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Western Animation / China, IL

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"Well, there's somethin' I been meaning to tell you,
'bout the college on the edge of the town:
No one should ever go there,
You know it's bad, bad, bad
It gets worse every school year
But man, the freakin' teachers are rad..."

Brad Neely's China, IL is an animated series that ran on [adult swim] from 2011 to 2015, adapted from a 4-part series of 3-minute shorts that aired on the channel in 2008. Both star Neely's long-running characters of The Professor Brothers Frank and Steve & Baby Cakes, all of whom he personally voices.

The series follows the misadventures and strange goings-on at the University of China, Illinois, proudly dubbed 'the worst school in America'. Brothers Frank and Steve Smith, the two history professors at the campus, are regularly joined by their TA, Pony Merks and perennial student/confidant/drinking buddy Mark "Baby" Cakes as they deal with such frustrations as relationships with their students (in more ways than one) and confronting such eccentric side characters as their impossibly macho Dean (voiced by Hulk Hogan) and China's Strawman Christian Mayor (who is equally macho), along with the occasional gay ghost, time-traveling ex-president, and colossal, murderous baby.

While the original shorts were created in Neely's trademark motion comic style, the series is his first project to be fully animated, allowing for more fast-paced comedic acting similar to that of Super Jail alongside with Neely's usual brand of humor.

This show provides examples of:

  • Ascended Extra: Students play a bigger role in season 2 though they're not the same students in season 1.
    • President Reagan rose from a minor villain in Season 1 to "the president" in Seasons 2 and 3.
  • Aerith and Bob: The four main characters are Baby Cakes, Pony Merks, and...Frank and Steve Smith.
    • The Super Deluxe shorts and the pilot episode reveal Baby Cakes' real name is Mark Cakes.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation: In-Universe. In "Total Validation," Steve argues that Toy Movie 3 is not, in fact, a heartwarming story about family and unrequited love but rather one about an insane man with an unnatural attachment to his material possessions and slaves who refuse to disobey their master.
  • Ambiguous Gender Identity: Crystal Peppers, who might be a cis or trans woman. She engages in a "winner cuts off the loser's nuts" bet with Steve, and Frank later has trouble with his "thank you" note for her partially because he doesn't know if she's trans or not, and if she is, whether that would be appropriate to mention in the note.
  • And This Is for...: Frank goes ballistic on the Dean during the Season 1 finale.
    Frank: This is for the black kid! *slap* This is for Cakes' hot students! *slap* And this- *cocks gun* -is for me!
  • Animation Bump: Goes without saying, since it started out as something more akin to an animatic than full animation, later getting fully animated. And since Titmouse is providing the animation, the bump is all the more noticeable.
  • Art Evolution: The original shorts were created using Neely's usual "animation" of comics edited into a slideshow with voiceover. The series is fully animated.
  • Berserk Button Steve loathes The Beach Boys, as seen in "Surfer God".
  • Big Bad: Ronald Reagan, of a kind. He's the villain of the first episode, where it's revealed he's responsible for everything wrong with Steve's life. Later, Frank busts him out of prison in an attempt to get a history channel special, but Reagan hijacks his plan in order to become eternal president of the United States, at which point he has Obama Unpersonned.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: Ok, she's more chubby than "big," but Pony otherwise fits the bill, having numerous male students and faculty members at UCI being interested in her sexually with little regard to her size.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Little Brother Instinct: When Steve gets shot during the Dean's List challenge, Frank goes from weak and whiny, to a Ramboesque asskicker.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Barely avoided. Baby Cakes almost nails his hippie sister, Mattie.
  • Buffy Speak: Features in "Prank Week," where certain egregious misdeeds are referred to as "bad people stuff."
  • Camp Gay: Professor Harold, voiced by a gloriously hammy Jason Alexander.
  • Call-Back: "Dean vs. Mayor" and "Baby Boom" have Freeze-Frame Bonus jokes about the disappearance of Jackie Lather (the host of the kids' talent show from the first episode).
  • Captain Ersatz: Toy Story 3 anybody? There's also a combination of Applebee's and Chili's called "Chilibee's", with a giant bee with a chili for a tail as the mascot. Denny's is also replaced with "Din-Din".
  • Child Supplants Parent: Inverted in "Parents Day." Steves mother, who's aroused by "alpha" men, gets turned on by Steve taking charge in any situation, from helping the family out of financial troubles to hailing a taxi, which inadvertently displaces his complacent, testosterone-challenged father. She spends the entire episode either flirting with or coming onto her son and even after realizing what she's been doing and becoming repulsed, she still can't control her urges until Steve's father gets a slight testosterone boost at the end.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Baby Cakes, though somewhat less so than in the Super Deluxe shorts.
  • The Cloud Cuckoo Lander Was Right: Baby Cakes is right about the Dream Reamer and the Easter Bunny, and at least two of his product ideas (protein bars made of non-sweet and eventually non-food flavors and a "gummy world") turn out to be huge successes, eventually shut down for being too addictive.
  • The Complainer Is Always Wrong: In-universe the relationship counseling service Total Validation believes that the person who comes to there building with a complaint is automatically wrong. It reaches Insane Troll Logic levels as they will admit the person has a point, but will still find them in the wrong simply for complaining. Jack apologized to his wife upon finding out that they agreed with Babycakes
  • Crossover: Between the Professor Brothers and Baby Cakes.
  • Culture Blind:
    • Pony, despite being Latina and raised in a Hispanic household, can't speak Spanish to save her life and was under the impression that Mexico is so poor that she could go to a university there for just pocket change.
    • Frank, despite living in a time when superhero media is all the rage, had no idea what a superhero was until Baby Cakes explained it to him.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: "Life Coaches" reveals this for Pony. Despite being hispanic, her last name is Merks because she married her high school sweetheart right out of school. He died shortly after in a boating accident, which a psychologist posits is the source of Pony's obsessive nature.
  • Dining in the Buff: In the episode “Life Coaches”, Frank walks into his classroom and is disgusted to find that Baby Cakes is sitting at his own desk completely naked while eating an apple.
    Frank: (facepalms) Oh my God, you’re nude?!
    Baby Cakes: (realizes he’s naked) Oh. I’m naked. (Beat) Oh well. (continues eating apple)
  • Dirty Old Woman
    • Sammy Davis, another member of the History department faculty.
    • The Accreditation Inspector, who drags Steve around town dressed as a Cat Boy.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: In "Bi-Toping-Ality," Pony fights to prove that liking anchovies on pizza instead of pepperonis isn't a choice, but rather something you're born with, yet can't understand how Baby Cakes can like both.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: The Dean expected The Governor to be a giant dude, like himself. Turns out he's a miniature, Penguin like guy.
  • Faking Amnesia: Ronald Reagan fakes Alzheimer's to get out of trouble.
  • Faux Horrific:
    • Everybody finds the sight of the Governor, a very very short man, to be horrifying.
    • Likewise, everybody reacts to the party thrown by Pony's entire extended family "Parent's Day", as if it were some form of torture, despite it being a completely wholesome family reunion, albeit one with a MASSIVE family. Crystal Peppers notably refers to it as being "too much".
  • Fed to Pigs: Happens to a recurring character's girlfriend (and his parents) in "Wild Hogs", in which the eponymous hogs invade the campus.
  • Foil: Mark Cakes and his son Baby Cakes are this, as Mark is a brilliant scientist who occasionally does some very stupid things due to a lack of common sense, while Baby Cakes is a simpleton and a Cloud Cuckoolander who is surprisngly insightful.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Like the shorts that appeared on YouTube and Super Deluxe - this trope is practically a Brad Neely staple.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Frank. He had to send himself a present since no other teacher did.
  • Funny Background Event: See Freeze Frame Bonus.
  • Future Imperfect: Apart from Pony, the history department of UCI is comically misinformed about their historical facts.
  • Godwin's Law of Time Travel: In the first episode, Ronald Reagan and Steve travel back in time and completely change the course of man, including having Adolf Hitler circumcised and giving him a Jewish upbringing. When they return to the future, Hitler is leading a Jewish version of the Nazi party in overtaking the world.
  • Grand Finale: "Magical Pet", an hour-long Musical Episode.
  • Half-Hour Comedy: The second season is a half-hour long instead of 11 minutes. The show's frenetic pacing is slowed down somewhat, while the characters are explored a little more.
  • Hot on His Own Trail: Baby Cakes in "Prank Week," who never understands that the "serial killer" on the news that he's trying to track down is HIM, because he kidnapped a bunch of people he thought were witches, and the media assumed the missing people were dead.
  • Inferiority Superiority Complex: It's stated by Pony that Steve needs someone to look down on as she finds out firsthand due becoming the 'new Frank' since the actual Frank was banished.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Sammy used to look exactly like Pony when she was younger. And continued to look like her until she turned 80. Then she became...Sammy.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The Mayor. In his very first appearance, he forces his authoritarian and christian fundamentalist beliefs on the college when he takes it over after beating the Dean in a wrestling match, but it's revealed that in "Bi-toping-ality" that he's completely okay with homosexuality and with people marrying their own gender.
  • Karma Houdini: In "Prank Week" Baby Cakes kidnaps 5 people and makes everyone think a serial killer on the loose but when the truth comes out he gets a celebration due to everyone misinterpreting it as a huge prank since it was Prank Week.
  • Large Ham: The Dean and the Mayor, though most of the cast counts in one way or another.
  • Levitating Lotus Position: Steve and Ronald Reagan do this after being in stopped time for the equivalent of 100 years.
  • Mad Scientist: Prof. Leonard Cakes (Baby Cakes' father), and most of the "Super Science" department at UCI.
  • Mood Whiplash: The first half of "Charlize", following Pony as the apparent last person on Earth following a Depopulation Bomb created by Prof. Cakes. It's a homage to Post-Apocalyptic movies like 28 Days Later and I Am Legend played completely straight. And then Frank shows up.
  • Mythology Gag
    • Baby Cakes's assumption that his father is secretly a wizard proves to basically be correct.
    • The "Frank'n'Steve" themesong includes the line "Everybody wants a piece of the Professor Brothers"
    • Numerous characters also have copies of Baby Cakes's Kenny Winker poster.
    • Pony's spanish education takes cues from The Miracle Worker, calling back to the mangled retelling of Helen Keller's life that the original China, Il shorts revolved around.
  • Not-So-Imaginary Friend:
    • Dream Reamer.
    • The Easter Bunny in "Life Coaches". Well not really Baby Cakes's imaginary friend, many people assumed Baby Cakes made him up as part of his fantasy.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Ronald Reagan's Alzheimer's. And his death, for that matter.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Baby Cakes + Robin Hood wig = Kevin Costner. Obviously.
  • Photo Doodle Recognition: Subverted, when Baby Cakes kidnaps five professors, among them is his dad, because he thinks they're witches and wizards and locks them in his basement, the news reports their disappearances and people are lead to believe a serial killer is loose among the college. When the police releases a sketch of the suspect which is basically a face of a generic hairless person, Baby Cakes fails to realize that's him and thinks a wizard is killing the people that looks like his prisoners. He is lead to believe it was Steve after setting a square bottle on the wanted poster that leaves a stain on the eye of the face which inspires Baby Cakes to draw a pair of glasses and hair on the side.
  • The Quisling: Frank, after the Mayor takes over the campus.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: God himself admits this when he comes back to Earth as a surfer dude. He states that when he wrote the original ten commandments, he was just winging it and "No rape" really should have been on the list. Eventually, he puts it as #10 on the new list.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Frank delivers one to his shallow neighbor-girl at the end of "Magical Pet," yelling at her for not giving him a chance. He finds confidence from the good deeds he did that episodes and ends up declaring "I AM MAGICAL!"
  • Red Shirt: Several students and staff get killed in some episodes.
  • Retcon: A few to the Professor Brothers shorts:
    • Pony seems to have had a Race Lift
    • Crystal Peppers, formerly a TA (judging from the original four part short, possibly Steve's TA) is now a rival professor
    • Steve was childhood friends with Baby Cakes, which is why he hangs out with them now. In his series, they seem to be friends of his father instead, with him only knowing them through his dad and later through class.
    • The nature of Baby Cake's Missing Mom is very different from the conflicting stories in the original shorts.
  • Robot Me: The faculty resorts to building robot versions of themselves to avoid teaching the students. Which leads inevitably to...
  • Sanity Slippage: Steve is prone to these once in a while. Best case example was in the season 3 premiere.
    • Due to her obsessive nature, this happens to Pony a lot.
  • Screw Yourself: Steve asks who else is f—ing their robot and every hand goes up. But it ends badly when the robots become clingy, jealous, pony-killers.
    • No, not that Pony. Just a regular small horse.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: In one episode the Dean learns of rising college tuition costs, and decides that he won't be outdone by other colleges and raises China Il's tuition to $500,000 and lowers the professors salaries to minimum wage. Baby Cakes is the only one brave enough to call the Dean out on this and when he's ignored he takes inspiration from Kevin Coster's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and begins stealing the expensive things being purchased by the Dean and gives them to the students and faculty under the guise of Kevin Costner. While this enrages the Dean to the point where he puts a $500,000 reward on Kevin Costner's head, Baby Cake's actions have virtually no effect on helping the cash-strapped students and teachers. The Dean eventually catches Baby Cakes and attempts to hang him until Pony shows up with the real Kevin Costner and collect the reward to pay for her own tuition, but not before Pony apologize to Costner. So in conclusion, all of Baby Cakes' actions solved absolutely nothing and the Dean's ludicrous rules are still in effect.
  • Shipper on Deck: The entire town of China is convinced that Pony and Steve either are together or should be together.
  • Shout-Out: To Hamlet, of all things. When executing a 90-year old mass-murdering giant, always remember: the traditional method is to pour acid into its ears.
  • Something Something Leonard Bernstein: Baby Cakes can only get through "Should all acquaintances be forgot" before he devolves into literally singing "Blah, Blah, Blah".
  • Sour Outside, Sad Inside: Frank is implied to be this out of resentment for Steve.
  • Stereotype Flip: Pony is a girl of Mexican descent who knows absolutely nothing about Mexico except stereotypes she's seen.
  • Stout Strength: Baby Cakes is a huge, misshapen lump of manchild and immensely strong. He frees Pony and Steve from the Mayor's punishment by pulling the stocks apart with his bare hands.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute
    • The Dream Reamer for the Brain Fuckler, both being seemingly imaginary friends of Baby Cakes whose names basically mean "having sex with minds", but with "Reamer" being less profane than "Fuckler". The Dream Reamer also has a rich latin accent, possibly alluding to the Fuckler's brown Ambiguously Brown skin tone.
    • Possibly Sammie Davis, a Canon Foreigner, for Lemon Drops, another disgusting faculty member that Frank and Steve had to deal with.
  • Team Power Walk: Baby Cakes, Frank, Steve, and Pony power walk during the opening credits.
  • Third-Person Person: The Mayor talks in third-person.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Frank gets one at the end of "Magical Pet". Quite fitting, given that it's the Series Finale.
    • In general, there are a handful of episodes that end relatively well for him.
  • Time-Traveling Jerkass: Ronald Reagan is one of these, using time travel to mess with Stick during all points of his life just because he did an insulting impression of him as a child.
  • Took a Level in Dumbass:
    • The Dean he went from Crazy Is Cool in season 1 to Manchild in season 2.
    • Baby Cakes went from the kind-hearted guy who was oddly above the inherent meanness in the shenanigans to Cloud Cuckoo Lander as the series went on.
    • Frank in the original web shorts was nowhere near the eternally unlucky dope with a raging inferiority complex and no dignity that he wound up being in the show. He and Steve were more of less equals.
  • Verbal Tic: Mayor likes to end his sentences with amen, amen.
  • Waxing Lyrical: "Tell the world to get a room! We're doing this one in the road!"
  • Will They or Won't They?: There are a few hints of this between Steve and Pony, most notably her offering to marry him right then (and his never actually turning her down) when she finds out about the premarital sex ban when the Mayor takes over the school.
    • And something went on between her and his robot double. From the sound of it, it wasn't impressive.
    • Eventually, the entire school starts egging the two of them on to hurry up already and admit they love each other. Neither Steve nor Pony are happy with this situation, as every man and woman they try to sleep with is telling them the two of them ought to be together instead; eventually, Steve and Pony try to stage a fake 'on fire' just to make people stop saying they were in love. However, due to Baby Cakes, people think they're more in love than ever much to their consternation.

Alternative Title(s): China Illinois