Actually, I’m not a TV series junkie. But for obvious reasons I spent more time at home this year and was magically drawn to one series: “The Prince of Bel-Air”.
In fact, the episodes are 30 years old, but for me they were the perfect accompaniment through 2020. Even the title song, which the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” raps (the original title), sounds particularly believable this year: “This is the story of how my life was turned upside down”.
The American family series ran from 1990 to 1996, was a huge success and sparked the acting career of leading actor Will Smith. It has been repeated worldwide since it was first broadcast, in languages such as German, Spanish and Russian.
Climate change and racism – universal issues
The beginning of the story, known to millions of people, is simple: A clever African-American teenager who grew up on the streets of Philadelphia moves into a mansion in the posh Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, where he lives with his wealthy uncle (a lawyer), his aunt ( a professor), whose three children and a British butler live with bone-dry humor.
The Banks TV family: mother, father, three children, butlers Geoffrey (2nd from right) and Will, colored in the middle
The different living habits collide and lead to family dramas as well as conversations about black identity, mostly in the studio setting of the living room and kitchen – but, hey, my life recently took place in these two rooms too.
While the series is so old, its themes are universal and undeniably relevant to 2020 worldwide. When I saw episodes in which police officers inevitably stop motorists because of their skin color or in which African-American history is missing from the curriculum, I asked myself: How far have we really come in a year in which we have worldwide protests against police violence and racial profiling and for the Have experienced the decolonization of our historiography? Awareness has grown, the movement has broadened – but the crimes have stayed the same.
DW editor Cristina Burack
Every time the older daughter of the TV family goes to a climate protection demonstration, it bluntly underscores that the ongoing existential crisis of our planet has driven people onto the streets for decades – even if the daughter is more concerned about her social reputation in this case. Nowadays she would take protest selfies.
Not all elements of the series have aged gracefully – and I don’t mean the clothes by that. (As a kid in the 1990s, I had a thing for neon colors, denim outfits, and nylon windbreakers.)
A new look – through the Corona glasses
Punch punches that make gays the target of ridicule, reinforced by faded in laughter, formed thick air in front of my screen. Contemporary series can no longer get away with that. And that’s good. It’s called progress. And in a year when everything often seemed to stand still, it’s important to be reminded that we can change things for the better in the long run.
Communication sometimes difficult, sometimes strange: Uncle Phil and nephew Will
Then there were the moments that reverberated in a way that the creators of “Prince of Bel-Air” hadn’t intended. For example, when the grandmother, who has just had the flu, argues with her uncle about whether she can leave the house. I had to think of conversations I had with my family that year when we – like probably many others – tried to weigh the protection of our older relatives from COVID-19 with their desire for a worthwhile everyday life.
And would anyone have thought in 1994 that a certain tight-lipped real estate mogul with a blonde quiff who appears briefly as a cameo would one day become US President? The guest appearance of “The Donald” definitely interrupted my television break from reality, but at least the younger daughter yells in the scene, almost on my behalf: “Thank you for destroying my life!” That was redeeming.
Laughing with the “Prince of Bel-Air” is good
From absent fathers to life after the loss of a partner – the “Prince of Bel-Air” also carefully handles heavy dramatic material. But this is entertainment – and one that doesn’t take itself too seriously. She made me laugh. And this year I had reason to laugh as bad news followed another.
Short appearance: Donald Trump (l) and his wife Marla Maples (r) in 1994 in the “Prince of Bel-Air”
I also needed the nostalgia – the wistful memory of a time when I saw the series with my family under the same roof. When George Bush was president. (Never thought I’d write that!) And when we had to pull out the big video camera when we wanted to record a video of ourselves. To indulge in this nostalgia, even if it is superficial, was comforting in a year that was a complete disaster to say the least.
A restart of the series has been announced in the 30th anniversary year of the “Prince of Bel-Air”. I’ll look at her when she comes out. But until then – or at least until Netflix takes the old episodes out of the program – you will find me on the sofa, where I re-watch the best series of 2020.
Adaptation: Beate Hinrichs