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The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air - The Complete First Season



DVD Release Date: February 8, 2005 (Warner Home Video)
MSRP: $29.95
Number of Discs: 4
Number of Episodes: 24
Running Time: 587 minutes
Total Run Time of Special Features: 17 minutes [in addition, 44 minutes on bonus disc, read "My Thoughts" for details]
Languages, Subtitles, Closed Captioning: English, French, and Spanish subtitles; CC.
Special Features: "Back to Bel-Air: A Fresh Look" documentary; Warner Bros "Celebrating 50 Years of the Best Shows on Television" Commemorative DVD, Volume 1.

My Thoughts:

This is the review all about how The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is on now available on DVD! Warner Home Video has released The Complete First Season of the popular sitcom starring rapper turned television star turned box office star Will Smith. How can you go wrong with a sitcom about a Philadelphia rapper moving in with his aunt and uncle in Bel-Air? It is a 90s take on the classic fish-out-of-water concept, which worked well for other great shows in the past such as Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, The Jeffersons, and other shows. And it is a pretty good one too.

The first season of the show was a very important one for the show, as it helped to establish the flow of the show and the characters. In the first episode (which is obviously included in this set), Will moves in with the Banks family. After all, how can you have a decent sitcom without some good foundation to explain what is going on and why it is going on? Additionally, in the first season, Will encourages Ashley to give up her violin for drums in "Bang the Drum, Ashley." Carlton learns the reality of racial profiling in "Mistaken Identity." Hillary becomes Will's personal servant after Will discovers a secret in "Knowledge is Power." Evander Holyfield makes a Christmas visit in "Deck the Halls." Aunt Viv becomes Carlton and Will's black history teacher in "The Ethnic Tip." Will loses Phillip's car in a pool game in "Banks Shot." Also, the first season contains many guest stars, such as Hank Azaria, Malcolm Jamal Warner, Isaiah Thomas, Tevin Campbell, and Queen Latifah.

Apparently, there was some sort of last minute change made when this DVD set was prepared. The packaging of the set (erroneously) has a statement that this is a 2 disc DVD set, but it is very obvious that once you open the set that there are four discs. Disc 1 contains 7 episodes, Disc 2 contains 6 episodes, Disc 3 contains 7 episodes, and Disc 4 contains 4 episodes. Additonally, Disc 4 contains the "Back to Bel-Air: A Fresh Look" bonus featurette. Each disc has a picture of Will, from his Fresh Prince days of course. The discs are arranged in a typical digipak, although the digipak only has three panels.

Unfortunately, the last minute change likely made this set a victim of poor packaging, so two discs are placed in a panel, meaning that in order to watch certain discs, another discs must be removed from the case first. On the far left panel of the digipak, there is a place to put the episode pamphlet that is included with the set. This is a more than adequate episode guide that includes the writers, directors, airdates, and a brief synopsis. In addition, there is a Warner Bros 50th anniversary bonus disc that contains episodes of two other great shows from the past. This disc is available with the set for a limited time only, and is actually included as a separate item with its own cardboard sleeve.

The menus are kind of basic and a little bit interesting to some extent. The main thing that I don't like is the time delay that it takes for the menu to slowly load. Many DVD sets seem to be doing this as an aesthetic feature lately (as this set does), but honestly, I think many would prefer a menu that loads and responds instantaneously. The main menu has the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song playing in the background with various video clips from episodes of the first season playing on the right-hand side of the screen. On each disc, the options include Play (this is the same as what is typically called Play All, and is self-explanatory), Episodes, Special Features, and Languages. The Episodes option takes you to an episode selection menu where you simply choose the episode that you want to watch. As soon as you have chosen the episode, the episode will play--there are no further options such as scene selection. The Languages menu will allow you to turn on subtitles, which are available in English, French, and Spanish. The Special Features option is the option that I found to be the weirdest option--even though Disc 4 is the only disc that contains any special features, all four discs have the Special Features option on the main menu! When this option is selected (on Discs 1, 2, and 3), a screen comes up that says "See Other Discs for Additional Special Features." This is rather useless and causes nothing more than menu clutter and confusion. Disc 4, however, does contain the special featurette, so obviously, once Special Features are selected on that disc, you can play the featurette.

Video and audio quality are generally good on this set. There is nothing specific to nitpick on concerning the video, it is just one of those cases where it is obvious that the quality is very good, but isn't EXACTLY as great as the quality we have come to expect from watching the show on television. The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 (typical for television shows on DVD), and as many DVDs are, the audio volume is just a little bit lower than it should be. Turning the volume up, however is not a huge issue. Each episode runs about 23 minutes and 30 seconds, but don't expect to be able to push the NEXT button on your remote to get to a specific scene--there are NO chapters in this DVD set.

This disc proves one thing about special features--you don't necessarily have to have a lot of special features to have a good set, but you must have GOOD special features. This set had one real special feature and that is a featurette entitled "Back to Bel-Air: A Fresh Look." The featurette runs approximately 17 minutes and includes "fresh" interviews with former cast members of the show. Obviously, Will Smith was not among those interviewed, but many others were interviewed, such as Tatyana Ali, Debbie Allen, James Avery, Andy Borowitz, Susan Borowitz, Joseph Marcell, Bennie Richburg, and Werner Walian. I admit, usually I get bored by such DVD interviews, but this one was great! It gave great insight into what it was like to do the show, how certain characters were developed, and had many interesting facts that I never even knew about the show. The only interview (besides Will Smith) that was missing that really should have been included would be an interview with Alfonso Ribeiro... why couldn't he take part? Commentaries or bloopers (which were included in the closing credits in later seasons, but NOT in the first season) would have been nice bonus features, but the featurette is pretty good. Also, although not exactly a "special" feature, a few of the earlier episodes on Disc 1 contain the somewhat rare extended version of the theme song.

Additionally, there is a bonus disc included with this set for a limited time only. It contains the first episodes of two other shows from the Warner Bros. library that are not currently on DVD—Family Matters and Head of the Class. The only thing that I found to be a bit disappointing is the fact that both of these shows were presented on the DVD in their edited format (perhaps these are not ready for seasonal sets yet). However, I wouldn't recommend buying this DVD set (or any DVD set for that matter) simply based upon the contents of the bonus discs! The discs are nice to have, but they really have nothing to do with the set itself, and it can be assumed that in about a year or so, this bonus disc will not even be included with the set anyway.

Almost everybody can enjoy The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, so if you are one of the many that can enjoy it, this set is worth it. It is by no means an "expensive" set and the quality of the set more than compensates for the cost of the set. I would have liked to have more special features, but the main purpose for TV-on-DVD products is to have a collection of the episodes themselves on DVD, and there is almost nothing wrong with the episodes included on this set.

Final Numbers (out of 5 stars):

Video Quality: 4.5/5
Audio Quality: 4.5/5
Special Features: 4/5
Menu Navigation/Design: 4/5
Overall: 4.5/5

-- Reviewed by skees53 on 02/11/2005.

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