At this point, the internet knows what Clone High is. Everybody’s seen the “My day be so fine” meme, the various crossover fanarts, and I’d guess a ton of us can tell you about how nothing bad ever happens to the Kennedys. The Clone High Series Marathon video on YouTube that I used to watch the series had around 5 million views when I watched it, and now it’s up to 7.6 million. The show might just be as popular as it deserves now.
I feel like I need to say this, because I’m not here to talk about the jokes, the memes, the physical comedy. I’m here to talk about how great Clone High is at being what it makes fun of.
If you’re anything like me, you know a bunch of alt rock and pop punk music by heart. It’s the soundtrack to the late 90s and early 2000s, for me at least. Using that music, licensed music, as the soundtrack for Clone High was a brilliant decision. It sets the tone not just for the era in which it was made, but the characters and attitude the show has as well. If you need a good example, the entire licensed soundtrack is on Spotify. Give it a go, you’ll be shocked by what they used.
On a side note: the show’s opening song, Master by Abandoned Pools, is just as brilliant for setting the tone and tells you everything you need to know about the backstory of the show, as well as the moods of the characters. Give it a shot.
Character: High Expectations
Something brilliant that comes up a lot in Clone High is the idea of needing to live up to something. The main theme contains this line that I think sums it up well:
“Why, there is so much to live up to, expectations are so high”
If Clone High has a central theme, it’s this. Every one of the main cast – Abe Lincoln, Joan of Arc, JFK, Cleopatra, and especially Gandhi – have the weight of their “original’s” legacy hanging over them in some way. For JFK and Cleopatra, it influenced the ways they act and treat people, as they saw the superficial elements of the original JFK and Cleopatra as what they needed to live up to. In the second episode, JFK himself says it when he says:
“I thought he was a macho, womanizing stud who conquered the moon!”
Yeeeeeeaaaah. For JFK, at least, the show starts to show him breaking out of that simple mindset into being “more” of a person by the end.
Gandhi, The Most Tragic Character
The real Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most iconic people ever to have lived. Figures like John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln are revered in the United States, for sure, but Gandhi is a worldwide figurehead. Naturally, when creating Clone High, Phil Lord and Chris Miller included the character of Gandhi as one of the clones, one of the main characters. What they did was… interesting.
Clone High’s Gandhi is an irreverent, crude, party animal who lives for the party and never takes anything too seriously. If there is an example of a character who demonstrates cracking under the pressure of legacy, it’s Gandhi. The story of a teenager being forced by quite literally being Gandhi and breaking because of it is incredibly tragic, and the show makes sure you know it. He’s irreverent and bold; he’s deeply insecure and lost.
JFK and Ponce
Episode 10 of Clone High is typically regarded as the high point of the series, because for one episode, the show truly steps across the line from parody back into pure emotion, and none of it is played as a joke. The machismo of JFK is quite literally broken as he discovers what it feels like when, well, something bad happens to a Kennedy. It’s obviously meant to be a parody of the sitcom drama episodes where someone tragically dies, with the Narrator saying just as much, but in Chris Miller’s infamously hammy performance, there’s real sadness, almost better performed than in the teen dramas the show is parodying. Helping it is the deconstruction of the show’s “main character”, Abe Lincoln, who goes from being the lame-but-honest loser to being a jealous, cold hearted jerk – flipping the script on JFK, the stereotypical jerk jock, who show this sentimental human side he’d always tucked away. Of course, it all ends with a broken, self-aware Aesop about how littering is good, but that’s just the style of the show.
The Point: A Perfect Parody
Clone High is one of those works that manages to transcend just being “haha funny”, and circles right back around to “taking this funny thing seriously now” because of just how well done it is.
This isn’t just a Clone High thing; our pop-cultural landscape has long since accepted “loving parodies” as being defining works of their genres. Think about Earthbound, widely regarded as one of the best SNES JRPGs despite deconstructing many of the conventions and tropes popular at the time in franchises like Final Fantasy and especially Dragon Quest. It takes the formula of heroes on a destined quest against the darkness, and picks it apart before adopting it. In doing so, it synthesizes itself as a new, self-aware, but poignant story and game.
Phil Lord and Chris Miller have done this since Clone High, too – the quality of 21 Jump Street is questionable, but it and The LEGO Movie both take full advantage of the norms and tropes of their genres and development to deconstruct and reconstruct something better. All of these loving parodies do this in some way; after all, Earthbound still ends like a classic JRPG, and Clone High still ends with the most important night of the year, prom.
Conclusion: Prom, Changes, The Meat Locker (Spoilers Ahead)
I’ve avoided talking about the ending of Clone High on purpose; as it serves as this gut-punch of a scene that both embodies everything teen dramas are, and everything Clone High is. Finally, after a season of mocking the love triangle, Abe Lincoln realizes he’s in love with Joan of Ark, only to find her in bed with JFK, a shocking twist straight out of any teen drama. The scene is set for a cliffhanger to end the season and tease the next one.
And then Principal Scudsworth flash freezes the entire cast sans himself and Mr. Butlertron in the meat locker, cutting short the lives and loves of these characters we’ve laughed, shivered, and cried with.
In one, perfect moment, Clone High flipped the switch again. Gone was the cliche storm love triangle. Gone was prom, gone was John Stamos, gone were the shadowy government figures. All that was left was a real, genuine question: what happens next?
Maybe someday we’ll find out on another very special episode of Clone High.