Twenty-five years ago on Thursday, the first episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air aired on television. Starring Will Smith as a lovable street-smart teen from Philadelphia who moves in with his aunt and uncle in Los Angeles' wealthy Bel-Air neighborhood, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air quickly became a cultural phenomenon in the 1990s. The show has only grown more popular with time, holding a firm place in the ever-shifting pop culture lexicon.
Here's seven reasons why we love The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air 25 years later.
1. Catchy theme song
Channeling Will Smith's penchant for fun, family-friendly rap music, the catchy and endlessly quotable theme song to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air has remained an important cultural touchstone for children of the '90s. And it seems that the song has only grown in popularity over the decades, with famous musicians, late night hosts and even Jeopardy's Alex Trebek throwing down their own rendition of the song.
2. Enduring social themes
While Fresh Prince is generally known for its hip comedic charm, the show was also successful in tackling important social issues like drug abuse, gambling addiction and racial identity with delicacy and earnestness. Moments like when Will expresses his disdain over the father who constantly abandons him, or when a fraternity member who questions Carlton's racial identity echo true even 25 years later.
3. Alfonso Ribiero
Many sitcoms introduce a lovable but hapless sidekick to compliment the main character. While the main star is fully developed and fleshed out, the sidekick is typically one-dimensional and only there for cheap laughs. Luckily that wasn't the case with Carlton Banks, the preppy, conservative straight-shooter brought to life by Alfonso Ribiero.
Through Ribiero, Carlton evolved from the goofy foil to the street-smart Will into a multi-layered and lovable character in his own right, earning audiences' laughs along with their respect. Ribiero's character remained so popular over the years that he was invited to perform on Dancing with the Stars. And if you still can't get enough Carlton, he begins hosting ABC's America's Funniest Home Videos this season, which premieres Sunday, October 11.
4. Real family
Characters in family sitcoms often come across as one-note: Dad is churlish and demanding, mom is lovable but naive, siblings quarrel and bicker, plus the option of the quirky, out-of-touch relative who spices things up with their eccentric behavior. But the Banks clan portrayed on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air actually felt like a real family that existed outside of your television.
"We were always very affectionate with each other. People always hugging up on somebody," cast member Karyn Parson told ABC News. "I love them so much. Even all these years later. They are just good people, they love me and I love them dearly."
5. Innovative comedy
Network sitcoms can be hilarious but also have apprehension towards being innovative, with writers and characters feel the need to fit inside the rigid 22 minute, single-camera structure of a network show. But Fresh Prince embraced experimentation, frequently breaking the fourth wall and incorporating unusual but effective story lines while keeping true to the sitcom format.
6. '90s nostalgia
Fresh Prince has been able to remain relevant even into 2015. But the show still serves as a '90s time capsule of sorts, showcasing the bright-colored fashion and cultural trends that dominated the decade. While other '90s comedy staples like Seinfeld and The Simpsons arguably had a bigger impact on pop culture, Fresh Prince encapsulated what it was like to be a youth in that decade more than any other of its TV peers.
7. Will Smith
It's hard to imagine a time when Will Smith wasn't one of the biggest box office stars in America. But in 1990, Smith was just a popular but broke rapper with little to no acting experience who owed a lot of money to the IRS. But Smith was like a breath of fresh air when he starred in Fresh Prince, adding excitement and flavor to the show that had been missing from network television. He's battled aliens from different galaxies and held his own against robots and zombie-like creatures, but audiences still know Smith best as the West Philadelphia, born and raised teen who became the prince of Bel-Air.