‘Clone High’ Review: Max Revival Brings Animated Comedy Back in Blissfully Silly Form

There’s a funny little irony to the very existence of Max’s Clone High. Originally created for MTV in the early aughts, the animated comedy centers around a bunch of teenagers who are genetic copies of notable historical figures, reborn for a new era. Now the series itself has been resurrected with much the same DNA (creators Phil Lord, Chris Miller and Bill Lawrence all return, as do most of the voice cast), but in a whole new environment. But just as characters like Abe Lincoln (Will Forte), Joan of Arc (Nicole Sullivan) and JFK (Miller) adjust to their new normal, so too does Clone High, serving up a new season that feels every bit as silly and sharp as the show did the first time around.

Clone High couldn’t have known it at the time, but its first-season finale offered the perfect setup for a revival. In the 2003 episode, all the characters are frozen in the middle of their winter prom. The “long awaited and mildly anticipated” second season starts with the Board of Shadowy Figures — i.e., the nefarious group who engineered the clones to begin with — deciding to finally unfreeze the class 20 years later.

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First, though, they warn each other that “when these clones were frozen, a tremendous amount of drama was frozen with them” — namely, the unresolved love quadrangle between awkward Abe, his lovelorn bestie Joan, empty-headed jock JFK and hot mean girl Cleopatra (Mitra Jouhari, replacing Christa Miller from the original run). Season two adds to that hormonal stew a whole new crop of students who were born and raised while the returning characters were on ice, including artsy class prez Frida Kahlo (Vicci Martinez) and theater kid Harriet Tubman (Ayo Edebiri).

Meanwhile, Principal Scudworth (Lord) and his loyal robot sidekick Mr. B (Chris Miller) continue apace with their own semi-evil plans — this time with the oversight of Candide (Christa Miller), a cold-blooded girlboss whose idea of a glass ceiling is a literal glass ceiling to be built over Scudworth’s office so she can keep a closer eye on him.

A lot’s changed in the two decades since Clone High went off air, as Scudworth recounts in a six-hour “We Didn’t Start the Fire”-style number to get the recently thawed kids up to speed. But the biggest shifts aren’t really about “poke bowls, Fyre Fest, Kim Kardashian [who] was a West.” The premiere spends much of its half-hour run time getting the old gang acclimated to modern cultural norms. In 2023, Joan’s do-gooder tendencies get her in with Frida and Harriet in the cool crowd, while Abe’s clueless aughts-era use of terms like “Indian style” and “gay” get him sent to the “canceled corner” alongside Marilyn Manson and John Wayne. (On a more practical note, the show’s party-animal depiction of Gandhi — which sparked a hunger strike in India in 2003 — has been written out altogether.) The Gen-Z-and-their-cancellations jokes don’t make for the freshest ground, but Clone High thankfully avoids the sourness of fellow Max cartoon Velma by taking a good-natured goofball approach to it all.

Indeed, the show’s greatest charm is its sheer silliness. Despite previously-on voiceovers that gravely describe every episode of Clone High as “a very special episode of Clone High,” the series isn’t about delivering important life lessons or incisive cultural critique. Even storylines that touch on weightier topics like test anxiety or the dismal state of American sex ed are primarily vehicles for absurd cartoon violence or juvenile sexual wordplay.

Not every joke clicks equally well — the idea of “Topher Bus” (Neil Casey) trying to distance himself from his genocidal clonefather through performative wokeness is more clever in theory than execution. But most land, and then get followed by ever-more-absurd escalations until what started out as a blissfully dumb sight gag about two girls riding two separate tandem bikes alone together has pivoted, somehow, into an outrageous I Know What You Did Last Summer riff.

While plots get more ambitious over the course of the ten-chapter season, Clone High refuses to ever take itself too seriously. The penultimate outing is a “paradigm-shifting opus” of an episode titled “For Your Consideration” that works as a sendup of Emmy-bait standalone chapters, with characters saying things to each other like “Your life has been so epic and award-worthy!” It’s also a genuinely inventive installment that pushes the limits of the show’s flat, bright artistic style, and that dances right along the line between emotional and cynical. I found myself misting up a bit by the end, and also laughing at myself for misting up by the end.

That’s Clone High in a nutshell. It’s not really trying to make you think, and it probably won’t actually make you cry. But it will make you laugh a whole damn lot.

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