clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Clone High’s writers explain what happened to Gandhi and their ‘trickiest’ episode yet

Teen shows have gotten smarter since season 1, so Clone High has way more ways to make fun of them

Cartoon versions of Abe Lincoln, JFK, and Joan of Arc sit strapped into chairs with machines holding their eyelids open in a still from Clone High season 2 episode 1. Image: Warner Media

Do you think a time traveler from 2003 could hack it in today’s world? This is the question driving the premiere of Clone High’s long-awaited second season (and, by extension, the revival of the show itself): Here is a show that hasn’t been around in 20 years, about clones of historical figures in high school together who have all been literally frozen since their winter prom two decades ago. It’s the sort of thing that might leave people finding themselves behind the times (if you can believe it). The world looks starkly different, and the first episode, “Let’s Try This Again,” tackles that head-on, going straight into the contrast of the show’s tone, then and now.

Turns out, by 2023 standards, even nice guy Abe Lincoln (Will Forte) isn’t such a nice guy. As he heads over to the school’s field day, he invokes a slew of 2003 slang that is not “politically correct” (as Abe puts it) and has been “retired” (as newly made clone of Christopher Columbus, “Topher Bus,” cuts in to head off a dated, offensive slur from Abe).

As co-showrunner Erica Rivinoja notes, this wasn’t just an exercise for the clone kids. It’s part of what made the second season premiere the “trickiest episode” of Clone High yet: balancing not only the exposition for fans new and old, but also the time that’s passed.

“To come back 20 years later and address it — we also sort of wanted to talk about what it’s like to look back on your work 20 years ago. And then, you know — what would you do better, 20 years later?” Rivinoja says. “So that was a really important thing to us, to have our characters going through that experience of learning, Oh, wow. What I used to say was not good. And so it was a tricky episode to do, because it was just a lot; there was a lot of emotion and story baked into it that we wanted to get out.”

Frida Kahlo, Abe Lincoln, JFK, Joan of Arc, Harriet Tubman, Cleopatra, and Confucius stand in front of a burning diner looking perky in a still from Clone High Image: Warner Media

Part of that involved saying goodbye (or, at least, the cutaway-gag version of goodbye) to the character of Gandhi, who isn’t coming back to the show after his 2003 portrayal led to the show’s actual cancellation.

“You’re pretty dumb if your show gets canceled because of something and then you do it again,” Rivinoja notes. “So we don’t want to do that. But we did want to say, ‘We hear you.’”

After getting that squared away, Rivinoja tells Polygon, “[It felt like] now we can just have fun with this.” Which is something the writers felt they had so much more freedom to do now, compared to when the show came out in the early 2000s. Back then, teen shows looked a lot less like the wild antics of Riverdale or the grounded drama of Never Have I Ever, and a lot more like James Van Der Beek crying.

“Originally, it was Dawson’s Creek and 90210,” Rivinoja says of the teen-show influences for the 2003 show. “But then now there’s so many that it just felt [like] this genre has opened up and there’s even more chance for parody and exploring those things, and especially those dystopian ones like Hunger Games, Divergent. [...] it just felt like there was more to really tap into with all of that.”

Abe Lincoln (Will Forte) crying in the foreground while JFK (Chris Miller) and Joan (Nicole Sullivan) make out in the background Image: Warner Media

And so over the course of the show’s long-awaited second season, Clone High goes all sorts of places: spring break and sex ed; a musical based on the game Twister; midterms plagued by a monster called Heebie Jeebie. While the tone was free to be looser in its teen tropes, the goal was always to not lose the soapiness of the original show, always ensuring that every episode was still “a very special episode of Clone High.” That’s something co-showrunner Erik Durbin says was pretty easy, so long as the clones stayed mostly the same: taking themselves very seriously and leaning into their feelings.

“Those shows back then were sort of like teens being into their feelings, and able to express themselves in that way, [which] was sort of a new thing. So [in the original] it’s like, OK, you could just do that,” Durbin tells Polygon. “Now you have to add so many layers, because [...] the idea of being into feelings and all of that, everyone’s vocabulary for it at a young age is just, like, exploded; it’s off the charts now.

“I think, in general, that’s good for this show. Because it’s so much more of a kind of mainstream, it’s more well understood. And I think that’s a testament to why you can go off and make it in space, like in the dystopian world, or whatever. You can genre build it, because it’s just such a part of the vocabulary for everyone now being this way.”

The first two episodes of Clone High season 2 are now streaming on Max. Two new episodes drop every Thursday starting June 1.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon