The Fresh Prince of Bel Air has been off the air for more than two decades, so it’s understandable that memories of the opening credits are a little foggy. But the version that ran on Saturday Night Live this weekend seems … different, somehow. It starts off exactly the way I remember: The Fresh Prince gets into a fight with some tough characters, and his mom, frightened for his safety, ships him off to California. But did the Fresh Prince always look so much like Chris Redd? Do other people remember the part where the Philadelphia gang pursues him to Los Angeles and beats the crap out of his uncle? If the show was called The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, why does the main character immediately leave Bel Air to hide out in a shitty motel? Did I miss the episode where the Fresh Prince steals a dead body from the morgue to fake his own death, fools the local media, but then gets sold to the Yakuza by a phony FBI agent to repay a blood debt?
Like the Berenstein Bears or that genie movie with Sinbad, the version of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air that I remember watching was almost nothing like this. And it’s not like I only saw it once or twice: Every Monday night, my family would switch to NBC just as that familiar theme music started playing. But the lyrics, as best as I can recall, had a lot less to do with gang warfare and a lot more to do with moving to California. I can see it in my mind’s eye very clearly: the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it DJ Jazzy Jeff appearance, the Fresh Prince’s rubber-faced mugging for the camera, even the tuba. It’s the kind of false memory that would make me question the very nature of reality if it weren’t for YouTube, where the original version of the credits is readily available, exactly the way I remembered it. I guess the version that aired on Saturday Night Live was a clever imposter, made to duplicate the look of the classic show so closely that almost no one could tell the difference. But come on, SNL: At least spring for a cameo from the original Fresh Prince, Jimmy Fallon.
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