There’s Never a Bad Time to Revisit ‘Clone High’

In our current political climate, it’s not surprising that many Americans might be drawn towards the past to compare the great leaders of yesterday to the ones we have now. Perhaps you’ve even wondered what the inspiring figures of the past would say if they saw what was happening now. Maybe you’ve taken that a step further and imagined a world in which a John F. Kennedy or a Mahatma Gandhi was born in the present day. Would they turn out the same? Well, believe it or not, an animated show on MTV already answered that incredibly specific hypothetical question.

Clone High (or Clone High USA, depending on which country in North America you were watching it in) was the first TV series made by Hollywood power-team Chris Lord and Phil Miller. Even if you’ve never heard those names, I’m reasonably sure you’ve seen something that already carries their comedy stamp. Perhaps you’ve enjoyed 21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Son of Zorn, 22 Jump Street, or The Last Man on Earth? Or maybe you’re reading this in the future and you’ve already gotten to see their Young Han Solo movie. (I’m so jealous. Was it great? I bet it was great.) All of these films and TV shows share some distinctive comedy DNA, as well as a dolphin sound effect. And all of these traits can be traced back to 2003’s Clone High.

Clone High originated as a sketch by Lord and Miller, was pitched as an animated show alongside Scrubs producer Bill Lawrence, and bought by Fox. A pilot was made, Fox passed, but then MTV jumped in and brought it to series. The show’s theme song, performed by The Abandoned Pools, does a better job of succinctly summarizing the premise of Clone High than I ever could. I’ll quote it, but do yourself a favor and give it a listen (because it’s very catchy). “Way, way back in the 1980s / Secret government employees / Dug up famous guys and ladies / And made amusing genetic copies. / Now the clones are sexy teens now. / They’re gonna make it if they try. / Loving, learning, sharing, judging. / A time to laugh and shiver and cry. / Clone High.”

Depicted in a flat, angular style, our core cast consists of the nerdy but lovable Abe Lincoln (Will Forte), the dry, deadpan, Garafaloesque Joan of Arc (Nicole Sullivan), overactive party animal Gandhi (Michael McDonald), popular plastic girl Cleopatra (Christa Miller), and jock douchebag JFK (Chris Miller). Clone High was made at a time when the teen drama was huge. One Tree Hill, The OC, and Clone High’s biggest inspiration, Dawson’s Creek were ubiquitous and the show is a loving tribute to these awful, melodramatic shows. Our characters are constantly learning major lessons, feeling major feelings, and falling in and out of secret, unrequited love triangles.

So, basically the same thing as the non-animated, non-clone teen dramas.

In the show’s third episode, entitled “A.D.D.: The Last ‘D’ is for Disorder,” tragedy strikes when Gandhi is diagnosed with A.D.D. by Principal Scudworth’s talking robot, Mr. Butlertron. (Right. I didn’t introduce them. Scudworth and Butlertron, voiced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller respectively, are the placed in charge of the school by the shadowy figures that created the clones. Scudworth is a mad scientist who hopes to control the clones for his own evil purposes and Mr. Butlertron is a robot butler that he built who calls everyone “Wesley” because he is a robot version of Mr. Belvedere, but MTV said they couldn’t call him Mr. Belevetron.)

Okay, back to the third episode. Ghandi has A.D.D. But because this is an important teen drama, this becomes a very special episode as rumors spread and the student body of Clone High avoid Ghandi like the plague and begin telling one another that you can catch A.D.D. from toilet seats. Panic and hysteria spreads until Tom Green, A.D.D. poster child, sets the record straight and as a sign of solidarity, best friend Abe kisses Ghandi in front of the school, blowing his chance with his secret crush Cleopatra.

Through the show’s 13 episodes, many of the major tentpoles of teen drama are covered: underage drinking, illicit drug use, asking that special someone to prom, the death of a regular character, the dangers of sleep deprivation, making a short film about a football-playing giraffe, and the dangers of Ashley Angel from O-Town. However, if you were watching the show in the United States when it originally aired you never got to see all 13.

Here’s the short version of the story: Maxim magazine published an article in which Gandhi (the real one) was depicted getting beaten up by a muscular man (this was the largest version of the image I could find). This upset some people in India, and it sparked major protesting. In the midst of this, citizens in India learned of the Gandhi character in Clone High. On the 55th anniversary of Gandhi’s assassination, about 150 protesters gathered in New Dehli and vowed to fast because of the show. The head of MTV happened to be visiting India at the time and was trapped in Viacom’s India headquarters as a result. In an interview with Grantland, Chris Miller says that officials there “basically threatened that they’d revoke MTV’s broadcasting license in India if they didn’t take the show off the air.”

So that was that. Clone High was pulled, the final episode ended in a massive cliffhanger (I won’t spoil it, but it somehow manages to incorporate John Stamos), and One Tree Hill continued for nine more years, completely unparodied.

There are rumors every once in a blue moon that there’ll be a Clone High movie, or a new series, but with Lord and Miller’s current level of Hollywood cache, it doesn’t seem like they’ll have much time to pursue such a project. Thankfully, though, the idea hasn’t gotten too far away from them. In the same Grantland interview, Lord and Miller admit, “Our entire career has just been about getting Clone High back on the air.”

I mean, I defy you to watch this one minute clip from the second episode and tell me that you don’t want 13 more episodes.

Come on, Hollywood. I’m raising my extended hands slowly into frame to show my seriousness.

Ramsey Ess is a freelance writer for television, podcaster and a guy on Twitter. Check out his web series Ramsey Has a Time Machine featuring Chris Elliott!

There’s Never a Bad Time to Revisit ‘Clone High’