Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: Old Vivian vs New Vivian

Written by Rick on. Posted in Retro, Television

Vivian Banks Old and New

A while ago I asked which version of Vivian Banks people preferred on Twitter. I was literally SHOCKED that many people liked the second Vivian Banks as opposed to what I’m going to call “Vivian Banks Classic.” Yes, I know that the actress who played original Vivian was reportedly very hard to work with, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about acting ability. I’m talking about how the character was portrayed. When you consider those aspects, Vivian Classic is definitely the better choice. It’s not even close.

For those who are unfamiliar with the situation I’m discussing, shame on you. Here’s a little back story from Wikipedia:

Janet Louise Hubert (born January 13, 1956), also previously known as Janet Hubert-Whitten, is an American film and television actress. She is best known for playing her role of Vivian Banks on the sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air from 1990 to 1993… She reportedly left The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air due to a violation of contract that resulted when she became pregnant; the pregnancy and birth of her character Vivian’s child, Nicky Banks, was worked into the plot to accommodate the situation. After she was fired from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Hubert’s character was played by Daphne Reid for the remainder of the show’s run. According to Will Smith, the show’s star, he and Hubert had difficulties working together long before her pregnancy.

So why was original Vivian better? Again, as always, Wikipedia has the answer:

Vivian’s personality and role in the show changes over the run of the series. During the Janet Hubert-Whitten years, she is a no-nonsense, vocally-talented, forthright, and career-minded woman who plays a part in the show equal to her husband Philip… After Reid took the part in 1993 and baby Nicky was added to the cast, she was reimagined as a homemaker who showed reluctance toward ambitious career moves, such as Philip’s political aspirations. The Reid-played Vivian appeared in fewer episodes than Whitten (despite them both being on the show for an equal number of seasons) and with a less fiery demeanor than how Whitten portrayed the role.

That right there is why original Vivian was better. She was a more interesting character. She was the kind of character who you could tell had an exciting life before getting married and having children. She wasn’t a boring, stereotypical mom. She didn’t just sit at home, waiting for her children and her husband to arrive. She was tough. She was strong. She was “a 90s woman” back when that was still a thing. You could tell that she’d worked hard for everything she had in her life. She was the perfect character to go up against the rich, professional Philip and the wise-cracking, cool Will.

And she knew how to dance:

Remember how forceful Vivian was when she taught Black History at Will and Carlton’s school? Or when she argued with her sister Vy? When her and Philip disagreed on something it added a new dynamic to the show. It was interesting. That was a well-developed character who actually added something.

Maybe she added too much. Maybe it was meant to be “a show about Will Smith” and not “a show about Will Smith and his interesting family.” Maybe she stood out too much and that was frowned upon. It’s entirely possible.

Second Vivian, for lack of a better word, sucked. She was boring. She had little-to-no personality. If she wasn’t on the show at all, it wouldn’t have mattered. Seriously. Imagine that if, after season three, they told us that Vivian had been killed in a car accident. After the “mourning period” and the funeral and Uncle Phil trying to move on with his life and transition into being a single dad, the last three seasons wouldn’t have been any different. That shows how completely awful Second Vivian was.

Second Vivian didn’t stand up to her family, she didn’t argue with anyone, she didn’t have any real storylines and she didn’t really do anything. Removing her from the show entirely wouldn’t have mattered. In fact, killing her character off probably would have been better than recasting her and changing her role. At least that would have been interesting.

The only memorable show moment involving the second Vivian Banks was when Jazz reacted to the change, and that had basically nothing to do with Vivian and everything to do with Jazz:

Therefore, in conclusion, Vivian Classic was definitely the better of the two options. If anything, her strong portrayal was too good for a show that was basically a project for Will Smith to show off the fact that he could act.

EDIT: This clip is a perfect representation of what made Vivian Classic so great, via @rNorman747 on Twitter.

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  • Filipe Meneses

    Old Vivian all the way. I don’t even remember new Vivian, strange as that may sound.

    • rickm81

      She was on the show for the same number of seasons as the original, but she was much, much less memorable.

  • Joejoker

    Its been a while since i saw the show but out of the two vivian, the classic definetly better. Love the dance scene btw

  • Jewel Goldman

    They could have at least recasted her with another BLACK woman who had classic Viv’s personality. Even if it wasn’t the same person, they could have kept her character alive so much better than this. Still, aside from this recasting, the show was flawless. This recasting was the only thing about this amazing show that ever bothered me.

  • arta

    i don’t like the new Vivian character she sucks

  • steph michele

    i NEVER liked the new Viv…terrible actress. no depth to the character at all after Janet left.

  • Aigul

    New Vivian looks like a lady who cares only herself. I miss Vivian Classic. I feel terrible that Janet was fired only because she got pregnant, besides due her pregnancy the story got richer.

  • 1adamk

    I never even noticed they were different people…. So, am I racist or do I just not pay attention? Your answer will say more about you than about me.

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