Phil Lord, Chris Miller, and Bill Lawrence’s gleefully anarchic and relentlessly silly cult favourite animated series Clone High hasn’t lost a step after being frozen in suspended animation for a decade. Picking up quite literally where it left off with its story of famous guys and ladies who were dug up way, way back in the 1980s by secret government employees, Clone High darts around with rapid fire quips, sight gags, and inspired storytelling that pokes gentle fun at more serious, angst filled teen dramas. If you loved Clone High back at the turn of the century, you’ll still love it now. If you never caught up or weren’t around for it back in the day, the updates to its previous formula will prove inviting.
That is, except for the wonky first episode, which thaws out the previously frozen clones from the original series and mixes them in with a new bunch of characters. There’s an understandable nostalgic rush that comes from rejoining the ongoing love triangle between hapless, dorky, but sweet Abe Lincoln (voiced once again Will Forte), the dark and artsy Joan of Arc (Nicole Sullivan), and the obnoxious, entitled, and jocular JFK (Miller), but the episode also wants to talk about cancel culture and the ways humour has changed since the show first aired in 2002. Clone High has always been a show that prides itself on understanding the ridiculousness of its own premise, but the creatives get off on unsteady footing out of the gate. It’s not that the first episode of Clone High isn’t funny or entertaining, but rather that it’s not adding anything new or insightful to the topic at hand, instead offering up a promise to to better with cultural sensitivities than the original series. It’s a nice note, but devoting a whole episode to the subject feels unnecessary outside of explaining why certain characters have been brought back while others have been written out or remain on ice.
But once the recap/set-up is out of the way, Clone High is back on its merry way with a new batch of characters and slightly different approach. Evil project mastermind Principal Scudworth (Lord) and his affable, likeable robot sidekick Mr. Butlertron (Miller) have to contend with a new, icy cold boss, Candide (Christa Miller), who is using the Clone High experiment to choose the next great world leader. Abe’s quest to tell Joan how he really feels about her is sidetracked by her entering into a relationship with JFK, who is somehow seen by his classmates as being a woke, inclusive icon despite being a complete sleaze. In a socially conscious, more inclusive world, Cleopatra (Mitra Jouhari) discovers that her mean girl ways have made her unpopular, and the cool girls in school are the more civically minded and effortlessly charming Harriet Tubman (Ayo Edebiri) and Frida Kahlo (Vicci Martinez). While Joan makes fast friends with Harriet and Frida, JFK buddies up with social media obsessed Confucius (Kelvin Yu), and Abe pals around with creepy try-hard Topher Bus (Neil Casey), a short tempered clone of Christopher Columbus who’s trying everything in his power to distance himself from his originator.
Obviously, no one should go into Clone High expecting any degree of historical or scientific accuracy, but the formula that made the show so successful in the first place remains intact. The team of Lawrence (Scrubs, Ted Lasso) and Lord/Miller (21 Jump Street, The LEGO Movie, The Afterparty, Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse) remains a formidable one, and their assembled team of writers and animators are willing to mine whatever they can to get a laugh from viewers, no matter how strange (a field trip to an arroyo that goes off the rails in the series’ most hilarious standout episode) or niche (with one episode functioning as a shameless attempt for awards season glory that will truly be a “love it or hate it” proposition). But outlandish plots and skewering of historical figures aside, Clone High has been well remembered and regarded because Lord, Miller, and Lawrence have a deep love for the corny, melodramatic teen drama template.
There’s romance, raging hormones, the pressures of securing one’s future, living up to lofty expectations, saving the local diner, and a requisite amount of surprise celebrity cameos that pop up to give these teens a dose of friendly (or unfriendly) advice. Clone High has always been adept at taking teenage issues both realistic and dramatically blown out of proportion by pop culture and turning them into thoughtfully silly gag reels with a purpose. All great humour has a degree of truth to it, and Clone High remains uniquely heartfelt beneath its alt-comedy exterior. Despite all the abject insanity, there’s an earnestness in its critique of popular culture. Clone High wants the viewer to be in on the jokes rather than keeping them at arm’s length, something that even the highest rated of live action comedies struggle to achieve. If the storyline wasn’t engaging, Clone High would be just another rude cartoon destined for the scrap heap of television history. Instead, it’s a welcome return and often a laugh riot, Wesley.
Clone High premieres on Crave in Canada and MAX in the U.S. on Tuesday, May 23, 2023 with its first two episodes.
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