Wednesday, November 14, 2007

In West Philadelphia, Born and Raised...

After I dissected the hit black college show, “A Different World” in my last blog entry, many people took umbrage with my rating of the show’s primary theme song with Aretha Franklin. (D+)

Before you throw a fish net of disdain and anger on my soggy response, allow me to build a “bridge over troubled water” so that we can connect on this issue. Aretha Franklin is probably, hands down, one of the greatest singers, soul or otherwise, of the past 50 years. She personally owned the Grammy awards for a 10 year run, winning awards from “Best Female R&B Performance” to “Best Soul Gospel Performance.” Aretha cemented her status as a superstar with the “Living Legend” award and probably the greatest of them all, the “Lifetime Achievement Award.” Please believe…Aretha Franklin deserves all of the “respect” in the world.

However…her soulful voice, while crossing through generations and connecting with the young and old was ideal for American society as a whole, it put a wet blanket on the exuberance and enthusiasm that a college show brings to the table. While Aretha’s voice proved to be the motherly influence for the show, warning the characters (and the audience) that college “is a different world” from the neighborhoods back home that we come from, her voice saps the show of the youthful energy that accompanies the college experience. When I left to come to Howard, my mother’s words echoed Aretha’s soulful tune. But once I stepped onto campus and saw the Greek trees on the yard, the plethora of fine honeys frolicking about, and the opportunities that were ahead for the next four years of my life, my world moved out of the slow high school nostalgia to a quick paced sprint to understand more about this thing called “college.”

To me, Boys II Men’s rendition of the Dawnn Lewis’ penned song is exactly how my college experience as a junior is at this moment. I barely have time to conjure up great phrases and jokes for these Facebook “notes” because I’m writing papers, studying for tests, tutoring kids at the elementary school across the street, and staying alive in the tumultuous sea of college life. (Did I mention writing papers?) Plus, Boys II Men’s version, is well, just catchier. There just “ain’t nothing like the real thing”, baby.

So there’s my explanation for the low-grade of the show’s theme song from Seasons 2-5. It definitely was an upgrade from the Season 1 disaster (explained). So you can choose to agree with my decision to rank Boys II Men over Aretha in the theme song department…or not.

I’m just a “young, black, and gifted” writer, trying to make my stamp on this American world through my canvas on this Facebook world. (I promise I’ll stop with the Aretha Franklin song references…only obeying contract orders)

Let’s all pile into my Toyota Corolla, throw some D’s on it, pull into a McDonald’s drive thru, rap our entire order, turn up the throttle, and drive up to West Philly to check out The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air!

(By the way, big ups to my friend, Daniel Gilmer, for finding out a cool way to trick Facebook so that I can tag all of you guys into my notes. Facebook while allowing someone to invite a bagillion people to a party, event, or group only allows myself to tag 30 people at a time to a “note”. However, this is how we were able to beat the man at his own game:

Step 1: Tag the maximum amount of people.
Step 2: These people find out that they’ve been tagged via “notifications.”
Step 3: Untag the original 30 people tagged.
Step 4: Re-tag a brand spanking new 30 people!
Step 5: Rinse, repeat till done…or fingers fall off from carpel tunnel.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: September 10, 1990- May 20, 1996 (6 Seasons)

My Introduction: A show that I once wanted to write a thesis about (not going to happen) succeeded in saving Will Smith’s career, ending DJ Jazzy Jeff’s, introducing catch phrases and dance moves to white society, allowing them to abuse them in daily speech (Word, Yo, etc.), and giving us a different look at family. “The Fresh Prince” was a more “realistic” version of the Cosby family, using the same template (problem child, college educated parents) but tackling a more expansive amount of issues that plagued the changing black society of the 90s. By the end of this show’s run, Will Smith was catapulted to Top 5 Black Male Actor status, every kid had a copy of Big Willie Style atop their boombox, and Alfonso Ribeiro became a mortal lock to appear on a Trivial Pursuit card or a Celebrity Reality TV Show next to Dustin Diamond.

The Main Characters that Held the Show Together and Gave Andy Borowitz and Werner Walian Jobs: Will Smith. Will Smith. Will Smith. What else do you want me to say? I mean…if he doesn’t prove that he can act better than he can rap, I’m not even declaring this show to be on the short list for Greatest Sitcom of All Time. I think that this show could have run forever with Vivian #1 (Janet Hubert-Witten) over Vivian #2 (Daphne Maxwell Reid). Viv #1 added a great dimension to the show which helped give Will an awesome supporting cast for him to grow into his role as an actor, while the additions of Vivian #2 and Nicky only put more pressure on Will to carry the load as the go-to-guy.

Rising Stars: B+ Since I’ve already talked about Will Smith turning the show into a huge movie career (Independence Day, Bad Boys, Men in Black, etc.), I’ll focus on the other guys. Karen Parsons (Hilary) had a role opposite Damon Wayans in (Major Payne) , Tatiana Ali was the girlfriend in the basketball version of Remember the Titans (Glory Road), James Avery became the voice of Shredder, one of the greatest cartoon villains ever in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, plus a guaranteed role as a guest star on any black sitcom.

(Joseph Marcell’s also staying busy. If you’ve got a penchant for theater and $22.95 to spare, you can see him perform in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” down at the Folger Shakespeare Theater. Yea, he’s not dead yet. Just don’t chuckle as loud as I did once I saw him in the Playbill. First, it’s a dead giveaway to the fact that you know nada about the actors of the play or decorum of theater life, plus it’s the equivalent of kicking a man while he’s down…except directly in the crotchal region.)

Moment that Show "Jumped the Shark":
After watching many mediocre black films starring Nia Long (The Best Man, Big Momma’s House, Are We There Yet?), I’ve realized that giving Nia Long a primary role on any principal cast for any movie/play/sitcom is the sports equivalent of allowing Norv Turner to call the shots as the head coach for any NFL football team. Honestly, Nia Long is a great role player alongside a loaded cast that owns most of the spotlight (Soul Food) and deflects attention away from her character flaws. I have no idea why Borowitz and Co. decided to allow Nia Long to play as Will’s girlfriend for the entire fifth season of the show. Why mess with a good thing, Hollywood? Once Will and Lisa ended up breaking up after Season 5, it marked the end of an era. Will was ready to star in motion pictures, and the show breathed its last.

Eye Candy (A+...but C+ in Season 5): From Seasons 1-4, the producers did a great job of creating a foolproof way to siphon in new “talent.” Freshman year, while we were playing hours of Madden ’06 and Nintendo’s Tecmo Bowl in the room, we always kicked random ideas (like this column) around. During this time, my friend J created the “Will Smith Mononucleosis Corollary” for the show. (Hey, it WAS freshman year)

Basically, it stated two ideas:
1. Because the show lived on the gimmick that Will was a stone-cold fox, destined to woo any girl that crossed his path in the hallway of Bel-Air Prep, we saw a huge influx of female black acting talent (Jasmine Guy, Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks, Lark Voorhies from “Saved By the Bell”, Kim Fields from “Living Single”, Tisha Campbell, Leia Rochon, Garcelle Beauvais from “Jamie Foxx”, Vivica Fox, Victoria Rowell, plus all the random girls that didn’t even make the cut…)
2. These black actors wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to be featured on an episode of the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” because it was pulling down a serious share of the Nielsen ratings, which made it an easy way of showcasing one’s talent for talent agencies across America. Will gets to lock lips with almost every significant female actor of the 1990’s era…and in return, they get a great shot at a bigger deal later on in the future.

Because of these two factors, it was a mortal lock for Will Smith, a hormonal 18 year old teen at the show’s start, to make out with an extreme amount of women over a three-year span. To this day, you’d be hardpressed to find a guy that wouldn’t trade places with Will for a year during this huge run. (I’m surprised Will Smith didn’t record a case on mononucleosis during his run on the Fresh Prince.) However, once Nia Long stepped in as Will’s main squeeze, it put a cap on the theory, and effectively ended one of the Top 5 reasons that a guy, white or black, watched the show. (And you wonder why I hate watching Season 5…)

Theme Song (A+) Since most of you started humming the theme song once you saw the title of my Facebook “note”, I think that this rating speaks for itself. If you wanted more than that for an explanation, just listen to this Fresh Prince hit to tide you over. (By the way, what the heck are Will and Jazz riding on top of in this video? A flat-bed truck? Music videos have come a long way since 1991…)

Best Season: Season 3: By Season 3, Will had been weaned off of his rap lingo by Uncle Phil and Co. (during Season 1, he constantly used words like “Bust a Groove”), and started to respect Carlton, cutting back on the “short” jokes that started to get annoying. Will also became a better actor, separating himself from the pack of actors on the show, but didn’t fall prey (yet) to his rising celebrity. Carlton cut back on the nerdom (please, watch Season 1 for effect) and Hilary received a less pronounced role. Plus, the house was finished with its makeover process.

Worst Season: Season 6: There was no explanation for Nicky becoming five years older from Seasons 5-6, or Vivian #2. The producers also failed to realize that a guy that tries to talk to girls in high school (Will) is laughed off as a goofy heartthrob and a lovable character. No one likes that same guy once he’s 23 and lacks career goals. The producers clearly lost a grip on the show once the Will/Lisa saga ended.

Overall Rating: (A+) Honestly, I never get tired of this show. When you get to the point where you can guess the episode from the beginning two lines…you’re definitely a die-hard fan. Here’s my Top 5 Episodes from the show:

5. Did the Earth Move For You?: (Season 2) During an earthquake Will finds out more about his new found love then he ever wanted to. Kathleen (Tisha Campbell) begins to reveal her true self when she and Will are trapped in the basement during the quake. We’re talking fake hair, fake nails, fake…everything.
4. You’ve Got to Be A Football Hero: (Season 4) Will uses booze to prove his manliness while competing with a hulking football hero who wants to score points with Jackie, and his fraternity brothers leave drunken Will in a cemetery, where he is haunted.
3. Just Say Yo!: (Season 3) As the big dance approaches, Carlton breaks out with a huge zit on his forehead. In a frenzied state, Carlton pops a huge dose of amphetamine pills from Will’s locker, mistaking them for Vitamin E tablets. Will learns a valuable lesson about drug use.
2. That’s No Lady, That’s My Cousin!: (Season 3) When Ashley enrolls at the newly created co-ed Bel-Air prep, she vies for the attention of guys by dressing like the girls that Will falls for at the school. Will also wins the heart of Veronica (Garcelle Beauvais) by acting more like a gentleman and not like a slobbering jet setter.

Show's Golden Quote:
Carlton: "Will, check out the talent! She's cool, she's hot-"
Will: "She's your sister man!"
Carlton: "AHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!"
1. The Butler Did It: (Season 2) When Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv go out of town for a quick getaway, Carlton wants to make some quick loot and decides to rent out the house for a popular R&B group, Bel Biv Devoe, for their music video. When the furniture gets ruined once the set’s cleared out, hijinks ensue as the Banks kids race to fix the house back to normal before Uncle Phil gets back.

Now, Here’s Your NBA Season Preview of the Atlantic Division:
(this, time…it’s in haiku)

1. Boston Celtics:
Kevin, Ray, and Paul.
These guys will be unselfish.
Boston wins the East.

2. New Jersey Nets:
Jay Kidd is very old.
Vince needs to drive to the hole.
Rich has much to show.

3. New York Knicks:
Eddy loves to EAT.
Jamal makes it rain from three.
Steph, please…play some D.

4. Toronto Raptors:
Don’t trade big for small. (T.J. Ford for Charlie Villanueva)
Chris Bosh suffers season slump.
Why is Sam still employed? (How was Sam Mitchell Coach of the Year in ’07?)

5. Philadelphia 76ers:
Worst team in the league.
AI laughs at your GM.
See you guys in ’08.



  1. Classic posting by TTK. Dropping Basketball AND pop culture knowledge.

    One thing: you said Will never came down with mono (maybe in real life).

    But, wasn't there an episode where Will & Carlton were 'seeing' the same girl and essentially discovered that fact because the two of them both contracted mono at the same time (or throat infections or some other kind of bacterial infection from the spit swapping of a young, promiscuous high school damsel)?

  2. Oh yeah, you're right. I'm not sure if it was mono, but Will and Carlton both came down with a "mysterious" disease after seeing the same girl. The producers never made the disease clear, but had to be mono.

    (Plus, Will and Carlton were both swapping each other's spit in a way... yikes)