The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air was a powerful showcase for any number of Will Smith’s numerous positive traits—his charisma, his comic timing, his ability to have easily hurl-able friends. Like most sitcoms of its era, though, it was rarely much of an actor’s showcase; despite his future talents as a thespian, Smith was rarely called upon to do much more than deliver a quip or roll his eyes at Carlton’s latest Yuppie idiocy.
Except that one time.
You know which one we’re talking about, right? Season four’s “Papa’s Got A Brand New Excuse,” a.k.a. the “How come he don’t want me, man?” episode, in which Smith’s character breaks down in Uncle Phil’s arms after his dad walks out on him yet again. As noted by Uproxx, it’s been 25 years since that episode first aired, laying down a path from “Will Smith, goofy rapper and sitcom actor” to “Will Smith, future two-time Oscar nominee.”
Not that it was an easy road from one to the other: Smith has talked before about the weird place his career was in by the time he was initially offered Fresh Prince, after his third album with DJ Jazzy Jeff turned into a financial disaster. (Only a bizarre encounter with a drunken Quincy Jones and a failed Morris Day TV project turned his fortunes around.) Even once he had the series, though, he had plenty to prove as an actor, especially to co-star James Avery, who pushed him hard every step of the way to live up to the potential of the platform he’d been given. Talking about the scene with Black Streaming last year, Smith made it clear that in that moment, he was fighting just as hard for Avery’s acceptance as his fictional father’s, revealing that he got some validation from the co-star at the scene’s emotional climax, when Uncle Phil embraces Will, and Avery whispered “That’s fucking acting right there” in his young mentee’s ear.
Pardon us; we seem to have something in our eye.