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Western Animation / Problem Child

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Problem Child is an animated series produced by Universal Cartoon Studios, based on the Problem Child films.

It ran from 1993 to 1994, on the USA Cartoon Express, and followed the continuing adventures of Junior Healy and his hapless neighbors.

Five videocassettes (each with two episodes) were released, but said tapes are next to impossible to track down.

The entire series was available on Tubi, but was removed off the platform sometime in 2022.

Tropes associated with this series:

  • Actor Allusion: Dan Castellanenta plays an oddball criminal in "Junior and the Jail Break" that has a weird obsession with electricity. He even reuses his Megavolt voice for the part.
  • Adaptational Dumbass: With Murph surprisingly enough. He was clearly not very intelligent in the second movie, given how many times he had been held back, but he was primarily Book Dumb and clearly just didn't care about applying himself. In this version, he is far more incompetent, speaking in a Simpleton Voice and being lucky if he spells his own name correctly.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Murph is Junior's friend instead of a hotheaded thug overreacting to people pointing out his questionable intelligence.
  • Art Evolution: The first season was very toony. The second season was semi-realistic. Part of this was due to a switch in animation studios; the first season was co-produced at D'Ocon Films in Spain, while the second was co-produced at Lacewood Productions in Canada, and used AKOM as its overseas studio.
  • Ascended Extra:
    • Murph was a minor antagonist from the second movie that was carried over to be one of the school characters. He appears fairly often in Season 1, but primarily just for bit parts at school and has little involvement with the actual plots. He gains increased prominence in Season 2 and is regularly shown participating in whatever Junior and Cyndi are doing outside of school.
    • Similarly, Betsy and Ross appeared in Season 1 as Junior's friends, but they didn't appear that often and rarely had any involvement in a story. Come Season 2, the twins are depicted as part of the main group of kids and regularly involved in adventures.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: When Junior announces his run for governor, an irritated Big Ben tries to rush the stage, only to get stopped by Murph (acting as Junior's bodyguard). A now enraged Big Ben demands that someone be arrested for all this. One cut later, Big Ben is in a jail cell since, as Ben reminds him, he committed a crime by trying to rush the stage.
  • Bumbling Dad: Downplayed with Ben. He certainly has moments of obliviousness and stupidity (which is hardly unique for the adults on this show, anyway), but he's generally portrayed as a competent father figure that always makes time for Junior and knows how to keep him in line. As Junior says, he's a doofus, but a loving doofus that taught him proper values.
  • Cartoon Creature: Yoji, Junior's pet... monkey-lizard thing? Seriously, what was it supposed to be? An alien? Some sort of escaped lab experiment?
  • Cement Shoes: In "The Weird Olympics", Big Ben and Peabody fail to uphold their end of a deal with a mob boss who reacts by ordering his right-hand-man to drive them to a driver and stop on the way to buy some cement.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Spencer just disappears after "Junior Vanilli" (the third-to-last episode).
  • Circling Birdies: The stars version appears frequently, especially to Yoji. Junior also sees stars three separate times when facing off against Tiny Ben.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The executive in "Toys Will Be Toys" sells faulty, extremely unsafe merchandise, engages in brazenly false advertising, and refuses to honor his company's oft-stated refund policy.
  • Corrupt Politician: Big Ben is Toe Valley's mayor, so this was to be expected. He actively abuses his position for assorted perks and got in bed with a local gang to ensure continued electoral success. Junior acknowledges how he's the biggest criminal in town. He actually runs for governor at one point, but luckily, he doesn't get very far.
  • Criminal Doppelgänger: Small Paul from "Junior and the Big House" looks exactly like Junior and is the same height, despite being an adult. The only differences are his deep voice (provided by Brad Garrett) and a beard (which he shaves off after breaking out).
  • Deadlier Than The Male: Highlighted during Cyndi's brief stint as a problem child. Whereas Junior saves the abuse for people that deserve it, Cyndi antagonizes everyone in such unrelenting ways that even the teachers are unable to muster up any resistance. She even stuffed Peabody in a locker. Junior's the only one willing to stand up to her, and it got him creamed in a food fight.
  • Deus Exit Machina: The only way Junior can be mistaken for his Criminal Doppelgänger in "Junior and the Big House" is for Ben to be out of the house on an errand when the police show up.
  • Didn't See That Coming: Junior's reaction in "Junior and the Grammy Bombs" to accidentally destroying the school. He had simply intended to cause a closure by sticking the eponymous candy in the furnace room and creating a foul odor.
  • "Die Hard" on an X: "Junior Dies Hard" unsurprisingly. When Peabody blames him for a supposed prank and punishes the other kids by refusing to let them leave the auditorium, Junior sneaks off into the air vents and picks off the other teachers before facing the man himself in his office.
  • The Ditz: Peabody's assistant. She's certainly pleasant, but she's often unaware of basic details, including what her boss looks like.
  • The Dreaded: Small Paul is the most infamous inmate in the joint. Even the guards grovel before him. Mistaken for Paul, Junior is able to use this to have some fun, at least until the other inmates learn who he really is.
  • Enfant Terrible: Little Ben is just a preschooler, but he's an even bigger handful than Junior is. He runs himself ragged trying to keep up with the kid.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Junior opposes stealing, refuses to antagonize reasonable adults like Miss Hill, and would never prank his friends.
  • Exact Words: Peabody once stole an invention to pass as his own and renames it the "doesntmakebutter", claiming that making butter is the only thing it doesn't do. When Junior and Cyndi got it back, they replaced it with a machine that, when activated, destroyed itself leaving only some butter. The machine having seemingly done the one thing Peabody said it didn't do is held as grounds to have him arrested for fraud.
  • Expy: Cyndi appears to be a nicer version of Trixie from Problem Child 2.
  • Extreme Omnivore: Yoji will eat literally every object in sight. After finding most of his police car devoured, Ben said he told Junior to give Yoji a crowbar to nibble on during the ride. According to the vet, it's because he's teething.
  • Free the Frogs: As a brief gag. Cyndi objects to a teacher proposing dissecting a frog, and the rest of the class fully agrees with her. The closest anyone gets to wanting to hurt a frog is Murph, who says he'd eat the frog if asked to.
  • Freudian Excuse: Tiny Ben is a bigger handful than Junior and far less ethical (such as bullying little kids and trying to scam money out of family). When called out on his behavior, Tiny Ben points out his parents are con artists on the run from the law. Junior admits that's a fair point.
  • Grade Skipper: Spencer is old enough to be a second grader, but she's in the same class as Junior and the other kids. The idea of being sent back down scares her.
  • Hated by All: The family reunion in "Junior and the Bathroom Door" demonstrates that the extended family doesn't care for Big Ben any more than Junior does. Him going missing during a reunion really livens things up. Even Ben admits to being happier than he's ever been before simply because his father isn't around.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Murph. After Junior rescued him from detention, if the season one opening would indicate.
  • Heel Realization: "Governing Principal" sees Junior get increasingly sleazy and awful in his run for governor, until he realizes he's acting just like Big Ben. He gives up his campaign, endorses the only credible candidate in the race, and reveals the underhanded scheme that Big Ben and local criminals were engaged in.
  • Held Back in School: Junior quips that Murph is old enough to vote. Murph doesn't argue the point.
  • Hidden Depths: Despite all the effort in "Junior Vanilli" to pass the kids off as a quality band, it turns out that Murph (who was relegated to roadie) is actually quite gifted with the piano.
  • Hillbilly Horrors: Subverted in "The Wilderness Healys" by the trio that the Healys encounter in the woods. They come across as creepy and ask for the Healys' "purdy" belongings. It later looks like they stole the Healys' stuff, but they simply bought similar gear because they liked it so much. They even help the Healys out against the real thieves (who wanted payback for Big Ben cheating them).
  • Honest John's Dealership: When not abusing the power of his office, Big Ben is scamming people with these kind of ventures.
    • "Junior Healy Superstar": He's the one behind the phony talent agency that's bilking parents for thousands of dollars for auditions, classes, and the like.
    • "The Wilderness Healys": He's busted for selling condos in a condemned building, encyclopedias written in Russian to English audiences, and swampland that he claimed was farmland. That's right. Three scams in one episode alone, and three very angry people at his doorstep. No wonder he opted to go camping with Ben and Junior.
    • "Grease My Palm": He's hocking an overpriced exercise video that he claims did wonders for him. He's wearing a girdle and uses special effects trickery to make it look like he's effortlessly doing impressive physical feats.
  • I Just Want to Be You: Between the scorn she gets for sweeping the student awards and the praise that Junior gets for besting Peabody, Cyndi would rather be a problem child.
  • I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure: Peabody tries to break Junior's resolve in "Junior Dies Hard" by punishing not just him but also his friends in increasingly elaborate and petty ways. He's sure to emphasize he's doing this in order to cause the needed divisions, and he tells Junior to bend to his will or else it will get even worse. When he later thinks Junior broke their deal, he brings the hammer down: refusing to let any of the students get up from their auditorium seats until Junior confesses or someone else finks on him.
  • Ink-Suit Actor: Mr. Peabody was modelled after Gilbert Gottfried, who reprised his role.
  • It's What I Do: As noted in "Junior and the Dictator":
    Cyndi: We're just annoying people.
    Junior: What can I say? It's what I do best.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Junior more so than in the movies, due to having a larger group of friends and frequently going up against clear-cut antagonists that actually deserve the abuse he dishes out.
  • Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: Junior uses Yoji to give a sample to Doctor Malpractice, which leads to the doctor thinking the boy has the Black Plague. Malpractice is horrified and says they have to get the boy back before it spreads to the rest of the town. His nurse is touched by this concern for a troublesome patient and humanity in general, but Malpractice says he's just worried about getting the blame for all this.
  • Kindhearted Simpleton: In this version, Murph is a very pleasant and very dimwitted fellow.
  • Like Father, Unlike Son: In the last episode, we meet Peabody's mother, who is a soft-spoken Honest Corporate Executive and Friend to All Children. Maybe he turned out the way he did because he's more like his father.
  • Loophole Abuse: Due to the way the state laws were worded, Junior can run for governor, despite his young age.
  • The Man Behind the Man: The crooked talent agent in "Junior Healy Superstar" is revealed to be working for Big Ben, who thought up the scam in the first place.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: In "My Fair Cyndi", Junior trains Cyndi in the art of being a problem child but accidentally makes her worse.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • In the first movie, Big Ben was running for mayor. In this show, he is a mayor.
    • "Junior Healy Superstar": Junior wants to become famous in order to outdo the star of a Home Alone parody. Macaulay Culkin auditioned to play Junior in the first movie.
  • Nature vs. Nurture: Junior feels he'd have ended up the same way as Tiny Ben, if not for Ben's parenting.
  • Nice, Mean, and In-Between: Ben's the nice, Big Ben's the mean, and Junior's the in-between. This is particularly highlighted in "The Wilderness Healys" when the three of them go camping and keep playing off of each other.
  • No Indoor Voice: Take a wild guess. They hired Gilbert Gottfried, and they certainly got their money's worth.
    Peabody: HEALY, GET IN HERE!
  • Not Me This Time: Junior had agreed in "Junior Dies Hard" to be a model student in exchange for Peabody laying off Cyndi and the other kids, only to be left alone in the office with a bucket of glue (which Junior acknowledged as being quite a tempting proposition). Peabody ends up glued to his chair and jumps to the obvious conclusion, despite Junior's later protests. As it happens, Junior really didn't do it; Peabody's assistant came in after Junior left and used the glue thinking it was wax.
  • Not So Above It All: Cyndi is far more level-headed and will caution than Junior and her other friends, but she still participates in pranks against Peabody and Big Ben.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: In this version, Junior certainly has a reputation for pranks, but he's generally well-liked because he only harasses people that deserve the abuse (like Peabody and Big Ben). His attempt to teach Cyndi how to be a problem child even includes a roleplaying exercise of pranking someone for stealing candy from a child.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Junior forces the Corrupt Corporate Executive to refund his money for a falsely advertised toy, but he also demands that everyone else who complained get a refund, too.
    • When Cyndi sweeps the student awards, Junior's the only one not acting jealous. He outright congratulates her.
  • Police Are Useless: The eponymous jail break in "Junior and the Jail Break" only occurs because Ben left the cell doors unlocked and his keys in the ignition of his police car. He's much more competent in following episodes, though, so he apparently learned from this.
  • Punny Name: Ben takes Junior to a doctor named Malpractice.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Miss Hill so much that she's Junior's favorite teacher. "Teacher of the Year" is about him and the other kids trying to help her win the eponymous award, as well as get her to return to the school after she quits in frustration with Peabody's antics.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Subverted. Yoji has red eyes, but he's not evil, just very excitable and hungry. The only one he is ever shown deliberately antagonizing is Big Ben.
  • Red Herring: Junior tries to figure out who prevented Cyndi from competing in an ice skating competition: Big Ben (since he's making money on the venue), Peggy Fleming (the egotistical celebrity judge), a couple local bullies, and Tonya Hardly (Cyndi's biggest competition). It turns out Peabody (Tonya's manager) paid the bullies to do it without Tonya's knowledge.
  • Remember the New Guy?: In Season 2, new character Spencer is depicted as a regular member of Junior's circle of friends as if she had always been there. One episode even has her mention having been at the school for at least three years.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Big Ben questions his son's competence as sheriff and threatens to replace him. His reasoning is that so few arrests per month is proof he's failing on the job instead of indicating just a low crime rate. However, Ben ends up easily restrained by escaped prisoners.
    Crook: What do you expect from a guy who leaves the cells unlocked?
  • Ship Tease: Junior and Cyndi, since they always stick together.
  • Single-Minded Twins: Betsy and Ross.
  • Sports Dad: Both of Cyndi's parents are this in "The Cyndi Kerrigan Story" when she's in an ice-skating competition. Cyndi clearly enjoys the sport and wants to compete, but her parents are constantly fussing in overbearing fashion over how she should do her routine and what her costume should be like. They have panic attacks when she misses her turn.
  • Stage Mom: Part of why the scam in "Junior Healy Superstar" gets so far. Ben had to be talked into the sign-up fee, but a lot of parents love the idea of their kids becoming famous actors. Cyndi's mother in particular keeps pressuring her to not blow an audition.
  • Stalker without a Crush: In "Junior and the Clown", Junior finds himself stalked by a clown. He is creeped out, not liking clowns in the first place. The episode reveals that the clown is simply obsessed with his failure to make the boy laugh, and keeps trying to get appreciation for his performance.
  • Status Quo Is God: Though there's no shortage of humiliating setbacks for specific schemes, Big Ben and Peabody are never any worse for wear in the next episode, despite being involved in a number of sleazy and outright criminal dealings. Of course, they are arrested in the very last episode and looking at serious jail time, so make of that what you will.
  • That Syncing Feeling: "Junior Vanilli" to a tee. Junior and friends are trying to make a go as a bad, but they stink. Big Ben, Peabody, and a music executive trick them into thinking they've improved and rake in the cash from an unaware audience. When the kids learn what's going on, they're ashamed, as well as reveal the deception in order to land their managers in trouble.
  • Title Drop: Courtesy of "My Fair Cyndi":
    Cyndi: Teach me how to be a problem child.
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: Murph's dad appears in "The Legend of Big Bob Healy" as the bus driver. Father and son look exactly alike, with the former just being a little bit taller than the latter.
  • Undying Loyalty: As excitable and hungry as he gets, Yogi is completely devoted to Junior.
  • Villain Team-Up: Big Ben and Peabody worked together in "Junior and the Dictator" (to get Junior out of town during a high-profile visit), "The Weird Olympics" (to rig the eponymous games in a betting scheme), "The Legend of Big Bob Healy" (conning the kids into fixing up a tourist attraction), and "Junior Vanilli" (making money off the kids' phony band).
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: As in the movies, Ben is excessively optimistic and sees the good in everyone. He's well-aware of how flawed Big Ben is, though he at least tries to give him the benefit of the doubt.
  • World of Jerkass: Unlike the movies, this is averted. There's no shortage of antagonists (with Big Ben and Peabody being the most prominent), but a number of adults and kids are shown to be quite pleasant.
  • Youthful Freckles: Junior gains them in the second season.