List of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air characters
- 1 The Banks family and friends
- 2 Recurring characters
- 3 Will's love interests
- 4 Other guest stars
- 5 References
The Banks family and friends
- Nickname by Geoffrey: "Master William"
- Nickname by Jazz and others friends: "Prince"
Born on July 3, 1973.
- Nickname by Will: "Uncle Phil"
- Nickname by Parents: "Zeke"
- Nickname by Carlton: "Big Guy"
- Nickname by Geoffrey: "Master Banks"
- Nickname by Ashley and Hilary: "Daddy"
Philip Banks (played by James Avery) was born on January 30, 1945 in North Carolina. Philip was raised on a farm in Yamacraw, North Carolina, where he was referred to by his parents, Hattie and Joe Banks, as "Zeke". At age 16 he moved to Baltimore.
In the 1960s, he became an activist for the civil rights movement. He was present at the riots in Selma in 1965 and Watts Riots, and, in the pilot episode, he also mentions he heard Malcolm X speak, and that he had read every word that he wrote. In 1963, he was awarded a scholarship to study at Princeton University, after which he went to Harvard Law School. In 1975, Philip was put on the board of the NAACP and was later awarded the Urban Spirit Award for his work in promoting civil rights. He is a conservative but runs as a Democrat against his old mentor Carl Robertson in the elections. At first glance, Will had come to Bel Air with an attitude that because he came from West Philadelphia that he was hardened against anything and was dismissive of Phil and his family as too soft, until he is sternly rebuked by Phil, who reveals his past in seeing the turmoil that happened before Will was born and that it has been his hard work that has earned him a manor in Bel-Air. Philip was also shown to have admired Ronald Reagan, namely because during the series run Reagan had retired from the presidency and moved into the same neighborhood as Philip's. Reagan was said to have declined party invitations until he appears at a traditional Christmas party of the Banks; ironically shown to be a friend of Hilary's.
At the beginning of the series, Philip is a senior partner with the firm of Firth, Wynn and Meyer (which Will humorously compares to Earth, Wind & Fire in the pilot episode). In the third season, he is appointed to the judiciary; he becomes a judge after his ex-mentor, Judge Carl Robertson, who beat Philip by a landslide in the elections, dies suddenly, and the governor appoints Philip to the position. Philip later considers making a deeper foray into politics, but decides against it when his wife disapproves. In the episode "To Thine Own Self Be Blue...And Gold," it is revealed that Phil is a member of the fictional fraternity Pi Nu. After meeting and dating his future wife Vivian, he proposed to her while on live television during an episode of Soul Train. He claims to have been a lifelong fan of classical music in the episode "Bang the Drum, Ashley", though Vivian rebuffs that "When we met, you were into James Brown!", which Philip rebuts by stating it is possible to like both classical music and James Brown.
Philip is a somewhat strict and gruff man, but he does have a softer side, and is an upstanding citizen. Nonetheless, his anger can get him into trouble at times, especially when he feels his image is being besmirched. Additionally, Philip can be financially greedy; he pays his butler Geoffrey a salary so low that Geoffrey quits after Philip gives him a mediocre additional annual raise, and only returns when Philip apologizes for taking him for granted and agrees to increase his salary, benefits and to hire more help during formal functions. In the series finale, when Geoffrey retires, Phil rewards him with both a large cash bonus and an expensive first class plane ticket to London, England. Similarly, while he always spoils Hilary, Philip refuses to increase the allowances of his children, although in later seasons he begins to tire of spending his hard-earned money on spoiling Hilary and becomes more gruff with Hilary to pay her own way in the world. A recurring gag is about Philip's children being afraid of his punishments because, while his anger is understandable, he can be incredibly sadistic and sociopathic in his punishments. For example, in season three's "The Best Laid Plans", in which Will tries to trick a girl he is dating (who does not believe in premarital sex) into marrying him in order to go all the way with her, Philip became severely disappointed and upset, and promises to impose the cruelest punishment that he could find (which he manages to do three years after the incident, when he read about medieval tortures and with a malicious smile in his face).
Despite being a miser, Philip is a very caring and loving husband and father. He makes sure that he does what is best for all his children, including Will. Despite being related to Will only by marriage (and though he sometimes grumbles about Will being a goof-off), he very much cares for him as his own son. Throughout the series, Philip has been there for his children in their time of need, which rubs off on his nephew as Will comes to see Philip as a genuine father-figure (as opposed to his true father, who left him and his mother when Will was a young child). When Will is eager to bond with his biological father Lou after he suddenly re-enters Will's life, Philip warns Will to be wary of Lou and comforts him when Lou is unable to rekindle their relationship.
Philip goes out of his way to make sure all of his children, including Will, make something of themselves. He also fights fiercely to protect his family: When Will and Carlton are arrested for "stealing a car" as they are driving it for his law firm partner, Philip threatens to tie the police station up in "so much litigation that [their] grandchildren are going to need lawyers". He is overprotective of Ashley and has trouble with her growing up into a young woman. A common occasion for humor on the show is Philip's portly shape and big appetite. Will commonly makes cracks about his girth, as do Geoffrey, Jazz and Vivian, and at times, even Carlton (though he is usually skittish and quick to apologize). Unfortunately, Philip's appetite has given him trouble and even caused him to suffer a heart attack in season four's "Home is Where the Heart Attack Is". Philip also reveals himself to be an amazingly adept pool player in the episode "Banks Shot", showing his skill by out-hustling the pool shark who hustled Will at the pool hall. He has a personal cue stick, that he has named "Lucille".
In the episode "Lucky Charm," it is said by Vivian that Philip's birthday is in January. But this causes a continuity error because in part one of the two-part series finale, Philip's birthday is celebrated, but the finale takes place in late May.
- Nickname by Will: "Aunt Viv"
- Nickname by Her children: "Mom" or "Mommy"
- Nickname by Geoffrey: "Mrs. Banks" or "Madam"
- Maiden Name: Smith
Prof. Vivian Banks (née Smith), PhD, born on October 21, 1951, was portrayed by Janet Hubert-Whitten during the first three seasons and by Daphne Maxwell Reid for the last three. She has been a retired Doctor then earned her PhD at UCLA since 1971, and in one early episode takes a temporary job as a teacher for a unit in Black History at Bel-Air Academy, the upscale preparatory high school attended by Will and Carlton, and later by Ashley. She has one older sister, Vy (Will's mother), and two younger sisters, Helen and Janice.
Vivian's personality and role in the show changes over the run of the series. During the Janet Hubert-Whitten years, she is a no-nonsense, vocally talented, forthright, and career-minded woman who plays a part in the show equal to her husband Philip. It is revealed in the season one episode "Love at First Fight", that Vivian dropped out of high school as a teenager and worked menial jobs, before attending night school in order to get her high school diploma and enter college to work toward her PhD.
After Reid took the part in 1993 and baby Nicky was added to the cast, she was reimagined as a homemaker who showed reluctance toward ambitious career moves, such as Philip's political aspirations. The Reid-played Vivian showed a less fiery demeanor than how Whitten portrayed the role. She also supported her children in whatever they wanted, even if it was wrong. An example of this permissive behavior was when she let Hilary make the decision for herself to pose naked in a Playboy pictorial in the season four episode "Fresh Prince After Dark", as well as letting Hilary get abruptly married to her news anchor boyfriend Trevor in "Where There's a Will, There's a Way," and having a seance for Trevor in the episode "Hex and the Single Guy." It seems that Janet Hubert-Whitten's Vivian would have disapproved such attitudes; however, in the episode It's a Wonderful Lie, she's at Philip's side when he severely reprimands Ashley for lying to them and having snuck off to go to a fraternity party, where she'd been caught by Will in a locked bedroom making out with a college linebacker.
In an occasional running gag within the series, whenever a member of the family goes through old family photos, Will would occasionally comment who the mannish-looking person is in the photo, to which it is then revealed that the person in question is Vivian. In a later interview, costume designer Carlo Tang commented that Smith and other cast members would jokingly refer to Hubert-Whitten's Vivian as Marcus, a fictional bodybuilder. The change between the two is the object of two humorous quotes from Jazz in which he breaks the fourth wall. One of them is in the fourth season premiere, when he remarks: "You know, Mrs. Banks, ever since you had that baby, there's something different about you"; after this, Will stares uneasily into the camera. The other is in the fifth season premiere when he sees the suddenly grown Nicky and asks: "So, who's playing the mother this year?".
- Nicknames by Will: "C", or "Boogaloo Shrimp" (also "Stumpy," "Squidget", "Snigglet" or basically any name pertaining to Carlton's small stature)
- Nickname by Geoffrey: "Master Carlton"
- Nickname by Jazz: "C-Note" (in the episode "72 Hours")
Carlton is a quintessential preppy. Like many of his social class, Carlton aspires to attend an Ivy League university; in earlier seasons, he states he aims to get into Yale University, but later fixes a determined focus on Princeton University, his father Philip's alma mater. Carlton is the heir apparent to the Banks assets, and probably the mansion grounds itself.
Like his father Phillip, Carlton is a firmly conservative Republican and this often puts him at odds with Will. Although Carlton and Will often exchange insults, and Will normally refers to Carlton as a disgrace, Carlton obviously cares about Will, referring to him in the 2nd season episode 'Vying for Attention' as "the brother I've always wanted". At first it appears there is an antagonistic relationship between Will and Carlton, but in later seasons Will significantly warms to Carlton, ultimately accepting Carlton and the other cousins as the siblings he never had. On one occasion in the season three episode "Just Say Yo", Carlton is considerate enough to cover for Will when he is admitted to the hospital after having taken speed tablets from inside Will's locker, but allows his parents to think that Will saved him. He attributes this to "still being high at the time" when asked by Will why he covered for him. This spurs Will to admit responsibility to Uncle Phil; although Carlton did ingest speed, Will bore responsibility as he had accepted the pills from a schoolfriend, storing them in his locker, then absentmindedly said to Carlton he had a bottle of Vitamin E in his locker.
Carlton drives a silver Mercedes-Benz E-Class from the early 1990s, which is seen in a few episodes. Carlton also was a bit of a servant to sister Ashley when she hit it big on the singing charts. He held doors open for her and fanned Ashley while she tanned. His role model is talk show host Bryant Gumbel and his favorite singer is Tom Jones. His favorite actor is William Shatner, whom he annoys by making lame Star Trek references. Carlton also idolizes Macaulay Culkin, whom he once dressed up as for Halloween (Although, he looked more like Simon Phoenix, Wesley Snipes' Character from Demolition Man.) He is also a big fan of The Jeffersons and Beverly Hills, 90210, the latter of which he is confident enough to admit to others; this is unlike Will, who scoffs at the show in front of friends but confesses to Carlton that he is a secret 90210 fan as well.
Carlton is similar to Family Ties character Alex P. Keaton in many respects: he dresses in a preppy style, has conservative political leanings, is obsessed with college and his future career, is fairly short, and does not enjoy the popular music of most people his age. Carlton is often called upon to do a comic, usually improvised dance routine to Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual" (which was inspired by a dance performed by Courteney Cox in the music video for Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark"). In earlier seasons, he makes frequent references to his virginity (twice referencing that he plans on losing it at some point), and also plans to attend Princeton University. In later seasons, these arcs are both resolved: Carlton does indeed lose his virginity to a woman who is married to a ULA professor, but is not initially admitted to Princeton; instead he first attends the University of Los Angeles, where he briefly manages ULA's student store, the Peacock Stop.
As seen in the episodes "You Bet Your Life" and "Viva Lost Wages", Carlton also seems to have a gambling problem and loses all of his money in any situation where gambling is involved and constantly imagines the gambling tables and slot machines talking to him, but seems fully aware that he is subject to compulsive gambling, and this limits his exposure to gaming. He usually declares that gambling is "evil" right before he goes all in and loses his and others' money. One exception to this was where he participated in a casino night in the season two episode "Something for Nothing", but that was done for charitable reasons and not for real money. In season five's "Bullets Over Bel-Air", Will tries to protect Carlton when they get robbed after using an automated teller machine, Will gets shot, taking a bullet for Carlton and is sent to the hospital (eventually recovering from his injuries); Carlton acquires a firearm later in the episode, as the event heightens his awareness of the need for self-defense, but later disposes of the handgun upon Will's insistence.
One running gag in the show involves Carlton repeatedly being slapped in the back of the head by various characters, usually in response to comments that are ridiculously self-centered (in later seasons, for example, he would often make humorous comments about gaining his father's inheritance) or due to portraying ignorance of lives other than his own. Often Will would ask to hold what Carlton is holding and once receiving it he would slap Carlton across the head with the object (e.g. a folder containing Will's testament written by Carlton, in "Ill Will"). Carlton's height is frequently made fun of, especially by Will, who, in the episode "Grumpy Young Men", jokes that Carlton is the average height for a woman.
He is sometimes portrayed as being extremely naive. An example is when, in the episode Mistaken Identity, he and Will are arrested after police officers falsely believe that they stole a Mercedes-Benz belonging to Philip's law firm partner, who requested Will and Carlton drive the vehicle to Palm Springs as a favor. At the end, Carlton insists that the policemen were only doing their job, not really accepting the fact that he and Will were victims of racial profiling. However, he seems to wonder if they were wrong, as when he asks his father if he (Phil) were a policeman if he would pull over someone who was driving too slow, for which Phil answers: "I asked myself the same thing the first time I was stopped"; after that, Carlton seems in deep thought over the situation. Although he was portrayed early on as a snobby rich kid, Carlton evolved after having his view challenged when arrested for "stealing a car" and when Will is shot, Carlton is angered that the shooter will probably not face justice for harming Will.
In the sixth and final season, Carlton finally gains transfer admission to Princeton University however, due to his fear of not living up to Philip's achievements, Calton decides not to attend Princeton and briefly becomes interested in pursuing a career in bowling. However, he gets over his fear and leaves for the east coast in the series finale.
- Nickname by Will: "Hil"
- Nickname by Geoffrey: "Miss Hilary"
Hilary Violet Banks (played by Karyn Parsons), born May 12, 1969, is Will's attractive, but dull-witted, eldest cousin, known for her notable lack of intelligence, pretentious attitude, spoiled brat behaviour, and constant dependence on Geoffrey.
In earlier seasons, Hilary's snobbishness is emphasized, as well as her shallow trendy environmental activism. During this time, she often claimed to hobnob with celebrities and loved being mistaken by people for Whitney Houston. Later on, Hilary is written as a self-centered airhead; she looks down on Will's upbringing and is obsessed with shopping and money (this is shown early in the series; her first line of the show is "Dad, I need $300!," which she intended to spend on a hat). However, despite her apparent shallow personality, she has a strong sense of integrity and shows obvious affection to her family members; Will gets along with her better than Carlton does, though Will is at times bewildered by Hilary's lapses of intelligence. Hilary is portrayed as a stereotypical valley girl and speaks with some strong valspeak habits, in spite of her disdain for the San Fernando Valley (as evidenced in two season three episodes: in "Asses to Ashes", when talking about what heaven and hell might be like, she describes hell to be "like, the Valley"; in "Robbing the Banks", when Will lets it slip to Hilary, Carlton and Ashley that Luther, whom Philip was coaxed into hiring to help around the house while Vivian and Geoffrey were each on vacation, spent time "in the pen", Hilary responds "The pen, please tell me that's slang for the Valley"). Hilary is pursued by Jazz and reluctantly goes on a date with him in Season 1 episode "Working it Out" in order to keep her job. The night ends with Hilary giving Jazz a kiss on the cheek.
During the series, Hilary attends and drops out of UCLA, after which she begins a long streak of varying luck that eventually lands her a nationally syndicated daytime talk show titled Hilary. It starts when she becomes a weather reporter at a local television station, where she meets and falls in love with the station's lead news anchor Trevor Collins (Brian Stokes Mitchell). However, Trevor dies in a bungee jumping accident while proposing marriage in the episode "Where There's a Will, There's a Way", part of an ill-conceived live televised event that Hilary and the rest of the Banks family watch at home on the living room television. At the conclusion of the series, Hilary's talk show moves to New York City, as does most of the rest of the Banks family.
Hilary's hair styles have changed as the series progressed; early in the series it was brown and bushy, it then became longer and curly with blonde highlights, but later it was black, straight, and shoulder-length. Hilary appeared in 145 episodes of the series.
- Nickname by Will: "Ash"
- Nickname by Geoffrey: "Miss Ashley"
Ashley Banks (played by Tatyana Ali) is Will's younger cousin, born on October 26, 1979. Ashley was Vivian's baby girl, and always loved being with her mom. Phillip was always trying to control Ashley's life so she did not become anything like regular teenage girls. Will's devil-may-care approach to life proved to be an exciting alternative, which makes her generally more sympathetic and understanding towards him than other members of the Banks family; with that being, Ashley looked up to Will as a big brother and spent much time following him in her younger days. In fact, Will states in the episode "Will Gets A Job" that if he had a choice to be any of Phillip's kids it would be Ashley.
Possibly because of Will's influence towards Ashley, she often acts rebelliously as she gets older, for which her father becomes very angry at Will. One of these moments is in the episode Father Knows Best, which reveals that she dropped out of her private school and enrolled in secret at a public high school and was planning to hide this from her parents as long as possible; though after a failed plot in which Will posed as Ashley's father when she is asked to attend a parent-teacher conference, Will eventually convinces Ashley to come clean. She also spends less time with Will and sometimes gets upset with him when he becomes overprotective like Philip to the point of showing a great deal of annoyance and contempt. She believed that she was old enough to make her own decisions when it comes to boys which neither Will nor Uncle Phil enjoyed hearing or believed. Phillip never enjoyed having Ashley grow up.
Ashley's age is inconsistent in the first season. She is said to be nine in a few early episodes of the season. In the episode "Deck the Halls," Will says that she is 10. But in the episode "Just Infatuation," Ashley celebrates her 12th birthday. Starting with the second season, she is 13, she turns 14 in the middle of the third season, 15 at the end of the fourth season, she is 16 by the end of season five and 17 by the end of season six.
Ashley matures very much in the series; she becomes a one-hit wonder with a hit song called "Make Up Your Mind" in the season five premiere "What's Will Got to Do With It?"/"The Client", however her career quickly fizzles out when her album doesn't sell because as the agent Philip hired to replace Will mentioned "kids got sick of her [song]", when it gets too much exposure. Beginning in the episode "Breaking Up is Hard to Do", she also strives to become a fashion model after being discovered by the president of a modeling agency at her job at a mall food court corn dog stand.
In the series finale, Ashley decides to attend a performing arts school in New York City. As Hilary is also moving to New York when it is announced that her talk show is relocating there, the two sisters decide to live together; they become extremely excited about the whole idea, much to the annoyance of Phillip, who does not want to lose his daughters. In the episode "The Baby Comes Out", where her brother Nicky is born, Ashley mentions she knew how to drive since she was 12 years old. She is very musically talented as shown that she plays violin and the drums, and she can sing. Ashley appeared in 144 episodes of the series.
- Nickname by Will: "Little man"
Nicholas Andrew Michael Shawn Nathan Wanyá Banks (played first by Gregory Wheeler in Twas the Night Before Christening and then by Ross Bagley for the final two seasons) is born to Philip and Vivian on February 22, 1993, toward the end of the third season. Except for one episode, when Carlton professionally calls him "Nicholas", every member of the family calls him by his nickname, Nicky.
The character was primarily used as a plot device, often adding motivation for other characters, comic relief, or an emotional punch to the show's storyline. In the fifth season, Nicky grows from a newborn infant to a preschooler, which is common in television series and soap operas. In the fifth season premiere "What's Will Got to Do With It", the first episode to feature this change, Jazz expresses amazement while Will just stares uneasily into the camera.
Four of his middle names are taken from the names of the members of the R&B group Boyz II Men; he was middle-named this way after they performed at his christening in the season four episode "'Twas the Night Before Christening"; however in the season three episode "The Baby Comes Out", Philip addresses Nicky's full name, with a middle name already given, as "Nicholas Andrew Banks".
Geoffrey Barbara Butler
- Nickname by Will: "G"
Geoffrey Barbara Butler (played by Joseph Marcell), born in London on November 18, 1947, serves as the Banks family's cynical butler. Geoffrey is the first character that appears on screen in the pilot episode The Fresh Prince Project. He is seen going to answer the door to Will, who mistakes him for Philip.
In addition to four years at the University of Oxford and a long career working for British aristocrats, Geoffrey was an Olympic runner several years before being hired by the Banks family (as revealed in the episode "It's Better to Have Loved and Lost It..." from the fourth season, when Geoffrey shows the Banks family a videotape of a documentary called Shame of a Nation), but fled his home country in shame after being exposed for cheating while participating in the men's marathon at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, winning a Gold Medal at the marathon only because he had taken a cab ride to the stadium parking lot; Shortly after receiving his medal, Queen Elizabeth II, who apparently presented the medals, got word of Geoffrey's cheating, pushing aside the bronze medalist to hit Geoffrey with her purse and rip the medal off his neck; Geoffrey then ran from the stadium in shame. In the 1970s, he was a butler for the band Led Zeppelin. In the early 1980s, Geoffrey was sparring butler for Chuck Norris. In the episode Nice Lady, he reveals having practiced Greco-Roman wrestling in his youth.
Geoffrey's character changes over the series: in early episodes, he is very dutiful and gentlemanly, whereas he becomes very cynical in later episodes. Joseph Marcell explains that he began by playing Geoffrey as stereotypically English but then felt that the American audience was not accustomed to seeing Black Englishmen. Geoffrey's favorite television program (as revealed in the pilot episode) is Masterpiece Theatre, which he routinely watches when he goes off duty at 9 pm
Geoffrey always refers to Will as "Master William" (except once in part two of the series finale "I, Done", at Will's request) and the other Banks children as "Master Carlton", "Miss Hilary", "Miss Ashley", and "Master Nicky". Known for his sarcasm, he is the voice of caustic humor on the show, often commenting on Philip's weight, his own low pay, his lack of a social or romantic life, the overall laziness of the family, or Will's goofiness. However, Geoffrey did seem to impress women by having the confidence to be himself, such as when he was set up on a blind date with a Black English woman (played by Naomi Campbell).
In early episodes, he has an interest in classical music and is often hinted at as leading a vibrant private life. Ironically, although a stickler for tradition, he incorrectly tells Will it is proper to refer to a butler by his first name, although this is possibly because his surname and job title are the same. He considers himself to be part of the English working-class, despite speaking the Queen's English and, in one episode, being wary of a relationship with a rich woman.
He becomes the godfather of Nicky Banks in the fourth season episode "Twas the Night Before Christening", after Vivian tires of the bickering amongst her sisters Vy and Helen and noted that no one has been more devoted to her youngest son than Geoffrey has. Midway into the sixth season, Geoffrey discovers he has a son he never knew about, named Frederick, born to a former lover. During the same episode, it is also revealed that his middle name is "Barbara", which he explains is a "family name". In the series finale "I, Done", Geoffrey leaves to be with his son in London; however, in the fourth season episode "'Twas the Night Before Christening", a sequence set in 1998 (two years after the ending of the series) portrays him as still being the Banks family's butler.
There are two running gags centered around Geoffrey. One is that he is often compared to or confused with Benson, from the series with the same name. The other, which is more common is that whenever the doorbell rings, everyone continues with what they were previously doing, or look to Geoffrey, prompting Geoffrey to say "oh, please, will you let me get it this time?" or some variation, in a sarcastic tone. Niles, from The Nanny is very similar to him, as they are both British butlers, both went to Oxford, and both have the same sarcastic personality. Geoffrey appeared in 143 episodes of the series.
- Nickname by Will: "Jazz, man" (also "J", Jazzy Jazzerzon, The Jazzmeister, JazzZ, Jazzertron 3000 and Jazzeroonie)
Jazz was portrayed by Will Smith's musical partner Jeffrey A. Townes, popularly known as DJ Jazzy Jeff. Jazz was born on May 20, 1971 and is Will's ill mannered and dim-witted best friend who lives in the inner-city community of Compton, California. He has had a long-standing crush on Hilary Banks, and almost every time his advances are rejected. Jazz eventually marries a prison inmate named Jewel who had appeared on an episode of COPS, in which she bites the arm of a police officer (this is not shown, although the officer is heard calling for police backup because of it). In the season four episode "Mother's Day", Jewel reveals that she and Jazz are expecting a baby though no other mention of their child is ever made after that point. Jazz divorces her shortly afterward, realizing he knows nothing about her, finding out that she cheated on him with several men and that her real name is not even Jewel (it is Hortense). Jazz is almost completely tactless, and succeeds in insulting or irritating Philip almost every time they are together. He knows how to play the drums very well, and once gave Ashley a lesson in the episode his character is introduced "Bang the Drum, Ashley". Jazz wears sunglasses in nearly every episode he is seen. While in an early episode of season one, Jazz wears regular glasses for the entire episode instead of his trademark sunglasses, the show's writers had initially intended for the character to be blind. This is evidenced throughout early episodes, as Jazz is rarely looking directly at other characters. However, by the second season, in the episode "Cased Up", Hilary asks her boyfriend (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) to take off his glasses; thinking she was speaking to him, Jazz charmingly removes his glasses, revealing his eyes.
In a running gag throughout the series, Jazz usually ends up being literally thrown, or, as it was referred to the first time, drop kicked out of the house. This is usually done by Philip, although sometimes Hilary, Geoffrey, Vivian, and even Will (the only character other than Philip to do it more than once) throw him out. Whenever Jazz is thrown out of the house, he is usually wearing the same clothes; it was decided to use the same clip of Jazz being thrown out the front door as often as possible rather than returning to the exterior location each time (the reuse of the clip is evidenced by the sudden noise of a sprinkler whenever Jazz is thrown out). Will was once on the receiving end of this punishment after making egregious changes to Philip's political campaign tape in "A Night at the Oprah", and in a similar joke was thrown out of a nightclub while trying to dance with Geoffrey's blind date in "Kiss My Butler". During the 1993 Halloween episode "Hex and the Single Guy", Jazz got revenge by throwing Philip out instead, as the main plot to the story was that misfortune-plagued the Banks family following a so-called "hex" from a con psychic communicator. This was later shown to be in a dream Will was having, though when he woke up, the dream appeared to be a premonition, and it was implied that the whole ordeal may truly happen indeed. There was also an instance where Jazz was standing outside of the house, taunting Philip because he was already standing outside; as a result, Philip throws him inside the house. In another episode, Jazz was thrown out in the backyard along with a cardboard cutout of Bill Cosby that he was lugging around. There was also a scene at Jazz's apartment in episode "How I Spent My Summer Vacation," where Jazz throws Will out of his apartment. In this same episode, it is briefly mentioned by Geoffrey that Philip did also throw Will out of the house onto the front lawn when he was leaving the house, but was never shown. There was a time when Vivian threw Jazz out through the back door for saying that he would bring a stripper to Will's birthday party. In another episode Jazz gets a pillow for the Banks' newborn baby until Will finds a tag saying "Wendy Beth" on the back meaning that Jazz had stolen the pillow. Jazz then thinks "it's the thought that counts" only ending up with Will throwing Jazz out through the backdoor with the pillow. At the beginning of the episode "Cased Up," a nighttime version of the shot is used, with crickets as a sound effect (though the actual video of Jazz getting thrown out is simply darkened for effect).
Jazz's last appearance was in the first part of the series finale "I, Done", in which he gave Philip his grandmother's teeth as a gift for Philip's 50th birthday, because Jazz thought Philip was getting old. Thus, Philip was once again angry and threw Jazz out of the house (it is actually mentioned that Philip broke his previous record in tossing him). After the house had been sold in the second part of the episode and Will had found an apartment, Philip was the only person to mention Jazz when asking when he was coming by to help Will pack, to which Will responded, "As soon as you leave." Philip was not surprised, but he did want to wish Jazz luck in the future.
- Nickname by Will: "Mom"
- Nickname by Carlton, Ashley & Hilary: "Aunt Vy"
- Nickname by Geoffrey: "Mrs. Smith"
Viola "Vy" Smith-Wilkes, portrayed by Vernee Watson-Johnson, is Vivian's oldest sister and Will's loving mother. She is a stern, no-nonsense disciplinarian who is not afraid to challenge anyone who gets in her way. It was her idea that Will should go to Bel Air to get a good education and avoid a life of violence in their West Philadelphia neighborhood. Vy works as a supervisor at the post office. It was due to this she opposed the decision when Janice decides to marry Frank, a white man. Though by their next encounter she is more acceptable. Vy eventually decides to marry Lisa Wilkes' father after Will and Lisa call off their second wedding attempt. However, it is unknown whether or not they married, since in Vy's next appearance, Mr. Wilkes is not seen or mentioned. Her maiden name and married name were previously the same, as Will's father was named Lou Smith.
- Nicknames by Will: "Granny" or "DJ Granny"
Hattie Banks, played by Virginia Capers, is Philip's mother, having appeared in six episodes over the series' run. She forms a close affinity with Will (to the point where he sees her as his own grandmother) and even falls for some of his pranks, much to Philip's irritation. She embarrasses Philip by telling stories of his humble origins and refers to him by his childhood name "Zeke."
- Nickname by Will: "Grandpa"
Joe Banks, played by Gilbert Lewis, was Philip's father, having appeared in only one episode, "Not With My Pig, You Don't". His death sometime later (offscreen) left Phillip and Hattie feeling lost.
- Nickname by Will: "Cornflake"
Kellogg Lieberbaum (played by Michael Weiner) was a classmate and friend of Will and Carlton at Bel-Air Academy. Most of his appearances were in the first season, but he makes two appearances in the second season as well. As a pun on Kellogg's Corn Flakes, he is nicknamed "Cornflake" by Will. Much of the humor of his character comes from the dissonance of an unassuming Jewish preppie using such phrases as "She is one fly sister" and "Power to the people – say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud!"
- Nickname by Will: "Ty"
Tyriq Johnson, portrayed by Perry Moore, is one of Will's close friends in Bel-Air, who appears frequently in season 2. He is described in the episode "Eyes on the Prize" (wherein he and Jazz compete against Will and Carlton on a televised game show) as "Bel-Air's oldest tenth grader," a lover of frozen pizza, and a fan of Laverne and Shirley reruns.
Trevor (portrayed by Brian Stokes Mitchell) was Hilary's news anchor fiancé back in 1992 and co-worker at the television station. Trevor often gave himself compliments. Also, he always left the air and the Banks' mansion by saying, "Goodnight and Godspeed." He was originally referred to as "Trevor Collins", but later episodes established his surname as "Newsworthy." He eventually proposes to Hilary, but she insists that he officially proposes on live television later that day. Trevor then proposes to her on television while bungee jumping, and dies during the stunt when something goes wrong with the jump and he hits the ground. Hilary mourns his death by bringing back what she presumes to be Trevor's ashes in an urn, but later learns that Trevor was not cremated, and that she grabbed a stranger's urn. His death continues to haunt Hilary for the next few episodes and his memory, unlike almost everything else (including Trevor's very name), never leaves her mind.
Toni (portrayed by Lisa Fuller) is Hilary's friend who only appeared in Season 1. She appears to be a dumb blonde. Her first appearance was in "Clubba Hubba" and her last was in "It Had to Be You". Her other appearances were "Def Poet's Society" and "Knowledge is Power".
Helen Smith, portrayed by Jenifer Lewis, is Vivian's loud-mouthed younger sister. She has frequent marriage difficulties with her husband Lester, whom she finally divorces after her cheats on her with "a cute little home wrecker", leaving him with custody over their delinquent son Bobby.
- Nickname by Will: "Aunt J"
Janice Smith, played by Charlayne Woodard, is the youngest of the Smith sisters, flighty according to Vivian, and married to a white man named Frank (portrayed by Diedrich Bader in Season 2, Robert Torti in one episode in Season 3), a marriage older sister Vy initially objects to. She also appears in the series with a baby son.
Judge Carl Robertson
Judge Carl Robertson was played by Sherman Hemsley. This man was a cunning lawyer and a one-time mentor to Phil. Judge Robertson visits a few times during the show, and is known for being odd and mischievous. He also appears to have become greatly absent-minded, but makes up for this with his boundless charisma.
Philip begins to question the competence of his mentor and runs against him in the race for Superior Court judge and loses, largely due to Robertson's outrageous smear campaign against Phil. However, at the victory party where he is confronted by Will, Judge Robertson suffers a fatal heart attack, although it appeared that he suddenly died at the "voice" of Will who inadvertently told him to drop dead. The incident leaves Will guilt-ridden, but at the funeral it's shown that quite a few people who knew the judge are quite happy to see him gone. They revealed that he was quite promiscuous and corrupt, for he wrongly convicted innocent people that he prosecuted, and most of them attended just to make sure he was dead, actually applauding Will for his act. The Governor then appoints Phillip to take Judge Robertson's seat.
Though Robertson dies in the third season, Hemsley played his other character George Jefferson from The Jeffersons in the series later. Hemsley as Jefferson appeared in the Season 5 episode "Will is from Mars...", where he is with his wife (Isabel Sanford as Louise Jefferson) at counseling with Will and Lisa. George Jefferson also appears in the very last episode of Season 6.
Lou Smith (played by Ben Vereen) was a one-time character, appearing only in the episode "Papa's Got a Brand New Excuse." He is Will's father, and a trucker. Lou abandoned his family (Will and Viola "Vy" Smith) when Will was 3 years-old, and explains his motives for leaving by saying such excuses as "he wasn't ready to be a father," that "he was scared to accept the responsibility," and that he "felt trapped."
Lou drops in unannounced at the Peacock café where Will and Carlton work. Will invites Lou to the Banks' residence, but when he arrives, the family, especially Philip, gives him the cold shoulder (with the exception of Carlton and Hilary, who are just excited to finally meet their long lost Uncle). Will and his father go to a carnival where Lou explains to him he wasn't ready to be a father and asks for Will's forgiveness. When they return to the house, Lou announces that Will is joining him for the summer on a nationwide trip in Lou's truck. Philip objects to this because he knows that Lou is really doing it for his own sake instead of Will's and will most likely disappoint Will again. After Lou leaves the mansion to go to the pool house, Will and Philip get into a heated argument that ended with Will saying he doesn't care what Philip thinks, as he isn't his biological father. Shocked and hurt by Will's words, Philip begins wondering if he's a good father. Vivian advises him to allow Will to take the trip. The next day, the two of them make amends and Philip wishes Will good luck on his trip.
After a while, the family is still waiting for Lou to return. Lou eventually shows up, telling them he has found a "big" new job in Maine that can't afford enough space for Will, even refusing an offer from Philip to fly Will to Maine to meet up with him. At the request of Philip, Vivian leaves the room, but not before telling Lou that he will no longer be welcome in their home if he abandons Will again, then a provoked Philip bluntly reminds him of his responsibility to Will; that Will isn't some come-and-go object that he can use whenever he feels, and that Lou is supposed to be there for Will, not the other way around. Lou reacts defensively; that he didn't want this job opportunity to happen, and uses his same excuse on Philip as to why he left Will to begin with. However, Philip tells him to stop the excuse, because he too felt the same way, but never let that cause him to leave his family, and explains that being there for his family is what a man does. However, Lou still refuses to listen. Will then walks in before Lou can duck out, again. Lou tells Will that he can't take him along because of his job. He promises that the trip is only going to be "put on hold for just a couple weeks" and will "call him next week". Knowing he's just trying to weasel out easy and is never going to do any of those things, when Lou says goodbye to Will, Will closes the bridge by addressing him as "Lou" instead of "Dad." In a state of awkwardness, Lou leaves. Will is in denial about any feelings of hurt and betrayal, claiming he doesn't need him. He starts by talking about all the times he never needed him, but then starts turning into angry rants before breaking down in tears. Having seen his father abandon him a second time, Will finally realizes that Philip is his real father figure.
Although Lou never reappeared after this, Will was so hurt by the incident that he developed a deep resentment towards his father whenever he was mentioned. In a later episode, during a heated argument with Carlton, Carlton insulted Will by comparing him to his father. Shaking with anger, he calmly but clearly stated, "I am nothing like my father." In an earlier episode before Lou's appearance, when Phil suffers a heart attack and Carlton is in denial, Will confronts Carlton to go visit Phil in the hospital. Will wins the argument using reverse psychology by reminding Carlton he has a father who is always there for his children when Will asks Carlton "Do you know where my father is"? When Carlton answers in the negative, Will rebuts "Neither do I." In the finale episode, Will states the Uncle Phil is the only father he ever had, and Philip says, "You are my son, end of story."
Will's love interests
Beulah "Lisa" Wilkes , portrayed by Nia Long, was introduced in the fifth season episode, "Will's Misery," as the girlfriend who tames Will into forsaking his womanizing ways.
The two fall deeply in love and are engaged to be married, going so far as the ceremonies twice, but never actually tie the knot. The first time, they elope to Las Vegas and try a Shaft-themed wedding, but walk out on the ceremony after being interrupted so many times and realizing they were not ready. The second time they try to get married, Will starts feeling some doubts, especially when he notices that, like Jazz, he also knows very little about Lisa, culminating in him asking if Lisa is her real first name, upon which she reveals it's actually Beulah. Will manages to overcome these doubts but Lisa reveals that she is also having doubts and the two decide not to marry. She is never seen again.
The night before the wedding, a rivalry flared up between Will's mother and Lisa's father. In order to help them work out their differences before their wedding, Lisa and Will send them to a restaurant to get to know each other and work things out. However, the plan backfires when they get along too well and Will catches them in bed together.
Jacqueline "Jackie" Ames, portrayed by Tyra Banks, was introduced in "Where There's A Will, There's a Way (Part 1)" in season four. At first, Carlton believed that Jackie was "the girl of his dreams" after she told off some people who were making fun of his peacock costume (Carlton participated in football games as ULA's mascot, the peacock). Later that night, at a party, Will discovers that this girl Carlton was talking about was Jackie, a girl he had known but did not keep in touch with back in Philly. She is initially upset that he did not attempt to contact her, but eventually forgives him.
As manager of The Peacock Stop, Jackie is the object of Will's affection and frequent come-ons, but continually spurns his advances, deeming him too immature. The two were old childhood friends from Philadelphia, but she feels Will has not grown up since those days. There are certain innuendos indicating she still has feelings for Will. Jackie seems to warm more to Carlton, arguably because she sees him as more mature and stable than Will, although she is not as keen on dancing to Bobby Vinton as is Carlton. However Jackie moves on from Will for good when Will challenges a jock to a drinking game while at a stag party. After being rebuffed by both Will and the football player when she tries to stop them, she has Carlton drive her home and is never heard from again.
Other guest stars
- Mark Burch
- Antonio Fargas
- Michael Clarke Duncan
- Marc Thompson
- John Amos
- Vivica A. Fox
- Cree Summer
- Phil LaMarr
- Bernie Kopell
- Pat Morita
- Kadeem Hardison
- Queen Latifah*
- Jasmine Guy
- Glenn Shadix
- Richard Roundtree*
- Bo Jackson
- Doctor Dré
- Quincy Jones
- Heavy D
- Whoopi Goldberg
- Tony Longo
- Chris Rock
- D.L. Hughley
- Sherrié Austin
- John Witherspoon
- Don Cheadle
- Vanessa Williams
- Malcolm-Jamal Warner*
- Milton Berle
- Evander Holyfield
- Tom Lister, Jr.
- Nancy Cartwright
- Miguel A. Núñez, Jr.
- Brandon Quintin Adams*
- Darryl Sivad*
- Robert Costanzo
- Jaleel White
- Garcelle Beauvais*
- Jim Meskimen*
- Nicole Bilderback
- Morgan Nagler
- Tom Devanney
- Conrad Bain
- Tisha Campbell-Martin
- Adrienne-Joi Johnson
- Daryl "Chill" Mitchell
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
- Bell Biv DeVoe
- Boyz II Men
- Ben Vereen
- Don Yesso
- Kim Fields
- Tyra Banks
- Zachery Ty Bryan
- Robin Givens
- Brad Garrett
- Isiah Thomas
- Olivia Brown
- Nia Long
- Jenifer Lewis
- Donald Trump
- Dick Clark
- Susan Powter
- Regis Philbin
- Robert Guillaume
- Sherman Hemsley
- Isabel Sanford
- Marla Gibbs
- Tevin Campbell
- Victoria Rowell
- Oprah Winfrey
- Branford Marsalis
- Bree Walker
- Reno Wilson
- Hill Harper
- Pam Grier
- Tempestt Bledsoe
- Phil Morris
- Monica Allison
- Craig Kirkwood
- Tatiana Thumbtzen
- Leeza Gibbons
- Lark Voorhies
- Riddick Bowe
- Isaac Hayes
- William Shatner
- Anna Maria Horsford
- Tom Jones
- Joan Van Ark
- B.B. King
- Zsa Zsa Gabor
- Genesis P-Orridge
- Ken Griffey, Jr.
- Hugh Hefner
- Naomi Campbell
- Wayne Newton
- Richard Dean Anderson
- Bob Eubanks
- Jay Leno
- Stacey Dash
- Al B. Sure!
- Gary Coleman
- Tim Russ
- Allen Payne
- Kathy Griffin
- Robert Hooks
- Milo Ventimiglia
- Dante Basco
- Karen Malina White
- Elise Neal
- Don Cornelius
- Keith Hamilton Cobb
- Leann Hunley
- Arthel Neville
- Ajai Sanders
- Tamala Jones
- Kathie Lee Gifford
- Naya Rivera
- Michole Briana White
- Blumm, K.C. (22 July 2013). "Alfonso Ribeiro Reveals the Inspiration for the Carlton on Fresh Prince". www.people.com. Time Inc. Retrieved 8 October 2014.
- The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: What's Will Got to Do With It? (1) episode on TV.com
- The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: 1990–1996 – The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Where Are They Now?, Will Smith : People.com
- Butler – encyclopedia article – Citizendium
- Interview with Jeffrey A. Townes, aka DJ Jazzy Jeff
- Virginia Capers