Another sitcom face-off where I take two similar sitcoms and see which one is better. Have a real interesting one today, as I pair off two 90’s hits from NBC

What in the world unites these two very different sitcoms?They are both fish out of water stories. In Fresh Prince we have Will being taken from his home in Philadelphia and ending up in the rich, snooty world of Bel Air. 3rd Rock had aliens trying to live on Earth, and constantly trying to figure out all the little nuances of being human. However once you get past that you find these are both basically family sitcoms with families which were a bit different. Both of these shows had broad stories and silly gags.  Both of these shows were moderate hits which starred respected actors (Will Smith later, John Lithgow prior), but which show was better?


ROUND 1:LEAD STAR
Will Smith vs. Dick Solomon

These guys are both fun loving guys who act a bit immature. Will was a product of the 90’s, he liked rap music and having a good time. He was sent out to California to avoid getting into trouble and get an education.Unfortunately Will is not exactly a conformist. Even from the first time he enters Bell Air Academy this is made clear when he refuses to wear his jacket the correct way. Instead he turns it inside out revealing the colorful lining.Dick is the high commander of the group of aliens, and while he is in charge it’s seems pretty clear he doesn’t know what to do with his command. He falls for and chases Mary all the while making mistakes which come close to blowing his cover. After he discovers feelings and emotions he decides he likes them, even at the expense of the mission they are on. Neither Will or Dick really care much about authority, laughing in the face of the “rules” which are a regular part of society. They both have pretty big ego’s, Will struts around like he isa ladies man while Dick acts like everyone is below him. Dick tends to overreact and jump to conclusions about things, while Will is always getting into trouble and trying to figure out a way out of it, only to make things worst in the process. Yes there is a soft side to both men, Will is a good friend, nephew, cousin and whatever else he needs to be. He had an effect one very member of the family, getting them to loosen up and enjoy life a littlebit. Dick did have a soft side but it seemed his ego always got in the way. Hedid the nice things because the rules told him to. Of course this is because he is an alien and is not familiar with the rules, but I think in the end it makes Will a more balanced character. Besides Will Smith single handily made his show work with his charm, you gotta respect that.

WINNER-FRESH PRINCE

ROUND 2-THE FAMILIES

I freely admit this is a hard one , since the families are a bit different here. The Banks family is a classic uptight family when we first meet them. Uncle Phil is the loving father trying to give his family everything he didn’t have growing up. Vivian is the mother, and Will’s aunt, who is a strong career woman while also loving her family. Then you have the children Ashley, the youngest who wants to be a normal kid. Carlton, the preppy snob who is constantly being picked on by Will. As the series went on he did lighten up, and do i have to mention that famous dance? And Hillary who is a snooty as someone from Beverly Hills would be expected to be, though when I suspect deep down she really did have a good heart. 3rd Rock is a little different, thefamily dynamic is not traditional in any way. Sally is Dick’s sister, why shewasn’t his daughter I never understood but I guess it was funnier that way. She also the security officer and seems to act as Dick’s backbone many times. Tommy is actually the oldest of the group even though he appears and feels as ateenager. He thinks about girls and gets into arguments with Dick like anyfamily. Harry is Dick’s bother, I think, and his primary role on the show is to make goofy faces and say silly things. He acts as the transmitter, which was clearly not what the writers intended when the show premiered but was addedwhen they realized Harry has to have some function, but it works and leads to many laughs. Which one is better? This is a very tough call, but I am going to give it to 3rd Rock. Why? Because many episodes of Fresh Prince hardly have the family in it, or they get the one line and are off. 3rdRock was a stronger ensemble show; every episode had something for each to do.It’s because of that we grew to like those characters better. Except for Carlton, who did get featured and I think we did get to know (the dance!). I can’t say the same is true for Fresh Prince.

WINNER=3rd Rock

ROUND 3-SUPPORTING CAST 1
Geoffrey vs. Mary

It may be hard to believe but Mary and Geoffrey do have something in common. They are both on their respective shows to observe and comment on the situation, to say what the people watching cannot say. Of course that’s where the similarities end. Following in the footsteps of Florence onThe Jeffersons and Benson from Soap, Geoffrey was the classic sitcom butler. Hewas there to make jokes, insult the family, and pretty much do things which would get him fired in real life. Mary is a very flawed character, despite her occupation she is insecure and deals with a lot of demons. She had a rough childhood, was overweight, and even had a reputation for sleeping around. I never understood why she was even interested in Dick, but I think the fact that he was totally infatuated with her was just what her self confidence needed.  When someone loves us and truly accepts usfaults and all, it makes us feel better about ourselves. I think that is what Dick does for Mary, and why she reciprocates that by really caring for the guydespite the fact that he is a bit odd. So who is the better character? Truth isthis pretty easy, because while Geoffrey is there for the comic relief that’s really it. Sure he had a couple episodes where we learn a little about him, butit’s usually always for a punchline. Mary is just a better character, she is flawed and has problems. She can be hurt, angry, happy…and we believe all ofthese things because Jane Curtin played her so well. So, in this category the winner is easy.

WINNER=3rd Rock

ROUND 4-SUPPORTING CAST 2

Is there any contest here? Fresh Prince had almost no regular supporting cast outside of Jazz. He was funny, always coming in to make some remarks and then be tossed out (literally) by Uncle Phil. His being thrown out was one of the better running gags. But aside from him, who was in this show?Will had a friend from Philly for one season that disappeared. A former girlfriend from Philly the next year who also disappeared. Then he had a long term relationship who likewise disappeared at the end of that awful season (more on that in a bit). The only regular characters were Vivians sisters, but they didn’t pop up enough to really count, which included Will’s mom who the creator srealized they had to show once in awhile. 3rd Rock wins this one, no contest. They had Officer Don, who Sally loved. He was a lovable cop who wasn’t that great at his job. The university Dick worked was teaming with regular sincluding Nina, the quirky Judith, nemesis Strudwick, and the students in his class who inexplicably took his class every semester (how does that work?)including Leon who happened to played by John Lithgow’s son. Tommy had a few girlfriends come and go including August and Alyssa. And even Harry had Vicki and Chyna. Ifthat wasn’t enough their landlord was Mrs.Dubceck, a chain smoking free spiritwho we loved to see every week. The Big Giant Head even became a regular character toward the end. The great thing was that not only did we get lots of thesecharacters, but we learned about them to. This show figured out that you needmore people than the four main stars, and similarly to what The Simpsons did to Springfield, by the time the show left the air Rutherford, Ohio felt like areal town that we had visited because we knew the locals so well. No contest here.

WINNER=3RD ROCK

ROU0ND 5-THEME SONG

I love the 3rd Rock theme, that guitar riff is a favorite. But let’s be honest, which theme are you going to have stuck in your head? Yes, of course the Fresh Prince one with that great rap which really doe sa great job of explaining the premise of the show. It is an example of a perfect theme song in my opinion, establishing the premise and concept while also being memorable and fun to listen to. No contest here.

WINNER=Fresh Prince

ROUND 6-PREMISE

This is always the hard part. It’s easy to compare characters, but when you have to talk about stories it gets trickier. One thing these shows both did was inside jokes or 4th wall gags. Fresh Prince always had Will winking at the camera. 3rd Rock had a great gag whenever it sounded like someone was stumbling on to their secret; the look on Dick’s face was always priceless. He just had this look in his eyes and you believed he was really an alien close to having his cover blown. It’s hard to describe. Fresh Prince, especially in the early years, was focused on Will shaking up his Bel Air family and getting them to loosen up a bit. Nothing wrong with being rich, but they were becoming rich snobs who looked down on people. That isn’t right. I always loved that first season Christmas episode when the neighborhood freaks out over Will’s Christmas decorations. I mean,what’s the big deal really? Oh, gotta keep the snooty uptight appearance. I see.Most of these shows had Will and Carlton getting into trouble and Uncle Philhad to save the day. I always liked how this show was never afraid to play around with the characters. We had Vivian join an aerobics class, Uncle Phil become a pool shark, Carlton stripping, and even Ashley became a hottie when she started school. It’s nice that they let the characters breath a little and not confine them like some shows do. 3rd Rock was a silly slapstick,and let’s be honest the premise got old after awhile. I mean, how long were we supposed to buy these aliens naivety? I think that’s why a lot of people gave up on the show, and how it went six years is beyond me. They did a Super Bowl episode which many hate because the show was pushed outside the confines of it normal setting, and I can see how that can be annoying. I liked that episode just because they did that, it’s nice to see something a little different once in awhile. What this comes down to, however, is the more serious stuff. Even when John Lithgow did serious on 3rd Rock it was still meant for laughs. Fresh Prince was real serious at times. Doing episodes on drug abuse,guns, and the famous episode where Will’s father comes back..only to turnaround and walk back out again! Ouch, what douche!  They were just better at thinking outside the box a little more often and not just being joke after joke. No the show is not perfect, Carlton’s reaction to Will getting shot is never followed up on whichis beyond stupid, and Will is fine the next episode after his father leaves like nothing happened…..but they still took the risk of having that episode inthe first place. 3rd Rock was just for laughs and while there is nothing wrong with that after awhile you notice that the show has no depth to it. The same thing happened with Night Court and thecreators changed the tone and tried to make the show more character driven. 3rdRock is funny, but that’s about it. I think Fresh Prince has to win this one.

WINNER=FRESH PRINCE

ROUND 7-JUMPING THE SHARK

Both of these shows had strong final episodes, but let’s talk about when they jumped the shark so to speak. For Fresh Prince this is easy. That second to last season when Will met and ended up almost marrying Lisa. Talk about sucking the life out of a show. It just wasn’t the same when Will became a responsible adult. We liked the juvenile Will, the one who chased after women and got into stupid trouble. Nothing wrong with growth but this was too much too fast. There is a reason why they tried to get back to that during the last season by having him burn the kitchen down. Not bad but I wasn’t a regular viewer by then. As for 3rd Rock, they didn’t jump the sharkso much as get boring. There is a reason why shows like My Favorite Martian,Alf, and Mork & Mindy never stay on very long. The premise of aliens trying to figure out how to be human just isn’t something that can stay funny for long. The final season of both these shows weren’t bad, but it was clear they had both run out of steam. Will Smith was ready to move on with his acting caree rand Joseph Gordon Levitt was hardly appearing, who knew he would become the respected actor he is today? The other thing that hurt Fresh Prince in my opinion was changing the mother mid-way through. You can do that with a secondary cast member, but Aunt Vivian was sort of important and Daphne MaxwellReid just did not bring what Janet Hubert-Whitten had brought to her. She went from being a strong woman to a powder puff, and she just never blended into thegroup the same way in my opinion. The final episodes were both strong, but also good examples of the problem between the two. Fresh Prince had to have cameos in the episode as the casts from Diff’rent Strokes and The Jeffersons appear. Why?3rd Rock had a very strong episode where everyone said goodbye. The last scene in the car where they teleport away was one of my favorite moments ever, very powerful and well done because we feel like we know these people.Fresh Prince last scene is Carlton running out of the house after almost getting left behind. Funny, but as a series ender? Also in 3rd Rock the finale made perfect sense while Fresh Prince was the tired “we’re selling the house” cliché we’ve seen a hundred times.  I gave Fresh Prince credit for doing dramatic stuff, but sometimes I wonder if they were just stunts. Sure, they were well written and acted, but the next episode everything was fine again. That can turn viewers off, is it a silly comedy or is it meant to be taken seriously? It’s hard to be both.  3rd Rock you know what you were getting, and you got it. Plus you had a great cast that you really wanted to see every week. This is a hard choice because both these shows have serious fans and I am bound to piss someone off, but I am going to say the winner is the show which didn’t need stunts and dramatic episodes to keep viewers interested, they just were. The stronger show, in the final analysis,is…..

Final Thoughts-This was a tough call, but Fresh Prince had more trouble after it’s first couple seasons whee 3rd Rock seemed to sail a little more smoother. Both are great 90’s shows and I am glad that I got see them.

By richb

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