The early 2000’s were an interesting time for television. It was a simpler time, before YouTube, streaming services, and media piracy would change the way we consume our favorite shows. Some of the greatest shows of the generation were premiering (looking at you Freaks and Geeks), reality TV was beginning its death grip on our society, and whether or not the news “fake” was not up for discussion.
At the time, shows like Dawson’s Creek, Felicity, and The OC dominated television with millions tuning in each week to learn what fresh new angst-riddled problems would unfold. As a result, Clone High creators Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who recently saw great success with their Oscar winning animated film Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, thought to create a show that would parody many of the tropes found in these teen-focused dramas.
Originally developed while Lord and Miller were in college, Clone High centered on a high school which was populated by clones of famous figures throughout history. The main cast of characters, including nerdy Abe Lincoln, a high school jock caricature JFK, a goth girl version of Joan of Arc, a Cleopatra that would make Regina George look kind, and a spazzy hyperactive Gandhi, would spend each episode parodying the many popular teen-centered dramas of the day.
The pilot episode, “Escape to Beer Mountain: A Rope Of Sand”, premiered in 2002 and was a send up of the common plot device of teenagers attending a party unsure if they should consume alcohol. The episode sees Abe ordering kegs of non-alcoholic beer, not telling anyone, and subsequently watching as his friends act out in what they think are drunken hysterics. It was a story that had been done many times before and many times since. But what this well worn plot, and others like it, offered was a platform for Lord and Miller to flex their comedy and creative muscles.
Showcasing their knack for overtly silly storytelling punctuated by heartfelt character development Clone High would go one to touch on many of the stories one could see on any other teen-focused drama, but it was always presented as tongue in cheek. Instead of doing an episode about actual drug use, the characters smoke raisins with guest star Jack Black and mock Jesus Christ Superstar. Instead of doing an episode about the dangers of drunk driving, Abe refuses to sleep for days on end and his friends worry he is addicted to staying awake. The school’s election is bought out by an energy drink company, Marilyn Manson sings a song about nutrition, and the holiday episode is centered around the fake holiday of “Snowflake day”.
Even by today’s new golden age of television standards, Clone High holds its own against modern prime-time animated hits such as Bob’s Burgers, Rick and Morty, and Archer. These modern animated shows often use their episodes to parody movies, pop culture, or just classic sitcom tropes much in the way that Clone High turned Dawson’s Creek on its head.
Sadly, like most great art Clone High was ahead of its time and was cancelled after drawing low ratings. However, thanks to the internet Clone High has become a cult classic with many critics citing it as a pioneer of the type of comedy we see on television today. With Phil Lord and Chris Miller now major players in Hollywood, with the pair working on numerous projects including directing several films such as The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street, and Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, the duo have often said that their goal is to revive the series in some way. While it may seem like a stretch, in an era of reboots, relaunches, and new seasons of old television shows it might not be too long before we visit the halls of Clone High once more.
Image taken from Nelvana.com