The unspoken rules of gathering the cast of a beloved TV show for a reunion special are familiar: Gin up the nostalgia and warm, fuzzy feels. Montages and clip reels highlight the memorable onscreen moments from years past, as everyone jovially reminisces about the time spent playing and creating together on set. If a key member is absent because of behind-the-scenes drama or personal setbacks, try to avoid acknowledging they were ever a part of the show in the first place, and/or gloss over any tensions that might spoil the lovefest. Put on a happy face.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion Special, now on HBO Max, follows this rule faithfully for more than half of its run time. Will Smith, Alfonso Ribeiro (Carlton Banks), Tatyana Ali (Ashley Banks), Karyn Parsons (Hilary Banks), Joseph Marcell (Jeffrey, the butler), Daphne Maxwell Reid (Aunt Viv #2) and DJ Jazzy Jeff sit on a recreation of the Banks family mansion set, recounting audition stories and favorite scenes in honor of the 30th anniversary of the hit sitcom's premiere.
But then, right around the 45-minute mark (and immediately following a genuinely moving tribute to the late James Avery, who played the show's indelible patriarch, Uncle Phil), this Fresh Prince reunion dispenses with rules and pleasantries to address the giant elephant in the room—the highly publicized fallout between Smith and Janet Hubert, who was unceremoniously replaced by Reid in her role as Aunt Viv in the show's final three seasons. For the first time in 27 years, Smith and Hubert come together to clear the air.
"It felt like I couldn't celebrate 30 years of Fresh Prince without finding a way to celebrate Janet," Smith tells his castmates, before showing them, and us, video of their pre-taped meeting.