Once doomed to cult status, the animated satire 'Clone High' finds a new life on Max

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NEW YORK (AP) — In one of the weirdest high schools in history, Cleopatra is dating class president Frida Kahlo and John F. Kennedy's best friend is Abraham Lincoln.

This is “Clone High,” a cult animated show that's enjoying a new life on the streamer Max some two decades after it was abruptly canceled by MTV.

“We’ve learned a lot in the 20 years since we made the show originally,” says Chris Miller, who created “Clone High” with Bill Lawrence and Phil Lord. “Revisiting where we started but bringing it into the 2020s seemed like a fun and interesting opportunity.”

“Clone High” is populated by the teenage clones of notable historical figures, going through the highs and lows of high school. Joan of Arc is an angsty Goth, and Confucius is sweet and a little dim, with a fondness for social media. Friends navigate love and friendship, describing each other as “my brother from another beaker.”

“The main premise of the show is that the iconic people of history that we all look up to were probably scared teenagers,” says Lord. “Their competence is overstated and they’re judged by their best moments. We’re going to show their weakest ones.”

In the latest batch of shows, the cool new science teacher — with impressive shoulder-length hair, dressed in jeans and a blazer and carrying a luxurious leather satchel — is a lampooning of charismatic leaders like in “Dead Poets Society.”

Episode 3 finds Clone High being turned into a religious school so the evil administrators can avoid taxes. (They shop at Bed, Baptist and Beyond to a ridiculous mock Christian rock song.) Kennedy, tired of meaningless sex, goes celibate.

“There’s very little that’s off limits. Only if it’s not funny is it off limits,” says Lord. “We have a really great staff of writers who have a lot of very strong opinions and a lot to say so we try to be the guys who say yes.”

"Clone High" — also featuring such figures as Genghis Khan, George Washington Carver, Marie Curie and Vincent Van Gogh — first landed in 2003 among other animated adult fare like “Beavis and Butt-Head,” “South Park” and “The Simpsons.”

It lasted a year. The inclusion of a clone of Mahatma Gandhi, depicted as a party animal and a womanizer, led to protests and hunger strikes, ultimately getting the plug pulled on the show.

Lawrence would go on to create "Cougar Town" and “Ted Lasso,” while Lord and Miller helped craft “The Lego Movie,” “21 Jump Street,” “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and “The Afterparty.”

“South Park” and “The Simpsons” are still going — and even Beavis and Butt-Head has gotten a reboot — so it made sense to bring back “Clone High” last year.

It was in some ways like a return to the co-creators' first love: “This show is in the voice of us. So everything we write feels right for the show. And I realized we’ve been faking it in every other thing we’ve done,” says Miller.

The reboot has dropped Gandhi but added Kahlo, Confucius, Christopher Columbus and Harriet Tubman. Voice actors include Ayo Edebiri, Will Forte, Nicole Sullivan, Mitra Jouhari, Jackée Harry and Kelvin Yu.

Miller and Lord — who voice several characters as well — say they hired as many multi-hyphenate voice actors as they could. “We were just looking for people who also are writers themselves so they can add jokes in the recording booth,” says Miller.

The world has changed in the 20 years since “Clone High” first aired, and the men behind it have changed, too. For one thing, they're less interested in being mean.

“We’re smart enough not to laugh at people’s expense in the same way that we maybe did in the ’90s,” says Lord. “I think the thing that has happened is that people realize it’s not funny to punch down.”

The original series mocked such teen soap opera rivals as “Dawson’s Creek” and “Beverly Hills, 90210.” The new series has jokes about Wes Anderson, John Wayne, pumpkin spice lattes, being “sex positive” and cancel culture.

Both creators don't buy the common complaint in comedy these days that it's hard to be funny in this climate. They think the world is always ripe for satire.

“I think for any comedy to land, it has to poke at things that make us uncomfortable or embarrassed and has to say things that are truthful more or less, or at least, observational,” says Lord.

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits