The main characters. From the left: Steve Smith, Dr. Jack Falgot, Pony Merks, The Dean, Baby Cakes, Professor Cakes, and Frank Smith.
|Also known as||China, Illinois|
|Created by||Brad Neely|
|Written by||Brad Neely|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||2|
|No. of episodes||20 (and 2 pilots) (List of episodes)|
|Original channel||Adult Swim|
|Original run||Original pilot # 1:
May 25, 2008
October 2, 2011 –
China, IL (meaning China, Illinois) is an American animated television series created by Brad Neely for the Adult Swim programming block of Cartoon Network. The series takes place at The University of China, Illinois, dubbed the "Worst College in America" and located at the edge of town. The school's poor reputation is celebrated by the school's uncaring faculty and staff, constantly shown drinking while teaching and/or trying to avoid teaching altogether. Steve and Frank Smith (voiced by Neely) are twin history professors at the college, teaching different subjects with limited success, while Professor Leonard Cakes (voiced by Jeffrey Tambor) is the father of undergraduate Mark "Baby" Cakes (also voiced by Neely), who spends his time at college with the school staff. Pony Merks (voiced by Greta Gerwig) is the teacher's aide for the history department at the school, and the most rational of the staff, but still willing to go along with the staff's insane plots to avoid working.
The series was originally conceived as a web series on Adult Swim's defunct comedy website, Super Deluxe, in 2008. Neely, who had done Baby Cakes and The Professor Brothers shorts for Super Deluxe in 2006, envisioned the characters in each series to coexist in the same universe. With the relationship in mind, he produced a four-part internet series entitled China, IL, which was published on Super Deluxe in 2008. An 11-minute television special combining the shorts, entitled "China, IL: The Funeral", aired on Adult Swim on May 25, 2008. Neely stated that a major inspiration behind the premise of the series derives from his lack of college experiences and his Arkansan upbringing. Episodes are written among a writing staff of six to eight people; for voice-over work, the crew works on two or three hours of dialogue for a certain character, followed by storyboard meetings, dailies, and rough cuts, with Neely directing other actors who come in after him.
The series has completed two seasons with ten episodes each; the first season premiered on October 3, 2011 in the United States. Episodes for the first season had a run time of 11 minutes. This was later expanded to 22 minutes in accordance with the network's expanding timeslot. The series has completed its second season; a third season has been ordered.
The series takes place at the "Worst College in America", located at the edge of town. The school's poor reputation is celebrated by the school's uncaring faculty and staff, constantly shown drinking while teaching and/or trying to avoid teaching altogether. Steve and Frank Smith are twin professors at the college, teaching different subjects with limited success, while Professor Cakes is the father of undergraduate Mark "Baby" Cakes, who spends his time at college with the school staff. Pony Merks is the teacher's aide for the history department at the school, and the most rational of the staff, but still willing to go along with the staff's insane plots to avoid working.
Concept and creation
The series was conceived as a web series on Adult Swim's defunct comedy website, Super Deluxe, in 2008. Neely, who had produced Baby Cakes and The Professor Brothers shorts for Super Deluxe in 2006, envisioned the characters in each series to coexist in the same universe. With this relationship in mind, he produced a four-part online series entitled China, IL, hand-drawn by him in his apartment in Austin, Texas. The series was published onto Super Deluxe in 2008. Intended for online consumption, he considered the web series independent from China, IL, due to the differences in format and structure that he stated he feels his work should be dictated by.
Executive producer Daniel Weidenfeld stated in an interview with The Huffington Post that before they knew Super Deluxe would be folded into Adult Swim Video, he talked to senior executive vice president of Adult Swim, Mike Lazzo, about translating the online series to a television special. The special, entitled "China, IL: The Funeral" combined the four-part series into an 11-minute television special, which aired on May 25, 2008. Weidenfeld explained the special "was great, and it was insane that they would have ever put that on TV, but that itself never would have worked as a show." Weidenfeld explained the plot outline for the short, consisting of three stories involving the four main characters; he explained in the interview that having to do "four beginning, middle and ends with one larger beginning, middle and end is the craziest sort of storytelling imaginable." Weidenfeld had previously stated in an interview with MovieWeb that the combination of the shorts "isn't representative of what we've turned this show into. Or what the [original] shorts were, even."
Shortly before Super Deluxe ceased operations, Weidenfeld moved to Los Angeles, while Neely started working as a story consultant for South Park in 2007, during the show's eleventh season. Neely eventually got a deal to write another script for Adult Swim; Weidenfeld and his brother Nick Weidenfeld, who oversaw development for the network encouraged him to use the existing characters in China, IL. Neely stated that he had never done third-person narrative stories for television before, but collaborated with the Weidenfelds anyway and produced a pilot for the network (unrelated to the Super Deluxe shorts); he jokingly stated that "nobody will ever see [it]."
Neely stated in an interview with The A.V. Club that a major inspiration behind the premise of the series derives from his lack of college experiences: "I had this very small slice of an understanding of how college life is. To me, it's high school for adults, and I guess I'm depicting it that way. My sister is a professor. ... I'm around professors, but I'm kind of misinformed a bit. My information is broken and that's what makes China wonky and interesting, because it's what's so fucking wrong about college." Similarly, in the series, Neely parodies popular culture elements that he knows only through passing mentions. The season two episode, "The Diamond Castle", parodies the Mad Men episode, "The Other Woman", which Neely stated he had never watched before; he explained that "We do that often where we'll just take my ignorance and run with it." The A.V. Club interview also has Neely describe aspects of the series inspired by his Arkansan upbringing; he admits that he "talk[s] about [Arkansas] all the time, it turns out. The final episode of the season is about hog infestation. It's happening all over southern United States, where wild boars are just overpopulating—they tear up the land and land owners and cattle ranchers have to hunt these things and put Kevlar vests on their dogs because they have horns and shit."
The second season doubled the running time of the first from 11 minutes to 22 minutes; according to Weidenfeld in an interview with USA Today, this was done in accordance with the network's expanding timeslot. Neely stated that "I think we decided, in concert with the network, that it would benefit the show. The show kept growing, and our storytelling style and structure just needed more room. I didn't know what I was doing when I was writing in the 11-minute format; I was just cramming 22 minutes in there." Weidenfeld considered the first season "essentially 10 mini-pilots" converging into a larger show. He stated that the network thought the increase in length led to a "perfect fit" for the show's expanding universe. He stated that he and his crew had developed up to 300 named characters which will be inserted throughout the series.
In writing for season one, Vernon Chatman, a consulting producer for the series, would assist in outlining and "weighing in" on scripts, while Neely would write all the scripts himself. During season one, Neely said his staff would make each episode encapsulate various genres, stating "We're trying to tell as many different things as we can do in a quarter-hour." Since season two, with the episodes being 22 minutes, the series employs six to eight writers per episode. In their writing room, the crew discusses a given episode synopsis and create a detailed, 22-page outline, which gets sent to the network for notes. After the network approves of the outline and the crew is satisfied with it, the outline gets made into a script, which also goes through the network for notes. According to Neely in the Huffington Post interview, at the height of production of the second season, the production crew was working on six or seven episodes simultaneously, all at various stages of completion.
In the United States, the special was rated TV-MA, while the series is rated TV-14. When asked about the network's Standards and Practices, Weidenfeld stated that "I find when something comes back that you can't say, we're able to skirt around it and make something funnier." According to Neely and Weidenfeld, the network forced them to cut smoking out of the show; Jack Falgot, a character in the series, was planned to smoke on a cigarette in every scene he appeared in. The network issued to have the cigarette changed to a lollipop for broadcast. Neely revealed that his team try to incorporate some of the "hallmark components" of his shorts (e.g. first-person narrative and flashbacks), but find their audience not "really have the patience for that sort of thing". In sticking to a mostly third-person narrative, his team is more confident in the reception toward the series.
An episode takes approximately one year to complete; Neely states that six or seven episodes may be produced simultaneously, all at various stages. Animation is done at Titmouse, Inc. in Los Angeles. When asked about the slideshow presentation of his animated shorts in an interview with The College Hill Independent, Neely felt that the approach was not "an aesthetic choice, it was sort of the only thing I was able to do. I'm not an animator." He stated that, out of "ignorance and not having a whole lot of options", he hand-drew each frame on paper and scanned them into a computer; he felt the restrictions "really paid off and I enjoyed the form. ... But, it never was something I felt I was needing to defend or stick to, or that it represented me artistically." Other changes to the art style from the shorts were dictated by animation director, Mike L. Mayfield. Weidenfeld stated that Mayfield "was instrumental in turning Brad's original style into what we had the first season." Among them were the addition of pupils which, according to Weidenfeld, some of Neely's fans were unhappy over. Neely states that "I had a long run of drawing those Orphan Annie style of eyes. That worked well for print. But as soon as things move, the characters start to look like zombies."
Brad Neely provides the voices for Steve Smith, Frank Smith, and Mark "Baby" Cakes; Weidenfeld states that Neely does "the heavy lifting with the voices ... every episode, he's probably at least 40% of the lines." According to him, it allows for production to run more seamlessly: "Rather than hav[ing] to wait for somebody else's schedule, we just go next door and do it." Neely also records temporary "scratch" lines for other actors to speed up production. Neely stated that in voicing "a full episode's work of somebody, we start the day as an actor." For voice-over work, the crew works on two or three hours of dialogue for a certain character, followed by storyboard meetings, dailies, and rough cuts, with Neely directing other actors who come in after him.
Greta Gerwig voices Pony Merks, and Hulk Hogan portrays the Dean. Neely states that both were enthusiastic upon reading sample scripts given by them. Jackie Buscarino, Jason Alexander and Brooke Hogan voice various characters throughout the series. According to Brooke, she got involved in the series after being recommended by her father, Hulk Hogan, who voices the Dean. For the reoccurring cast: Tommy Blacha plays The Mayor, the Dean's long-time nemesis; Dave Coulier portrays Ronald Reagan; Chelsea Peretti voices Crystal Peppers, Steve's competitor and a professor of Spanish and philosophy; Jeffrey Tambor voices the father of Baby Cakes and professor of "super science", Leonard Cakes; Jason Walden plays Sammy Davis, a history professor, and Gary Anthony Williams portrays Dr. Jack Falgot, who runs the campus health center.
Neely, who started recording songs at age 14, drew musical inspiration from improvisational sessions between him and his friends as teenagers. Neely stated in the Huffington Post interview that over 50 songs had been planned for the second season throughout, though only 50 had been selected. In an interview with Comic Book Resources, Neely and Weidenfeld have stated their intentions on doing a musical episode. Weidenfeld stated that producing one "would be a difficult thing to write up front, but a Music Man style episode would just be incredible to do. And Brad could do it."
The series has completed two seasons with ten episodes each. The first season premiered on October 3, 2011 in the United States; it concluded on March 5, 2012. The second season premiered on September 22, 2013 in the United States; its season finale aired on November 24, 2013. A third season has been announced, continuing the previous seasons 22-minute run time.
The series premiere was broadcast on October 6, 2011 and was watched by 888,000 viewers. According to Turner Broadcasting, the premiere increased viewership among men aged 18–24 by 177,000 viewers, meaning that viewership increased 9 percent in its premiere timeslot. Another press release published by Turner reported that the second season saw a double-digit percentage increase in viewership from the first; the second season premiere was watched by 1.285 million viewers, marking an increase from the first season premiere.
The series has received positive critical reception; in reviewing the series premiere, Phil Dyess-Nugent of The A.V. Club stated that "Neely's talent is still most evident in the strange twists and turns of his imagination and odd spurts of verbal surrealism". He wrote that "the look of the thing is just the delivery system, though there are some striking images and even the occasional striking piece of 'acting'". He described the animation as looking "fairly cheap"; however, he complemented the "soft, pastel-colored style that blunts the obnoxiousness of some of the jokes without blurring out the edge", he stated, that contrasts the style of Adult Swim programs. Jason Zinoman of The New York Times called the series "gleefully deranged", stating the writing of the series "threatens to but never quite tips over into the overwritten cleverness of so much television comedy these days." He compared the art style of the series to South Park, calling it "more lifelike [...] but not by much."
Charles Webb of MTV Geek summarized the first season as "one of the most enjoyably demented shows to make its debut in the Adult Swim lineup this year". He compared it to Superjail! in terms of reaching the aforementioned series' "sweet spot of animated mayhem for me while merrily bouncing along with its boozed-up, sexed-up, lazy, spiteful, underdog faculty all under the employ of a dean voiced by Hulk Hogan." Bradford Evans of Splitsider listed the series as one of the best comedy television series to premiere out of the 2011–12 television seasons. He summarized the first season as a "fast-paced 11-minute animated series ... worthy of catching up on", and praised it for retaining "[Neely's] sensibilities that made him an Internet sensation". Terri Schwartz of Zap2it, in addition to interviewing Neely and Weidenfeld at Titmouse, Inc., gave the second season a positive review. She stated that "Viewers who didn't watch China, IL Season 1 can jump into Season 2 without feeling like they missed anything major."
- Matheson, Whitney (October 12, 2011). "Awesome animator Brad Neely lands on Adult Swim". USA Today. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- Basile, Nancy (May 16, 2013). "China, IL—Show Guide and Review". About.com. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- Neely & Weidenfeld 2013, 8:10–8:24: "I had done Baby Cakes and The Professor Brothers as shorts for Super Deluxe, just independent little two-minute things, where in my mind, they always existed in the same world."
- Neely & Weidenfeld 2013, 8:32–8:45: "... we decided, yeah!, let's do a four-parter that wasn't considered, like, a pilot for television, or any sort of, like, bid to get on TV"; 9:44–9:50: "I mean, all that stuff was hand done by me in my apartment in Austin, Texas."
- Neely & Weidenfeld 2013, 8:32–8:45; 12:38–13:18.
- Neely & Weidenfeld 2013, 8:45–9:08.
- "China, IL (a Titles & Air Dates Guide)". Epguides. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- Neely & Weidenfeld 2013, 9:29–9:35.
- Neely & Weidenfeld 2013, 10:01–10:09.
- Orange, B. Alan (October 4, 2011). "Exclusive: Brad Neely and Daniel Weidenfeld Talk China, IL Season 1". MovieWeb. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- Neely & Weidenfeld 2013, 10:30–10:31.
- Saba, Michael (July 14, 2009). "Brad Neely's Wizard People, Dear Reader: Deconstructing Harry Potter and the Hero's Journey". Paste.
- Kurp, Joshua (November 11, 2011). "Checking In...with the Writers of South Park Not Named Matt or Trey". Splitsider. The Awl. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- Neely & Weidenfeld 2013, 10:38–10:54: "... and got a deal with Adult Swim to just write a script, and me and my brother [Nick], who at the time was overseeing development for Adult Swim ... they would always talk about ideas, but it would always come back to: why don't you just do these characters?"
- Neely & Weidenfeld 2013, 10:58–11:18.
- Adams, Erik (September 20, 2013). "China, IL's Brad Neely praises the 'pine trees and blood' of his home state". The A.V. Club. The Onion. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- Schwartz, Terri (September 20, 2013). "China, IL Season 2: Hating on Mad Men, Beach Boys and Toy Story". Zap2it. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- Matheson, Whitney (September 19, 2013). "A chat with ... the creators of Adult Swim's China, IL". USA Today. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- Neely & Weidenfeld 2013, 11:25–11:36.
- Ching, Albert (September 19, 2013). "China, IL Producers Talk Second Season and Working with Hulk Hogan". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- Evans, Bradford (September 18, 2013). "Talking to Brad Neely and Daniel Weidenfeld About Season 2 of China, IL". Splitsider. The Awl. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- Lamar, Cyriaque (October 15, 2011). "On Adult Swim's China, IL, Ronald Reagan owns a time machine and Hulk Hogan is the dean of America's worst college". io9. Gawker Media. Retrieved January 21, 2014.
- Neely & Weidenfeld 2013, 6:38–6:45.
- "China, IL TV Show". PlayStation. Sony Entertainment Network. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- "Watch China, IL Episodes and Clips for Free from Adult Swim". Adult Swim Video. Turner Broadcasting System. August 7, 2012. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- Rizzo III, Francis (October 13, 2013). "The Cast and Crew of China, IL". DVD Talk. Retrieved January 19, 2014.
- Neely & Weidenfeld 2013, 13:19–13:42.
- Neely & Weidenfeld 2013, 13:43–13:54: "What really seemed to work, for not just that speculated audience, but also us: ... a strict third-person narrative with multiple strands hanging out."
- Basile, Nancy (November 21, 2013). "Brad Neely Interview". About.com. p. 1. Retrieved January 21, 2014.
- Minovitz, Ethan (May 25, 2012). "AS Announces Largest Programming Schedule Ever". Big Cartoon News. Retrieved May 25, 2012.
- Dickerson, Drew (November 15, 2013). "Moving Through the World, Mostly Drunk, Looking for Pleasure". The College Hill Independent 27 (8). p. 9. Retrieved January 19, 2014.
- Neely & Weidenfeld 2013, 6:47–6:58: "So, there are days when I'm all these characters and scratch for other actors, so we can get down the road a little bit."
- Neely & Weidenfeld 2013, 7:16–7:24.
- Neely & Weidenfeld 2013, 7:25–7:41.
- "Jackie Buscarino". MovieWeb. Retrieved January 21, 2014.
- Topel, Fred (November 24, 2013). "Exclusive Interview: Brooke Hogan on China, IL and Her Career". Fan Voice. Fan TV. Retrieved January 21, 2014.
- Topel, Fred (November 24, 2013). "Exclusive Interview: Brooke Hogan on China, IL and Her Career". Fan Voice. Fan TV. Retrieved January 21, 2014.
- See also: Rizzo III 2013.
- Basile, Nancy (November 20, 2014). "Interview with Chelsea Peretti". About.com. Retrieved January 21, 2014.
- Neely & Weidenfeld 2013, 19:56–20:05.
- "China, IL Episodes on Cartoon Network". TV Guide. CBS Interactive. Retrieved January 22, 2014.
- "China, IL Season 1 episodes". TV Guide. CBS Interactive. Retrieved January 22, 2014.
- "China, IL Season 2 episodes". TV Guide. CBS Interactive. Retrieved January 22, 2014.
- "Adult Swim Re-Ups China, IL For Season 3". Deadline.com. PMC. January 15, 2014. Retrieved January 17, 2014.
- Pucci, Douglas (October 6, 2011). "Sunday, October 2, 2011 Broadcast & Cable Final Ratings". The Voice of TV.[dead link]
- Gorman, Bill (October 11, 2011). "Ratings Notes for TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim: MLB Playoffs, Conan, NTSF:SD:SUV, Hardcore Pawn & More". TV by the Numbers. Zap2it. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- Kondolojy, Amanda (January 15, 2014). "China, IL Renewed for Third Season by Adult Swim". TV by the Numbers. Zap2it. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- Pucci, Douglas (September 24, 2013). "Adult Swim Weekly Ratings Scorecard (September 16–22, 2013)". TV Media Insights.
- Dyess-Nugent, Phil (October 3, 2011). "China, IL". The A.V. Club. The Onion. Retrieved January 17, 2014.
- Zinoman, Jason (February 18, 2012). "When Teachers Go Bad, They Get Animated". The New York Times (New York ed.). p. C1.
- Webb, Charles (December 19, 2011). "Adult Swim's China, IL Is Getting A New Year's Special". MTV Geek. MTV. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- Evans, Bradford (May 23, 2012). "The 2011–12 TV Season's Best New Comedies". Splitsider. The Awl. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- Neely, Brad; Weidenfeld, Daniel (October 25, 2013). "China, IL's Brad Neely and Daniel Weidenfeld: The CFQ Interview". The Huffington Post. Interview with Pearsons, Dan. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- Official website
- China, IL on Adult Swim Video
- China, IL at the Big Cartoon DataBase
- China, IL at the Internet Movie Database