The fact I didn't pick Breaking Bad as my favorite series finale probably comes as a shock to everyone since the episode "Felina" was regarded as one of the best series finales ever, and also the amount of personal praise and admiration I've expressed in previous posts.
You're unlikely to find The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air finale on ANY top ten list except for mine; however, the finale, for me, wrapped up during a very important and turbulent time in my personal life — so stick with me here because soon it will all make sense.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Overview
Following Will Smith's successful rap career (that's right, right?), he thought he didn't have it all so he decided to star in a crappy sitcom about himself. Okay, it's probably more accurate to say "a loosely based version of himself", but the character's name was also Will Smith, presumably because he's easily confused when people call him something else rather than Will. Thus The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was born!
Will Smith (played by Will Smith) moves from the streets the mean streets of Philadelphia — or "Philly" as Will reminds us at least 6 times per episode — to his Uncle Phil's mansion in the upscale part of Los Angeles to escape an ass-whooping "on the playground where he spends most of his days." [And by "ass-whooping", I mean he gets spun around and around on a guy's shoulders if the opening titles are to be believed].
The show's topics were generally goofy and at time even pretty funny. Pretty much every episode, Will would joke about Uncle Phil's obesity problem, Phil would joke about Will being a fucking idiot, and everything would just go back to normal by the end of the episode.
Well, except for a few times when shit got real. Like in season 3, Will was having a tough time staying awake in class so a classmate gave him a mysterious bottle of pills. His cousin Carlton mistakes the pills for vitamins, downs the entire bottle of amphetamines, and winds up in the hospital for an overdose.
Or in season 4 when Will's biological father, who left Will at age four, reabandons him after trying to make a comeback in his life. I mean, a trip to the carnival makes up for 16 years of desertion and neglect, right? This left a teary-eyed Will questioning, "How come he don't want me, man?"
In the fifth season, Will and his Carlton are getting money from an ATM as Will berates Carlton about his height and not being "black enough", when an off-camera gunman orders them to hand over the money. When Carlton struggles to pull more money from his pocket, the gunman decides that first-degree murder would be more fun than waiting for his slow ass and shoots him, but Will manages to push Carlton aside and takes the bullet for him.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Series Finale
The series finale aired May 20, 1996. The Banks family had decided to sell their house and move away from California. Will takes a hard look at his lack of achievements since he moved in with them. Hilary takes a job in New York City and Ashley will be living with her to attend a performing arts school. Carlton finally goes to Princeton University, a goal of his since the beginning of the series that was inexplicably railroaded by UCLA for some reason. Geoffrey ends up moving back to London to spend time with his son. Will stays in California to finish college. The finale had the right mix of funny and sad moments, and completely wrapped up the entire series in a genuine heartfelt manner.
"Okay, Don, why the hell is this your favorite series finale?" Glad you asked. In early 1996, my entire family abruptly announced that they were all moving out of New York — all of us. And not to the same place, mind you. My aunt, uncle, and cousin were going to Georgia; my grandparents were heading to Florida to enjoy retirement; and my parents were also moving to Florida but ended up moving to Texas instead.
The plot of a TV show never has so much realism until you are living the very episode you are watching. In one fell swoop everything was gone: friends, family, and familiarity. But, as crazy as this sounds, although Will Smith's situation was fictitiously based, something about that season finale made me realize it would all be okay. We all moved away in June 1996, just a few weeks after their showed aired. Even looking back now, those 30 minutes of TV encompassed everything I felt emotionally at that time. And it was all right; everything turned out great.