Why Clone High Was Canceled and How it Came Back

Cult cartoon favorite Clone High was cut short after just one season. Here is why it ultimately returned.

Abe Lincoln, JFK, and Joan of Arc in Clone High on Max.
Photo: Max

This article contains spoilers for Clone High season 1 and the season 2 premiere.

What memories does the year 2003 stir up? The first Pirates of the Caribbean film? Ugg Boots? Freedom Fries? When the only Fast and Furious franchise sequel was 2 Fast and 2 Furious? It was a time when two fresh faced geeks, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller didn’t have The Lego Movie or Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse under their belt. In fact, they practically had no experience in Hollywood, let alone some of the most revered animated work of their era.

To cut their teeth in business, the soon-to-be dynamic duo partnered with producer Bill Lawrence (who was the force behind Spin City and Scrubs at the time and had Ted Lasso on his future docket) to create 13 episodes of a little known animated show that premiered on Teletoon in Canada and eventually MTV in the U.S. That show was Clone High, a parody of the WB-type highschool dramas that were insanely popular in the nineties and early aughts. At this high school though, the student body were the teenaged cloned versions of some of the most influential historical figures the globe has ever seen. 

The show was a thing of beauty. It was funny, it was engaging, one of its best episodes was a musical featuring Jack Black, and had guest stars like Marilyn Manson, Zach Braff, Tom Green, John Stamos and Luke Perry. Peak early aughts. But twenty years is a long time. A long time for those Fast and Furious movies to inexplicably keep going… but more importantly, a long time between Clone High’s debut and now … their sophomore year. Here is why Clone High was canceled and how it came back.

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Previously, On a Very Special Clone High…

Just like the beginning of every Clone High episode when we hear the soothing voice of Will Forte speak the above prelude, allow us to reveal what you might have missed in the first season of the show. Despite having dozens of hilarious supporting characters, the series predominantly focuses on five main clone characters. Our main hero is the lanky and awkward Abe Lincoln (Will Forte), who’s best friends with the goth-booted and artsy Joan of Arc (Nicole Sullivan). There’s also popular girl Cleopatra (Christa Miller), comedic side-kick Gandhi (Michael McDonald), and an over-sexed “bro” version of JFK (Christopher Miller pulls double duty as voice actor as well) to round out our main group. The clones are guided by the “sinister” Principal Scudworth (Phil Lord utilizes his vocal talents as well) and his mechanical man-servant Mr. Butlertron (Also Christopher Miller).

Scudworth and Mr. B are supposed to be shaping the clones so that they can utilize their genetic leadership abilities and powers of charm to eventually rule the world, but through Scudworth’s fumbling and Mr. B’s genuine mechanical heart, they end up teaching our heroes important lessons about love, friendship and the human condition. 

Most of the show follows the Dawson Creek-inspired love quadrilateral between Abe, Joan, Cleopatra and JFK as when you have two central and charming men, and two beautiful young women, everyone is going to have eyes for everyone else. Never mind the genetics of cloning, hormones run wild in the genetic code of any teen. Joan constantly wants to share her feelings for Abe, but he is too obsessed with the shallow yet gorgeous Cleo, who constantly fluctuates between honest Abe and the tightly-panted and studly JFK.

If that isn’t complicated enough, in the season finale, during the high school prom, Scudworth learns he is about to lose his pet clones to the Secret Board of Shadowy figures. At the same time, Abe learns that his best friend Joan has feelings for him, and so must make a choice between her and Cleo. Just as he is about to confess his love to one of them, he catches Joan in bed with JFK, and even more suddenly, the entire school is flash frozen so that Scudworth can keep his experiment intact and out of malicious hands. 

The Gandhi Incident

The show existed on the edge of the proverbial blade even 20 years ago, and it is easy to consider it one of the final pieces of the jaded ‘90s style of comedy, which often went for “shock value.” The show was absolutely funny as hell, with JFK, Scudworth, Mr. B and Gandhi often pushing the boundaries and stealing the show. Granted, they were decades separated from the real life tragedies that befell some of these real life heroes, but clearly Miller and Lord were testing boundaries with lines like “I’m a Kennedy, I’m not accustomed to tragedy”.  

But the short king of comedy persona for Gandhi offended quite a few international viewers. In 2003, an Indian journalist caught wind of the show before it had even aired globally. Due to that exposure, the show would never even get a chance to air worldwide, as when government officials in India took notice of the less than flattering depiction of the Mahatma, over 150 Indian politicians, including Gandhi’s grandson said they would fast until the show was off the air

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Interestingly enough, the show had already aired on MTV, but at that point, the production executives behind the show were extremely hesitant about a second season. No press is bad press, allegedly, but MTV did not really feel like causing an international incident over a satirical little cartoon character. They asked Miller and Lord to pitch them a season 2 without Gandhi, but ultimately canceled the show, way before it’s time. One of the more notable ideas to deal with the controversy was to eventually reveal that Gandhi is actually the clone of the late American actor, Gary Coleman of Different Strokes fame.

How Clone High Was Rebooted

With Max, formerly HBO Max, now being the new superintendents of Clone High, and Miller, Lord, and Lawrence being some of the biggest names in comedy these days, it seems as if Max is willing to take a chance on the property again. A lot of shows on that streaming service have the same ribald tone and feature swearing and lowball sex jokes, so it seems the time and place is right… But there have been changes.

In the premiere of season two, after the clones have been reawakened, the twenty year cliffhanger is over. Abe does confess his love to one of the girls, and must now face the consequences of his choice, and her actions. However while the audience is once again getting caught up in the drama, one small little voice is noticeably absent.

Gandhi is no longer in the show. That is to say, he is no longer a major character. Or speaking. Or… moving. In fact, when Abe is first talking to Gandhi about his love life, he notices how quiet his little buddy is, only to later realize he’s not resting his arm on the top of Gandhi’s cute little caramel head, it’s a turkey on a fire hydrant. Abe constantly asks where his best friend is, but never discovers the truth, that Gandhi is in fact still frozen as he was 20 years ago.

Clone High Season 2: New Characters and Voice Actors

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the second season is the characters are the proverbial “fishes” even more out of water than they were in the first season. It was great to see what Abe Lincoln would be like as a teen, worrying about popularity while still trying to live up to his “Clone Father’s” legacy of unification and leadership. Now, audiences get to see that same awkward Abe have to live in 2023.

For a show that perhaps was one of the pioneers of “cancel culture” because of how things went internationally, season 2 isn’t afraid to shine a light on how far we’ve come in twenty years. Abe was never a malicious character, but when he uses the word “gay” to describe something as “stupid” – he is immediately and rightfully ostracized, and finds himself in cancel corner – a literal corner of the cafeteria where Marilyn Manson and Andy Dicks’ characters also find themselves. 

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The show addresses that JFK is now seen as “sex positive”, and that Cleo and her kind are no longer the most popular simply because of their beauty. The new class president is Frida Kahlo, complete with unibrow, mustache hairs and the most chill attitude of any clone in Clone High. The show created a few great new characters, and went all in for leaving the controversy within the jokes, and not behind the scenes drama.

Joining the cast are Kahlo (Vicci Martinez), an instagramming Confucius (Kelvin Yu), a pink haired Harriet Tubman (Ayo Edebiri) and “Topher Bus” (Neil Casey). Bus had to change his name since his Clone father, Christopher Columbus also got canceled, and so tries to warn Abe of the traps of 2023. The production should also be applauded by changing with the times, and not simply by only creating a more diverse cast. As many more companies are now doing with animated shows, these characters are all voiced by appropriate actors, in fact, the production team even recast Cleopatra to be voiced by Iranian-American actor Mitra Jouhari. 

Original Cleo, Christa Miller is still with the cast, but now plays Candide Simpson. Candide is the new overlord of the school, overmining Scudworth, ensuring these generations of clones finally achieve their nefarious purpose. The way the show introduces these characters and cancel-culture is brilliantly funny, self-reverent, and addresses the issue through the laughs without laughing at the seriousness of the issue. It’s everything this class should expect from Miller and Lord. 

The first two episodes of Clone High season 2 are available to stream on Max now. Two new episodes premiere each Tuesday through June 22.