The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reunion special dropped early on HBO Max Wednesday night, ahead of its Thursday premiere.
The unscripted special saw Smith joined by series regulars Tatyana Ali, Karyn Parsons, Joseph Marcell, Daphne Maxwell Reid and Alfonso Ribeiro, as well as recurring co-star DJ Jazzy Jeff, for a family reunion on set in the Banks’ home for a look back at the groundbreaking show. It was taped on the 30th anniversary of the original series' premiere date.
It also featured a sit-down with Smith and Janet Hubert, who originated the role of Aunt Viv, for the first time in 27 years for an emotional reunion and a candid conversation.
The cast talked about how Will and Carlton were soon recognized as the most “powerful comedic asset of the show."
“I remember our first table read, Will and Alfonso were chasing each other around the table," said Parsons.“There were network execs, really powerful people. They were just playmates from the very beginning," Ali said as the cast acknowledged the powerful on-screen chemistry between Smith and Ribeiro. Smith added, “We started to see the dynamics between the other characters and Uncle Phil, Aunt Viv were holding the base and Will and Carlton being able to run wild. It became clear very quickly that they became the most powerful comedic asset of the show."
“We knew that we could rely on each other and there was always a respect and trust," said Ribeiro.
One of the most emotional moments of the reunion was the tribute to the late James Avery.
Ali said, “I learned what it means to be an artist from him." Smith went on to talk about a tender moment he had with Avery after messing up a line during a live taping. It was the scene following Will seeing his estranged father. Smith was emotional once he got it together, with Avery telling the then-young actor to focus on him. Avery held Smith in his arms at the end of the scene and told him, “now that's acting."
To the seeming shock of the other cast members, Smith told them, “I couldn't celebrate 30 years of Fresh Prince without finding a way to celebrate Janet. So she agreed to sit down and have a conversation with me...and Janet and I saw one another for the first time in 27 years yesterday." He played their sit-down for the rest of the cast.
The two had a discussion, heard each other out and made amends. They shared a long hug before Hubert told him how “tough" this was to do, noting things had gone “so far" and that she had “lost so much." Hubert said the disconnect first started when she was pregnant during the third season. Both of them had things going on in their life that led to a rift. “There was a lot of things going on in my life and in Will's life as well...home life was not good at all," she said, referring to her abusive marriage. “I was no longer laughing, smiling, joking because there were things going on that nobody knew about. The cast had no idea what was going on."
In an off-camera confessional, Smith said, “During that time of her pregnancy, I wasn’t sensitive, I wasn’t perceptive, and now that I’ve had three kids I’ve learned some things that I did not know at the time and I would do things very differently. But I can see where I made the set very difficult for Janet.”
Hubert also went on to clear the air that she wasn't fired and that she just received a bad deal that stated she would receive a lower salary and that she couldn't work anywhere else. She told Smith, “I was hurt deeply. When I left the show, I had this new baby and no one [else]. Family disowned me. Hollywood disowned me. My family said, 'You’ve ruined our name.' And I wasn’t unprofessional on the set. I just stopped talking to everybody because I didn’t who to trust because I had been banished. And they said it was you who banished me. Because you were Will. It was hard.”
Smith told her, “I have children. I’ve been divorced and I have a second marriage, and I can see now the level of pain and the level of struggle that it was just for you to show up every day." Hubert also said she was hurt when he referred to her as "difficult."
“But you took all of that away from me — with your words," she said. “Words can kill. I lost everything. Reputation. Everything. And I understand you were able to move forward, but you know those words, calling a Black woman difficult in Hollywood, is the kiss of death. And it’s hard enough being a dark-skinned Black woman in this business. But I felt that it was necessary for us to finally move forward. And I’m sorry that I have blasted you to pieces."
Photo: HBO Max