Let’s take a few moments to remember a great man and his prince
We can all rap the rap. And if you need to ask me what rap it is, you’re, A. not a true 90s child and, B. not permitted to read on. It’s a tough love world. When Will Smith turned bankrupt after his extravagant lifestyle in the 80s, he put all his hopes on a TV show that was designed to reignite his career. His agent famously asked him what name he’d like in the show reminding him that, should things go well, it would be the name that people would remember him by for the rest of his career. Will Smith wisely picked his own real name. Within a few years he had re-established his megastar role and rocketed to fame as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Actor James Avery sadly passed away at the beginning of 2014 at the age of 65. You’d be forgiven for wondering who that was until you saw the pictures and realised, “Oh. It’s Uncle Phil.”
Will’s agent was right – the entire cast is now almost exclusively remembered by their name on the show. This is largely testament to the greatness of a comedy that was so well written and acted that you felt they were the characters they embodied rather than actors playing a role. The Fresh Prince turned physical comedy into something witty and its 30-minute episodes were consistently intelligent, hilarious, heart-warming and, yes, fresh. In tribute to one of television’s greatest father figures, here are my top ten moments:
1) Let’s start from the very beginning. Will’s first encounter with his no-nonsense uncle, which paved the way for one of TV’s most amusing, turbulent and surprisingly touching family pairings to date.
2) The many, many fat jokes. James Avery was a big man, both horizontally and vertically. And he wasn’t ashamed of it. Able to poke fun at himself via the show, he worked that large frame with style and it only added to his physical presence. After all, it’s hard to miss a man with the strength and character of Uncle Phil. Literally.
3) Leading on from the previous clip, many of Uncle Phil’s best moments came from his relationship with Will’s eclectic best friend, Jazz. Jazz was a baffled mix of ghetto fabulous and street-smart lothario. He was as funny as he was oblivious and had surprising comedic chemistry with Uncle Phil.
4) For a large man, Uncle Phil could bust some moves. This indicated not just Uncle Phil’s fun side, but also how far his rocky relationship with Will had progressed without them noticing. There’s nothing like some classic Motown to make a moment epic.
5) As astute and downright hilarious as the comedy in the show was, it was also surprisingly adept at moments of pure emotion. At its best, it was tear-jerking and explored some hard-hitting issues under the guise of a half-hour sitcom. Will inadvertently leading Carlton to take Speed, and then breaking down when apologising to the family was emotional, but more so because of Uncle Phil’s kindness in a moment when he had every right not to be.
6) One of the best aspects of Uncle Phil’s character was that he was a man who came from a disadvantaged background and an ethnic minority, who was now hugely successful and accomplished in the legal world. This was not only inspiring, but also made for some badass moments when he’d switch into fluent legalese. In this, probably his finest lawyer moment, he expertly ousts Will and Carlton from jail. Judge Banks versus the police:
7) Uncle Phil spent approximately 85 per cent of his screentime expressing one emotion – anger. And he did it expertly. James Avery did angry better than anyone else on TV and was every bit the ominous judge. It’d be comedy gold if he wasn’t so downright scary.
“…they’ll never find your bodies. I’m a judge. I can make it happen.”
8) Will. Singing. Uncle Phil’s face. Priceless. Impromptu karaoke is such an underrated thing.
9) Amongst Will’s many moronic mishaps, one of his finest, is the failed pool hustling palaver. Here Uncle Phil reveals not only hidden talents, but also shows the younger, somewhat more idiotic generation how it’s really done.
“Geoffrey, break out Lucille”
10) If Will Smith was the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, then Uncle Phil was the undisputed King. In no clip is this made clearer than this one from early on in the series. Will’s very sad relationship with his estranged, deadbeat father is touched upon, but the highlight is Uncle Phil’s stoic sympathy and this moment marks him slowly becoming the father figure his nephew never had.
Image from: http://superselected.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/james-avery.jpg
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