The Saddest Scene in Sitcom History

Don’t @ me

I recently saw the trailer for a reboot of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. The show was made because Will Smith saw a fan made trailer for a dramatic version of the sitcom. Something that is fucking amazing. And plus, the show looks pretty solid.

Get out the tissues

But that’s not why I am here.

As soon I saw the trailer, flashes of the Fresh Prince came back to me. In particular, one scene. A scene that I truly consider the saddest moment in Sitcom history. Season 4 Episode 24 “Papa’s got a brand-new excuse” – Will’s Father Leaving. I know you might be sitting there punching your fist into the screen yelling “what about Michael leaving the office” or the many moments of How I met Your Mother and scrubs, or even Hawkeye’s story in M.A.S.H. Yes, worthy but let me give my justification:

Before I start I need to clarify the backstory behind this scene. A lot of people believe this was improvised and based on Will Smith’s own life. This is bullshit. The writer literally said, “every word was written by Bill and I.”

Anyway, back to the sad shit.

The first reason this scene hits so hard is that the whole show is strictly a sitcom. There is basically no dramatic moments throughout. It’s like that 70s show or friends where it completely focuses on comedy. Thereby, this scene hits you like a fucking stream train. It quite literally comes out of nowhere and catches the audience of guard. Unlike the rest of the shows light-hearted nature, it deals with such a serious and depressing part of Will Smith’s (the character) life. Something the show hides from you, waiting for just the right moment to punch you in the stomach.

A good example is the crowd reaction. Throughout this show, the crowd sounds like a circus. Raucous, over the top laughter. But in this scene, it is reported by the Washington Post that crowd was dead silent, like a church. Except for one person. In the background, you can even hear someone crying. If that doesn’t show how powerful this scene is, I don’t know what does.

Will Smith’s Performance

Will Smith’s performance in this is some of the best acting I have ever seen him do. Its so fascinating because Will was unable to hit this range yet. But from this moment on, the calibre of Will Smith changed. Director Shelly Jensen said, in a Washington Post article, that “it was that specific episode for me as a director [that] I saw him connect and make it work.” (2020). The light just went off.

In this scene Will’s range of emotions is mind blowing. In the space of roughly 3 minutes, he transforms between 3 deep and challenging emotions. Will starts off trying to act strong and tough, with slight hints of anger peeking through.  Following this, he gives a perfect line delivery – “you too, Lou.” The way he says his father’s name shows this resentment that has been boiling there for years. And anger he is trying to keep down in front of his father and Uncle.  

A 1990 Promotional Image of Will Smith as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (Photo by Mario Casilli/NBC/MPTV Images)

After his father leaves, he goes back to the Will we know. How he thinks he has to act. Cocky, upbeat, funny. Exactly like a teenager would, trying to act like they don’t care. Then, once again, comes the rage.

Sidebar – anger in film and TV is something I believe, is constantly overdone. A good example is 12 Angry Men. Everyone just yelling and slamming their fists. But in real life anger slowly builds up. Rising, cracking through the surface until then, you explode. And holy fuck does Will Smith explode.


The crack in the voice. The turnaround. The fists by his sides. Its all so subtle but expertly shows a teenager finally letting out emotions he has bottled up for years.

After this, we see another change. Listing of what he has to do to be better then his father, it shows a sense of drive and hope. A deep ambition to be a better man this his father ever was. Just something in the way he says these lines is so convincing. Its like you just know he is going to do it.

Finally, the end.

“How come he don’t want me man?”

Everything about this delivery is spot on. He is beaten down and shows that in his performance. The sunken shoulders, lip quivering and downwards gaze. Will is tired. Tired of not having a father figure; someone there to love him and care for him. And after so many years of acting tough, he finally lets it all out and goes back to this childlike state. 

The Writing

I think what is so special about this scene is how it almost works on its own. Even if you never have seen this show, this scene could be a 4-minute short. This is all through the character writing. Subtly crafted into the dialogue, the writers give you Will and his fathers entire histories, ambitions and personalities. Without realising, you learn Will’s whole life story and then exactly what he wants from this world. And his motivations? Simply being a better man than his wife. All in the space of 2 minutes, we see an entire character arc. A teenager coming to terms with his history, discovering the man his father really is. It honestly feels like something Noah Baumbach would write. Just Perfect writing.