Remembering James Avery

James Avery, the actor best known for his role as ‘Uncle Phil’ in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, passed away on New Years Eve. He was 68-years-old.

Mr. Avery had been an actor for some time before The Fresh Prince, but it was in the role of ‘Uncle Phil’ that he became known throughout living rooms across America. Below is one of his more memorable scenes with Will Smith. R.I.P James Avery.

Diversifying The American TV Family

A few weeks ago on the African-American themed cable station Centric, I came across a show by the name of “227” that piqued my interest.

“227” revolved around the daily lives and experiences of a middle class black family residing in 1980s Washington D.C. The show starred actress Marla Gibbs, who had achieved fame as the maid in “The Jeffersons.” Also featured was a young Regina King in what would be her first substantive role in a long career. Then there was Jackee Harry, who is probably better known to my generation as the television mother to this famous set of twins.

This got me curious. When people think about a prominent black family featured on television, one of the first images that probably comes to mind is “The Cosby Show.” After all, “The Cosbys” featured a ‘well off’ black family headed by doctor Cliff Huxtable (Bill Cosby) and his lawyer wife, Clair Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad). The couple had five kids between them and resided in a place that’s come a long way from when the show first aired: Brooklyn.

Some criticized “The Cosbys” saying it wasn’t a realistic portrayal of how the majority of black people were living at the time and that it was almost a little too perfect. Damned if you do, damned if don’t, I say. What I don’t think can be lost is that while “The Cosbys” may have been somewhat unrealistic for many people of color at the time, it doesn’t mean the show had any less of an impact to the people who tuned in every week. “The Cosbys” would in fact open the door for another well heeled African-American family while setting the stage for one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars. Only this family was situated a little further to the west. About 3,000 miles west.

When “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” debuted on NBC in September 1990, nobody could have foreseen it becoming one of the primer shows of a generation. Even now, years later, your bound to get a group of people singing along to that catchy opening theme song. “The Fresh Prince” touched on a variety of issues regarding everything from racial profiling, to dating, to Will’s antics with his Uncle Phil. “Fresh Prince” didn’t just make you laugh, it could also enlighten as well, while generally being safe for younger audiences so that everyone could watch.

These were just a few shows that helped diversify the American family television landscape, but they were far from the only ones. Here’s a few more, stretching from the mid-70s to as recently as a few years ago:

“The Jeffersons” (1975-1985)

“The Cosby Show” (1984-1992)

“227” (1985-1990)

“Family Matters” (1989-1998)

“The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” (1990-1996)

“The Hughleys” (1998-2002)

“My Wife and Kids” (2001-2005)

“George Lopez” (2002-2007)