The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was, and continues to be, a breath of fresh air. Originally airing from 1990 to 1996 for six seasons, the sitcom broke Will Smith through to superstardom in a series of episodes articulating his transition from life on the mean streets of West Philadelphia to life in the palatial mansions of Bel-Air (hmm, if only there was a catchy summary of this inciting incident). Smith, playing a version of himself, lives with his extended family, and everyone lives, learns, laughs, loves, and grows with each other.
It’s a special series to me, and to so many folks. In celebration of its 30th anniversary (the pilot aired September 10, 1990), I wondered why this show continues to play so wonderfully and warmly where so many other ’90s sitcoms become forgotten. I believe it’s because of the show’s big, beating, sincere, courageous heart. The Fresh Prince is unbelievably silly, no doubt, with its oft-arch performances and willingness to surreally break the fourth wall (“How come we can’t afford ceilings?” Will says in one episode, while the camera tilts up to literally show the studio lights). But these are all catchy seasonings to a fundamentally kind, responsible, and curious main dish. And when it digs into this core, it doesn’t need silly jokes.
In honor of The Fresh Prince‘s 30th anniversary, here are the 10 best times the sitcom got serious throughout its run, in chronological order. Grab a hankie, whistle for a cab, and take a trip down memory lane with me. For more on The Fresh Prince, here’s the latest intel on the upcoming reboot.