After leaving fans on a cliffhanger nearly two decades ago, MTV Studios’ Clone High is finally set to return. Like the Beavis and Butt-Head reboot and Daria spinoff Jodie, the reboot of the teen drama parody is just the latest in an upcoming adult animation push from Comedy Central.
Clone High was a standout from the late ’90s-early 2000s adult animated programming boom, when networks developed their own late-night animation series following the success of South Park. Created by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the duo behind Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse, in partnership with Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence, Clone High debuted in 2002 and became a cult hit despite only having one season.
Now after 17 years, Clone High is set for a triumphant return, in a time where adult animated programming has fallen into a staid rhythm and is in need of a long-overdue push. But is the Clone High reboot what we’ve been waiting for?
Underrated in its time, the series centered around Clone High in the fictional American town of Exclamation, which is secretly part of an elaborate cloning experiment orchestrated by a government office known as the “Secret Board of Shadowy Figures.” Main protagonists Abe (Abraham Lincoln), Joan (Joan of Arc), Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi), JFK (John F. Kennedy) and Cleopatra (Cleopatra VII) attend the school populated by the clones of famous historical figures learning “life lessons” while struggling to live up to the name of their original genetic copies. Unbeknownst to the teens, they were actually created and raised so that their various genetic strengths and abilities could be harnessed by the United States military. But the principal of the high school, Dr. Cinnamon J. Scudworth has other plans to undermine the Board to start “Cloney Island,” a clone-themed amusement park, with the help of his robot butler/vice principal/dehumidifier, Mr. Butlertron.
Clone High captivated teens with its heavily stylized show design and limited animation style that emphasized humor and story. Much of the series poked fun at the clichés of teen dramas of the era, with student elections and prom as some plot points, and every episode opened as a “very special episode.” Airing on Canadian cable network Teletoon and later debuting on MTV for a short run, Clone High managed to tackle relevant teen topics and introduce a diverse cast of characters that drew from different points of history.
Despite its inventive premise and strong writing, Clone High was ultimately canceled after just eight episodes on MTV. The cancellation of the series came after outrage in India over Clone High’s Gandhi character, leading to 150 protesters (including members of parliament gathering) in New Delhi and vowing to fast in response to the show’s depiction of him. Facing threats of losing its broadcasting license in India, MTV offered an apology stating, “Clone High was created and intended for an American audience,” and “we recognize and respect that various cultures may view this programming differently, and we regret any offense taken by the content in the show.”
Following the cancellation, the series’ main co-creators Phil Lord and Chris Miller went on to steadily prove their place as visionaries in the animated medium. Their most notable work includes Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The Lego Movie, which spawned extended franchises, and their 2018 Academy Award-winning feature film Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse.
The Clone High reboot offers Lord and Miller a chance to pick up on their original vision, which perfectly blended an upbeat sensibility with satirical tones and a distinct visual absurdity. The defiantly simplistic animation style introduced the duo’s comedic timing that stands at the forefront but never completely overshadows the underlying story. This is in part thanks to their impeccable music choices, led by contributions from alternative rock band Abandoned Pools, who perform the theme, and overdramatic score that help convey the emotion of scenes. Licensed songs from Dashboard Confessional, Alkaline Trio, The Get Up Kids, americ anfootball and more also provided the season with depth and rooted the teenage atmosphere that underscored the show.
Phil Lord and Chris Miller overcame a tired genre of television by reimagining overdone character types by taking them in unexpected directions in Clone High. The direction of the plot is driven by an outrageous love triangle between the oblivious Abe, misunderstood Joan and narcissistic Cleo, which continues to be entertaining despite falling into predictable setups. The three provide an unassumingly complex exploration of the love triangle trope by subverting audience expectation. This character development carries over to other characters, who build on the theme of the clones failing to live up to their originals, further enhancing the overall relatable “high school” idea of fitting in.
It is safe to say that Clone High was ahead of its time and that Lord and Miller showed a reverence for the medium that captivated a generation. The success of the series reboot will rely heavily on how the creators can work around changes out of their control, such as an updated animation style or the potential absence of Gandhi. While also adapting the elements of the show that has made it a surviving cult hit for a matured animation landscape and audience. The reboot, similar to the clones, faces the daunting challenge of living up to its original.