5. "The Ethnic Tip" (Season 1, episode 17)
"The Ethnic Trip" first aired in 1991, when teaching Black History in schools was pretty forward-thinking. When Aunt Viv gets the class singing the slavery-era spiritual "Wade In The Water", though, it’s not even the first time the show uses the song. In fact, Grandma Hattie (aka singer and actress Virginia Capers) sings the song at the end of the earlier season one episode, "Not With My Pig, You Don’t", as we see a picture of a young Philip Banks, back in the days of the Jim Crow (opens in new tab) South.
He smiles innocently at the camera in one of the show’s most subtly affecting moments.
4. Will’s Misery (Season 5, episode 6)
The best Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episodes wink at the audience, just to remind us that this is a comedy at the end of the day. A good early example is when Uncle Phil counsels Will with the lie "sometimes Parents Just Don’t Understand", a nod to Will’s Grammy Award winning rap record of 1988.
However, it was actually Carlton who was the king of breaking the fourth wall (and the fifth…. and the sixth) when Will makes him think that his first date with Lisa ended in a very brutal fashion. Meta? You have no idea.
3. "Blood Is Thicker Than Mud" (Season 4, episode 8)
When Will and Carlton try and join the black college fraternity Phi Beta Gamma, things seem to be going pretty well. They endure every demeaning task that is asked of them, but the fraternity president, Top Dog, is clearly out to get Carlton, whose preppy image is not what he thinks a Gamma man should be.
And while Dog’s disavowal of corporate America isn’t too revolutionary these days, Carlton’s speech after being accused of being a sell-out – "Being black isn’t what I'm trying to be, it’s what I am" – remains pretty damn affecting, even today.
2. "Bullets Over Bel-Air" (Season 5, episode 15)
This "very special episode (opens in new tab)" tackles the difficult topics of gun violence and gun ownership, while exploring the depths of Will and Carlton’s relationship too. At this stage, they’re more like brothers than cousins, which is why Will pulls Carlton away from danger without a moment’s hesitation.
But when Carlton comes to see him in hospital with a gun of his own, Will stops joking long enough to ask his cousin if he really thinks he could shoot another human being? The two come to an uneasy truce when Carlton gives up the gun, which Will carefully unloads before breaking down in tears. He realises, as we do, that he might just have saved Carlton’s life a second time.
1. "Papa’s Got A Brand New Excuse" (season 4, episode 24)
Season 4 sees Will’s absent father, Lou, finally make an appearance. Will finally gets the chance to bond with the man who abandoned him as a child, which leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of the man who actually raised him, Uncle Phil.
When Lou gets a last-minute trucking job that requires he works alone, he abandons his son again, only bothering to tell him in person because Will catches him leaving. Phil comforts the broken and angry Will, who rages against Lou and cries "Why don’t he want me, man?" As the camera zooms into a statue of a man cradling his child, we can only ask the same question. Not only one of the most powerful episodes of the show, but potentially the best The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episodes of all time.