A Matter of Shelf Life

It’s always a tricky business. You’re scrounging in the fridge for something to eat. Maybe it’s that dreaded end of week span where everything of value has been used in dishes already—even the freezer is but a cold, desolate cavern. You could gather together what’s left, throw it into a pot with some soup stock and cross your fingers. Spying something red, you pull out a bag of tomatoes. Were they from last week’s groceries, or this one? They’re a little too soft to touch—a little too wrinkly, like they’re wearing a loose-fitting skin. Do you risk it? What’s the harm in a bit of salmonella?

There’s no way around it: Produce is only fresh for so long. At various stages of declining age produce can still be safely consumed, but there are limits. For 3-5 days, cucumber and lettuce are fresh. Admittedly, the dates on most of the lettuce I purchase allow for almost a week, but I’m banking on that being the result of chemical baths or some kind of frozen transportation system. Peaches and tomatoes will stay palatable for 5-7 days. Playing the long game, beets, carrots and ginger can go almost 2 whole weeks. Even bread and most items in your pantry will eventually go south, either ruining the taste, or actually making you sick after consumption.

A bigger problem can arise if you put “fresh” in the very title of the item. If you were shopping at the grocery store and came across a display with the sign: Fresh Apples, you wouldn’t think twice about it. But if you brought that sign home and put it with your apples as they rotted, there would be a certain amount of irony.

That very thing applies to one of my favourite shows from the 90’s. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had a very good run, but being described in it’s title as fresh also implies a stale date. We don’t have to look very far to figure out when The Fresh Prince became inedible. From 1990-1993 the show was hitting every mark with fantastic episodes like our initial foray, season 1’s “Bang the Drum, Ashley,” or season 2’s “Hi-Ho Silver,” and season 3’s “Boyz in the Woods.” Season 1 and 2 also had different directors, with season 3 starting the run of Shelley Jensen, which carried through to the end of the last season.

But we can’t hang this over-ripening on the director. The real culprit is one cast member change. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air became the Past Date Prince of Bel-Air when the first Vivian Banks (Janet Hubert) left the show.

Vivian_Banks
Image credit: freshprince.wikia.com

Sassy and smart, she was everything we ever wanted in an Aunt Viv—and replacing her required a monumental suspension of disbelief, the likes of which I could never muster. The humour of the first aunt was that the kids seemed so different, perhaps with the exception of Ashley. Janet Hubert’s Aunt Viv kept the family together with understanding and tough love. But Daphne Maxwell Reid (Aunt Viv #2) turned the character into just another boring rich person—an older Hillary. Even giving her a new baby was something that only seemed possible with this new Aunt Viv, who appeared ready to embrace a subdued, doting, motherly role.

While seasons 4 through 6 aren’t the worst thing to happen to television (see Dharma and Greg), it was a jarring enough change that the show could never be seen the same again. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air did remain at the back of our fridge for a while longer, with newer items stuffed in front each week. Every now and then we’d think about throwing it out, but maybe it was too big for the garbage bag. Maybe we had fond memories of how it had looked when we’d first purchased it. Barring a reversal of time or heavenly miracle, the trash bin was it’s destination—which is too bad, because shows that good should have lasted 10+ years. Will Smith should have been married and moved into a house nearby. Maybe Uncle Phil could have retired. Carlton could have pulled an Urkel and found his inner Stefan Urquelle, momentarily usurping Will Smith for some spotlight. We missed so much of what could have been for the Banks family, but everything does go bad eventually.

Featured image credit: TheFW

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