The good ol’ US of A has given birth to many iconic sitcoms – from Seinfeld to Friends and beyond – but there’s something undeniably special about Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
The sitcom was a vehicle for Will Smith and boosted him to worldwide fame. And, unlike its sitcom contemporaries, Fresh Prince followed the lives of an upper-class black family. This focus wasn’t exactly common in the ’90s, so that fact alone helped it stand out – as if Will Smith’s charismatic, energetic presence didn’t do that already.
But let’s face it – Will Smith isn’t the sole reason for the show’s success. He’s a big reason, sure. But there are other cogs in the Fresh Prince machine that make the show work – the entire cast. Here, we rank the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air cast from best to worst in terms of likeability.
8. Nicky Banks
Nicky, Nicky, Nicky…what can be said of the youngest member of the Banks clan? Well, not much, honestly. He doesn’t have a lot of presence in the series; his appearances are better described as cameos. Yes, he’s cute and funny, and that’s all well and good. However, Nicky simply isn’t developed enough to warrant a place higher than last on this list. But hey, he has the names of Boyz II Men members as his middle names, so we guess that’s pretty cool.
7. Hilary Banks
Hillary plays the spoilt rich girl stereotype down to a tee. She is certainly funny, and her air-headed persona and innocent ignorance make for some hilarious moments in Fresh Prince. However, Hillary doesn’t receive a lot of character development in the series. Sure, she learns to stop living off her parent’s money and eventually starts taking work – eventually getting her own TV Show. However, this is shown to be due to her family’s wealth and influence instead of any talent she earned on her own. She’s good for a laugh, but ultimately as a personality, Hillary doesn’t measure up.
6. Vivian Banks
The problem with Vivian is that she blends into the background more and more as the series goes on. She seldom contributes to the plot itself, and thus, it’s hard to have an opinion of her. She is a very maternal and loving mother – and she does have a sense of humor. In the early seasons, played by Janey Hubert Whitten, Vivian has a fire and strength that is admirable and likable. However, as the series progresses – and Daphne Maxwell Reid plays Vivian – she becomes flatter personality-wise and doesn’t contribute much to the series.
5. Geoffrey Butler
Geoffrey has some of the wittiest barbs in the series and often insults the family more than he does show respect. He is incredibly cynical – even more so as the series progresses – and seemingly takes his job for granted. He at least is kind to Ashley and Vivian, even if he doesn’t express it towards the others. The problem is that the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air rarely explores his character enough for us to note any hidden depths in his personality. Often, Geoffrey comes across as selfish and full of bile and disdain. Indeed, he has his funny moments, but he is by far the best character in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
4. Carlton Banks
Carlton is a funny character – and his ‘Carlton Dance’ is iconic, let’s be honest. However, while Carlton is often part of some of the series’ most hilarious scenes, he isn’t the likable character. More than any of his fellow Bankeses, Carlton has a pretty snobby personality. While he doesn’t take his well-off position for granted as much as Hillary does, Carlton does love to rub his achievements in other people’s faces, especially Will’s, with whom he shares a brotherly rivalry. That said, while he’s not the most likable character, he is certainly one of the best characters in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in terms of comedy value.
3. Ashley Banks
Ashley is the baby of the family, but, as a character, she’s very likable. Because her actress, Tatyana Ali, aged throughout the series, so did her character. And, thus, Ashley ends up being likable due to many ways. Firstly, early in the series, she displays a naive innocence that implies she’s been isolated for years from popular culture. However, her interactions with Will help her see that a lot of fun can be had beyond the Banks’ reserved family home. As Ashley grows up, she becomes more independent, but this also makes Will more protective of her as a brother figure. That said, her ability to learn from her mistakes and her developmental character arc makes her one of the best characters in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
2. Philip Banks (James Avery)
At first, Philip Banks, played by the incomparable James Avery, seems like a bit of a stuck-in-the-mud. Often, he plays the ‘only sane man in the Banks’ crazy world. And, often, he is the one who has to help his family out of the various jams they get themselves into. That said, what makes Phillip so likable is his oft-hidden compassion for his loved ones despite the fact he gets tired of their antics. This is especially evident in the episode where Will cries about his father not wanting him. Phil embraces Will literally and metaphorically embraces his role as Will’s new father figure.
1. Will Smith (Will Smith)
Yeah, I know this is the predictable contender for the first spot. But Will Smith is the center of gravity of the show – the titular Fresh Prince, as it were. In the pilot, we visit Bel-Air through his eyes and, while he isn’t necessarily the focus of every episode thereon, he is the funniest, goofiest, and most charming character of the bunch. Will is hilarious when he is roasting his brother-figure, Carlton Banks, and, in general, his grounded, urban background contrasted with the Bank’s rich, pampered upbringing makes for some of the series’ most comedic moments.
What do you think are the best, most likable characters in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? Are you pumped for the upcoming dramatic reboot? Share your thoughts in the comments below.