Perfection Is Not a Sitcom Mom by Janet Hubert
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The notion of family honor can’t help but feel a little anachronistic in this day and age, a remnant of an earlier era where matters of honor were resolved via pistols at dawn rather than legal maneuvering, and the mere whisper that a virgin’s purity had been sacrificed before marriage could ruin a family’s reputation for generations. Yet, as an actress, Janet Hubert’s name is her calling card. After she parted ways with The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, the show that made her semi-famous, she felt as if that name was tarnished because, well, her name had become tarnished.
In her self-published 2009 memoir Perfection Is Not A Sitcom Mom, Hubert feels honor-bound to restore dignity to the family name by making a villain of her former co-star Will Smith. Just as there are single-issue candidates who are all about pot legalization or prison reform, there are single-issue authors. Hubert is one. Hubert’s issue: getting readers to hate Smith. Hubert has got her work cut out for her. There are few figures in American life less controversial and more beloved than Will Smith. His reputation is pristine. He’s Teflon. Even that bullshit would-be tell-all about homosexuality in hip-hop that seemed to ambiguously out him a few years back didn’t do much damage to his career, nor has his public flirtation with Scientology. Smith is as close to universally beloved as you can get in Hollywood without being Tom Hanks, yet in Hubert’s mind he’s The Fresh Prince Of Darkness, a Machiavellian schemer who has left a trail of decimated corpses in his wake in his mad lust for money, power, and glory. Hubert hates Smith the way church folks hate the devil and Red Sox fans hate the Yankees.
The book bills the author as “The Fresh Prince Mom Janet Hubert” even though Hubert has spent the last two decades running away from her identity as the Fresh Prince’s TV mom. But business is business and the Fresh Prince name means money even to the woman who probably hates the Fresh Prince more than anyone in the world. In fact, Hubert hates Smith enough to write and then self-publish an entire book solely devoted to making him look bad. But that wasn’t the only reason. Of backstabbing co-star Alfonso Ribeiro (whom Hubert clearly wishes had actually died in a breakdancing accident, as the urban legend once held), Hubert writes:
Alfonso was a large part of my decision to publish this book. That’s because he has made it his business to continue kissing Smith’s butt by slandering me, sometimes at universities that my son may possibly attend in the near future.
I find that passage fascinating. What is Alfonso Ribeiro doing talking shit about obscure former sitcom stars at various institutions of higher learning? Do colleges host “Beer Pong And Character Assassination” nights, then bring in minor celebrities to talk shit? When Hubert’s son possibly attends a university in the near future, will his freshman roommates be all, “Oh shit! You’re the son of that woman Alfonso Ribeiro was slandering at homecoming last year! He was slandering the shit out of her name! You are so fucked! He’s been disparaging your mom at colleges here and abroad.”
Hubert better have some damning material if she’s going to go after a beloved icon like Smith with both guns blazing. She better have a body, a smoking gun, a bloody glove, and a dead child hooker if she’s going to come off as anything other than a bitter, jilted crank enraged because her professional arch-nemesis rocketed to the dizzy heights of superstardom while she plummeted back into sub-anonymity.
Here’s the thing: She’s got nothing. The worst Hubert can lob at Smith is that he was competitive and didn’t want anyone on the show to get more laughs than him. Hubert doesn’t seem to realize that she doesn’t help her own case or undercut Smith’s contention that she was condescending and arrogant by referring to Smith as nothing more than a “22-year-old rapper” who inexplicably got to call the shots because, you know, he carried the entire fucking show with his name in the title, when obviously a serious artist like Hubert with decades of stage experience deserves his deference. Hubert sees Smith as a rapper who decided to act instead of, say, a two-time Academy Award nominee who commands $20 million a film.
Hubert makes what she considers damning references to Smith hanging out with his “homies” on the set. We’re supposed to let our imaginations run wild and imagine the kind of mischief this young, wealthy black man must have caused while associating with other young, wealthy black men, because Hubert doesn’t give us a single incriminating detail. As far as we know, Smith and his “homies” talked about lawn care and their children and the price of soybeans. Hubert seems to think we’ll imagine the worst of the 22-year-old Smith, but I’m inclined to believe the best.
Was Smith arrogant, ambitious, and competitive as a 22-year-old? What rich, powerful 22-year-old isn’t? Yet Hubert’s case against him is shockingly thin. There’s no drugs, sex, groupies, heavy drinking, or gay flings, just a guy who knew what he wanted and went after if from a young age and wasn’t at all deferential towards a diva who loudly broadcast her lack of respect for him along with her Juilliard pedigree. Hubert seemed to think it was Smith’s job to prove he was worthy of acting opposite seasoned professionals; he felt otherwise. According to Hubert, Smith would say things like, “I am God and I can do anything,” which put her in the uncomfortable position of having to inform him that while he was popular and successful, he wasn’t even a minor deity. (Hubert was also offended by Smith telling “yo momma” jokes she felt were insufficiently respectful toward the institution of motherhood.)
Hubert blames Smith for her reputation for being difficult but, by her own admission, she is prone to drama and was not on her best behavior when she unceremoniously parted ways with The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. Hubert can’t even claim that Smith got her fired, since she technically wasn’t let go; instead, the producers offered her an insultingly low contract for the next season that she then declined.
How do you start again when the job that had become your life and your identity is taken from you in the most humiliating possible public fashion? For Hubert, the answer was to sue Smith and NBC for slander and defamation, then watch with mounting rage and indignation as her fellow thespians—serious artists like her, as opposed to that rapping rascal Smith—testified against her. Hubert lost and lost big, but rather than quit while she was behind, she kept on losing.
Hubert rented her home to a couple she compares to Michael Keaton’s character in Pacific Heights only to watch them destroy it. Like everyone else, these sinister new tenants seemed to be part of an elaborate anti-Janet Hubert conspiracy masterminded by the nefarious and all-powerful Will Smith. How powerful is Will Smith? We’re living in the Willennium, that’s how powerful he is: An entire thousand-year cycle is named after him. That’s real power.
When Hubert confronted her tenants, they pulled a gun on her. When she pulled out a pistol herself, she was the one who ended up getting busted. It was the worst of times and the worst of times for our luckless author. She’s reduced to clearing hedges as part of her community service requirements while getting asked for autographs everywhere she goes. Hubert saw Smith’s mocking face in every branch and hedge she attacked with clippers.
The simultaneously hyperventilating and dull memoir follows Hubert as she attempts to put her life back together in the shadow of public disgrace. She meets and falls in love with a cop. She tries to find a home for herself and her young son. She copes with the aftermath of a messy divorce. There is drama in Hubert’s curiously bifurcated existence as a famous former television star just trying to eke out a living like everyone else while dealing with the fallout from her Fresh Prince ouster, but much of Perfection is perversely mundane and rooted in the tedious details of everyday life.
Eventually, Hubert rouses herself from her deep personal and professional funk by reinventing herself as Janet Granite, children’s entertainer, though the book has to skip ahead about 15 years in order to deliver an unconvincing happy ending. Nearly two decades on, Hubert is still filled with the kind of rage that poisons the soul. For her sake and the sake of her son, I hope she’s found peace, because in the great professional war between Will Smith and Janet Hubert it now seems safe to declare Smith the winner.