Hysterical historical high school hijinks

Picture it: teenaged Abraham Lincoln and Gandhi are attempting to get beer for a high school party thrown by John F. Kennedy, all in attempt to become popular and get the ladies. That is the plot for the first, “very special,” episode of the series “Clone High.”

“Clone High,” (2002-2003, 2023-present), is a satirical adult-animated sitcom created by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and Bill Lawrence. Lord and Miller came up with the idea while they were students at Dartmouth College in the 1990s. The show centers on teenaged clones of famous people through the centuries, with the main characters being Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc, Gandhi, Cleopatra, and John. F. Kennedy.

The first season aired from 2002-2003 in Canada on the network Teletoon, which is known for other animated shows such as the “Total Drama” series, (2007-present), and “6TEEN,” (2004-2010). In the United States, “Clone High” aired on MTV. The series was cancelled on a cliffhanger, and the final five episodes never aired in the United States. This was mainly due to backlash in India at the portrayal of Gandhi as an immature and mischievous teenager. In the last twenty years, the show has since gained a cult following.

“Clone High” served as a parody of teen dramas from the 90s and early 2000’s, with each episode being introduced as “a very special episode,” something that was featured in sitcoms when addressing a current, real-world issue. The first season revolves around friends Abe, Joan, and Gandhi, with Joan being the cynical Goth with an unrequited crush on Abe, who is oblivious to her feelings. Abe is preoccupied with attempting to date Cleo, who is in an on-again-off-again relationship with JFK, who is portrayed as an arrogant jock. Gandhi, who feels as though he cannot live up to his original self, finds his own destiny as a “party animal.”

The show takes place in the fictional Exclamation, USA, which is a secret government experiment run by the Secret Board of Shadowy Figures, who plan on eventually harnessing the clones’ abilities to aid the US military. Episodes revolve around the clones getting into convoluted situations that usually resolve with the characters “learning a moral lesson.” Side plots usually feature mad scientist Principal Scudworth and his robot sidekick, Mr. Butlertron, who has his own plan for the clones: a clone-themed amusement park appropriately titled, “Cloney Island.” Although Scudworth is evil, his plan for the clones is deemed less nefarious than the government’s.

The show’s design is extremely stylized with a limited animation style in order to emphasize the humor and story rather than the visuals. The characters have simple designs that are emphasized by sharp edges and a basic color pallet for each clone. The backgrounds are not detailed.
The theme song was written and performed by Tommy Walter of the alternative rock band Abandoned Pools. The lyrics serve as background for the shows premise; “Way back in the 1980’s / Secret government employees / Dug up famous guys and ladies / and made amusing genetic copies.” The band also provided most of the series’ background music.

Since the shows original run, creators Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have gone on to write and direct animated movies such as “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” (2009) and “The Lego Movie” (2014), and were producers on “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse” (2018), with Phil Lord also being a writer for the film. The duo also directed “21 Jump Street” (2012) and its sequel, “22 Jump Street” (2014). Bill Lawrence has most recently served as co-creator of the Apple TV+ series, “Ted Lasso,” (2020-present).
It was announced in 2020 that a revival of the series was in the works, with all three original creators returning. In February of 2021, HBO Max announced that it had ordered two new seasons of “Clone High.” The company released an official teaser trailer for the second season of “Clone High” on April 5, with most of the main cast returning, besides Gandhi.

If you are a fan of animated series such as “Daria,” then I recommend checking out “Clone High.” The humor is slightly absurd, with a heavy influence relying on the cynical nature of high school misery, on and off the screen. The first season, consisting of 13 episodes, is currently available to stream on HBO Max, with season two set to start streaming on May 18, 2023.