‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ Was Ahead of Its Time With An Episode That Pushed to Break Gender Stereotypes

Known for its extremely catchy theme song and introduction of Will Smith to the world, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is one of the most influential sitcoms of all-time. The show ran for six seasons on NBC, and is now a popular program in syndication.

While it is generally remembered for its comedic style, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air also featured many episodes that deftly dealt with many social issues.

One of these episodes was an examination of gender roles in the show’s second season titled Granny Gets Busy. The episode was considered extremely progressive for its time, and remains a good representation of positive gender relations to this day. 

What is ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ about? 

Alfonso Ribeiro, Will Smith, and Karyn Parsons in 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'
Alfonso Ribeiro, Will Smith, and Karyn Parsons in ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ | Ron Tom/NBCU Photo Bank

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Set in the rich suburb of Bel-Air, California, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air starred Smith as a fictional version of himself. The sitcom was based on the life of one of the show’s producers Benny Medina. Besides Smith, the show also starred Will’s fictional uncle Phil Banks (James Avery), aunt Vivian Banks (Janet Hubert-Whitten/Daphne Maxwell Reid), and their children, Will’s cousins Hilary Banks (Karyn Parsons), Carlton Banks (Alfonso Ribeiro), and Ashley Banks (Tatyana Ali).

The show’s iconic theme song was performed by Smith himself, and was produced by the legendary Quincy Jones. The show also featured Smith real-life music partner DJ Jazzy Jeff, who appeared on the show many times as Jazz.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was also known for its special guest appearances including cameos from such legends as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jay Leno, Oprah Winfrey, and the members of Boyz II Men. While the show was extremely funny, it did provide commentary on social issues in a way that was rare for its time. 

Why was ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ ahead of its time?

Besides realizing the star power of Smith, the show was advanced due to the way that it examined and spoke about various social issues. It also was one of the few shows of its time that offered a wide and nuanced look at being black in America.

Many shows of the time did not show Black people in positions of wealth or power like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air did. The contrast between the upper-class Banks family and Will who was not used to their type of life was the basis of both the comedy and also provided an interesting examination of the Black experience.

The show’s cast was nearly all Black actors, who were given the opportunity to showcase their comedy and dramatic acting prowess. Besides its examination of being Black in America and race relations, the show also touched on issues like alcohol/drug use, the way black people were treated by police and the legal system, and gender roles.

Many of these issues were considered too controversial for shows of the time, but The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was never afraid to talk about them, and talk about them in a way that is still relevant today. 

What was the episode ‘Granny Gets Busy’ about? 

Granny Gets Busy was the second episode of the fifth season of the beloved sitcom. The episode is a battle of the genders, as the men Carlton and Will, and women Ashley and Hilary, to try to complete a task that is normally reserved for the opposite sex.

The men are tasked with sewing a dress, and the women with building an exercise bike. Both pairs end up succeeding in their challenges, and the competition is called a tie. All of the cousins learn that gender is not the definition of a person’s ability, and gain respect for each other.

The episode also shows that women and men were able to do anything that the other could, which remains a lesson that many people could stand to learn today.