the show, you’re going to want to own this. If you just want to revisit the episodes in order and don’t want to find them on late night television, just give it a rental.