Will: How come he don’t want me man?
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in some ways a product of the 90s but in many more is timeless in the messages it has provided. And this episode is arguably the strongest and most emotional moment in the entire series. It presents a legitimate conflict that youngsters even today can listen to and it in no way tries to make its conflict comedic giving it a great deal of weight.
The story is that Will’s father, Lou (Ben Vereen) shows up and reunites with his son after 14 years of making no attempt to reach out after abandoning Will and his mother. Lou claims that he abandoned Will all those years ago because he was scared but is now a changed man. Uncle Phil (James Avery) however does not at all buy into Lou’s change of heart seeing that Lou is seeing Will for his own selfish reasons rather than to make amends.
Outside of a couple of wisecracks by the butler Geoffrey (Joseph Marcell) the episode doesn’t offer much of the humor that’s often come of this show. But it works to the episode’s advantage as it allows a great deal of focus.
One of the strongest aspects of this episode is that you understand the conflict from Will and Phillip’s perspectives. Unlike in other episodes, Will isn’t merely being the disobedient and rebellious Philadelphia man he normally is in contrast to his Uncle Phil’s traditional values. You see him as a kid whose fantasy has become reality and wants to keep that reality as much as possible. Even when he yells at Uncle Phil that he is not his father you understand that he doesn’t feel ungrateful for Uncle Phil looking after him but rather feels the need to be with his father for himself.
Uncle Phil’s bond with Will is something that has not only been developed over the course of the four seasons but continued to develop in the last two. Even after Will angrily claims Philip is not is father and Philip realizes how selfish he’s being by pulling Will away from his dream, you still feel for him when he is devastated by the whole thing. In many other episodes Will often causes Uncle Phil a great deal of grief and his influence has spread to Philip’s other children as well. And yet you see he still cares for Will in spite of all that as he genuinely doesn’t want to see Will’s father hurt him again. James Avery’s performance, particularly in the scene where he finally furiously calls out Lou after the latter decides to walk out on his son again, is performed amazingly and truly solidifies Philip’s role as a father figure to Will.
While Smith’s performance is good overall throughout the episode, what really stands out is the scene between him and Uncle Phil towards the end. For starters, just the act of Will simply addressing his father as Lou says so little yet so much. His rant about how he accomplished his whole life without Lou and will continue to do so are incredibly moving and many can relate to it. And it all cements with Will in tears saying the final words of the episode that you see at the start of this article followed by a hug between Will and Uncle Phil. The whole scene proved to be so powerful that many people assumed Will Smith’s biological father abandoned him in real life. And while Smith’s parents in real life divorced when he was 14 the two still had a good relationship. However the whole scene is incredibly improvised (according to Smith his character was originally supposed to just shrug off his father walking out on him again)
Papa’s Got a Brand New Excuse is hands down the greatest episode of Fresh Prince out there. It framed a conflict that existed not only back then but also still continues to exist even to this day. And it makes no attempt to sugarcoat the whole thing. It goes all the way with its dilemma, its writing, and performances. This makes it particularly relevant even today.