I’m sure you’ve heard the news; James Avery, known to a majority of young adults and teenagers as Philip Banks in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or The Shredder in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series of the late 1980’s – early 1990’s, passed away late Tuesday night from complications stemming from open-heart surgery. If you’re like us, Uncle Phil raised you. The generation before us had the Huxtables, and we had the Banks. Uncle Phil was an exemplary father figure. Sure, there were a lot of comedic relief, but underneath all the laughs were some heart-felt moments. He could entertain and he could stir emotion. We’ve compiled our top five Uncle Phil moments here:
5.) Season 1 Episode 21, “Bank Shot”
Since all our other moments are dramatic, we figured a light-hearted moment was needed to break the ice. Uncle Phil was always a man on the right side of the law, so when Will gets himself into trouble – a commonly recurring phrase – by getting in deep with some hustling pool sharks who hold the Bank’s Benz as collateral until Will pays up, Philip tries to go down to the hall to set things straight. When the shark challenges Banks to win back the money Will lost, Banks bashfully accepts. After losing horribly and tempting the shark into upping the ante. Then, Uncle Phil brazenly says, “Geoffrey, break out Lucille” and continues to sandbag the hustlers. When it’s all said and done and they pay up, Phil warms them never to mess with his boy again. As much as Will and he butt heads, Phil is always there for him.
4.) Season 1 Episode 6, “Mistaken Idenity”
You would think that a television sitcom would be afraid to tackle the elephant in the room that was racial stereotyping. You would be wrong. Just six episodes into this series and Carlton and Will are being targeted as car thieves when one of Phil’s legal partners asks them to drive a car back to Los Angeles. Will and Carlton and wrongfully accused of stealing the vehicle and thrown in a cell without due process. Phil finds out and is furious. When the deputies begin trying to put Phil and Vivian in their place, Phil begins throwing his weight around legally. It’s amazing to see two parents bail their kids out like this in such fashion, and it teaches viewers that you don’t have to resort to violence to resolve difficult issues such as this and thatstanding up for what is just can be rewarding.
3.) Season 1 Episode 4, “Not With My Pig, You Don’t”
White collar lawyer, Princeton & Harvard alumnus, forefront of the civil rights movement. All these attributes earned him the Urban Spirit Award. So when he his parents came to town to attend the ceremony, Philip is embarrassed of his rural upbringing in North Carolina. His parents take this to mean that Phil is ashamed of them, too. It takes Will, who leaks the story of “Zeke” and his pet pig to the press to garner more interest in his story, to make Phil realize that his hard-working, strong family dynamics are what have made him so successful, both personally and professionally. At the end of the episode, Phil gives a moving speech about how proud he is to be the son of his parents.
2.) Season 1 Episode 1, “Pilot (The Fresh Prince Project)”
The mere concept of this series was revolutionary for the 90’s. Take a ghetto kid from Philly and put him in the ritziest part of Los Angeles and see how they interact. Anybody who grew up in the city can tell you that the fears of not fitting in with the upper crust of society are very real; it’s not an assimilation that happens without losing a bit of identity. Right off the bat, Fresh Prince showed us that by acting out, Will only alienated himself. He assumed that Philip had lost his way, forgotten where he came from and abandoned his hard-knock roots. Uncle Phil, always quick to retort in intellectual battle, challenges Will to find out what somebody is all about before judging them. It’s a lesson that goes both ways, though, as Phil hears Will playing Beethoven’s Für Elise on the piano. It’s a social statement that wasn’t made enough in that time period, and a great discussion-starter for racism vs. classism.
1.) Season 4 Episode 24, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Excuse”
A strong father figure, sometimes isn’t enough. When Will’s dead-beat dad returns to Bel-Air and tries to “reconnect” with his son, Will begins to push away Uncle Phil, at one point yelling at him that he’s not even his real dad. Phil has been a father to Will since his arrival in Bel Air, and tries to be supportive of Will and his newly-reunited dad. However, it’s all too predictable when it turns out that his father is just using Will’s family ties to take money from them. As Will’s father bails one last time, Phil warms him to never come back. We see Will really unload emotionally, and right into the arms of Uncle Phil. It’s the most emotionally charged scenes in the entire series for us, and it solidifies Uncle Phil as not just Will’s uncle, but his father, as well.
I know it’s much the tribute that Avery deserved, but it’s the one we needed to share with you all. If we missed any Uncle Phil moments you felt should have made the cut, let us know. Rest in peace to a great actor and our TV dad, James Avery. Avery’s last contribution to a film was in an independent film directed by and starring Zach Braff (Garden State, Scrubs) called Wish I Was Here, scheduled for release in September 2014.
Written by Sherif Elkhatib