Sitcoms are usually placed at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to "proper" art mediums. These "situational comedies" are at best merely seen as silly anecdotes about real life, compared to their big brother, the motion picture, or mature father, the novel. Really, sitcoms just seem to take a beating from us, getting passed over as unfair, exaggerated snapshots of real life.
Growing up on programs like The Cosby Show and Full House, I always heard assessments like "ya, but what family really resolves their problems in thirty minutes?!" And it's true. These shows do tend to skirt past some of the heavier issues that we find ourselves wading in. For example, one of my more vivid Cosby Show memories was the episode "The Day The Spores Landed", when Cliff and the other men had to realize just how difficult child-bearing was - which was quickly learned in a 15 minute dream... with muppets. Muppets. But, isn't that the nature of the beast? Sitcoms seem to be made as teaching tools that simultaneously help to keep the mood light. More often than not, I'd say.
However, every so often an episode airs that is just plain powerful - like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air's "Papa's Got a Brand New Excuse". You might've seen the clip circulating around, as Huffington Post had an article with it, after the passing of actor James Avery. Every time I watch this episode I can't help but get choked up. The story alone is painfully weighty, but it's the last scene that punches my soul in the gut. Here's the clip...
It was probably around this time that we all began to see Will Smith's range of acting. But Uncle Phil's wasn't necessarily outdone here either. The acting is definitely applaudable. But the acting is just the immediate... the top layer of beauty here. But I believe what really draws us to this scene is the content's multiple forms of gravitas.
- Abandonment juxtaposed with acceptance - This is the story of Fresh Prince; the out-of-place, troubled youth who finds family in an unlikely place. No different is this than our place here in this world. From birth, we were at enmity with God (Romans 8:7). We were dead to the ways of God, and cut off, as an outsider, living amongst death, corruption, and sin (Ephesians 2:1-3). But we're not left there. We are found by One who loves us, gathered in to Him, and allowed to weep in His arms, seeing that our natural world wants nothing to do with us (Ezekiel 16:8, Psalms 56, and Psalms 142).
- To simply be - Whether angry or goofy, loud or unsure, Phil does one thing consistently with raising his children: he calls them out from where they were, and into who they are. He tells Will that it's okay to be angry, to experience where he's at as a whole person - which is to say he desires for him to take off the masks of the "it's okays", and to know himself. To say we have "old-identity complexes" is an understatement. The Father longs for us to step into the new (Ephesians 4:17-32). What's more, Phil shows us something beautiful here about God - he stays there, and listens. He lets Will vent. He keeps soft eye contact, and let's him be. As Will begins to lose it, though, Phil then acts, and embraces him.
- Embracing the Whole - This shift into the new is not immediate, nor is it complete... until we die. It's hard, and scary, and long, and tiring. Mikhail Bakhtin stated that "the idea lives not in the individual's consciousness - if it remains there only, it degenerates and dies" (The Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics). His idea was that man cannot fully develop into a whole man, if he remains compartmentalized, keeping part of himself away from others. God, having seen us at our worst, comes to our aid and cleans us, holds us, and adores us. He embraces us completely, knowing that we are at the time of love (Ezekiel 16:8).
Although full of silliness and far-fetched "situational comidy-ness", this specific episode speaks profoundly into the soul of us all. Whether we've perfected the art of stoicism, and have masterfully crafted barricades between our heart and others, we all hurt. Hopefully, we can look into this - at least the one scene - and find some potently redeemable qualities: God accepts; God listens; God embraces.
But not to be outdone by somberness, just as I love dancing around the room with my daughter, be reminded that the Lord enjoys being with you. Hopefully this additional video can help with that truth, too...