Now that it's a pop-cultural force, rap music has been embraced by NBC. On the network's gleefully sleazy Hull High, a Greek chorus of rappers regularly recaps the show's action in rhyming couplets, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air stars Will Smith, half of the real-life rap duo of D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, whose good-natured ''Parents Just Don't Understand'' was a top 10 hit a few years ago.
NBC beat-master Brandon Tartikoff has trumpeted The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as his network's one ''surefire hit'' among its new shows and predicts that Will Smith will quickly become a ''breakout star.'' But don't put too much stock in that. Remember that at the start of last season, Tartikoff assured us that Sister Kate, an unfunny nun sitcom that America ignored, would be a ''breakout hit.''
I don't want to dis Tartikoff too badly, though; he just might be right about The Fresh Prince. It's simultaneously cynical and skillful, a well-acted sitcom that wants to make rap safe for Middle America.
Smith stars as a poor Philadelphia youth who packs up his boom-box and heads to Bel-Air, where he moves in with his wealthy, stiff-necked uncle (James Avery), his wise aunt (Janet Hubert), and thf children. Smith hadn't acted in anything but music videos before this series, but he's a TV natural tall and gangly, he takes loping strides across the screen, snapping out his lines with easy authority. His character is supposed to be a fish-out-of- water wise guy, a street-smart fellow who freaks out his staid new family.
The punch lines are predictable, but the kid and his stern uncle generate a great deal of comic energy. Avery does excellent slow burns while the fresh young prince mouths off.
Given all the bad publicity that rap has received lately, The Fresh Prince might help convince lots of viewers that rap can be good, clean fun. B