“Clone High,” MTV’s animated cult classic about a high school about teenage clones of historical figures from creators Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“Spider-Verse” series) and Bill Lawrence (“Ted Lasso”), returns with a new episodes about Max 20 years after the cancellation of its only season. The core group has thawed to face a more complicated world of social media and new cultural norms, where ‘Riverdale’ has replaced ‘Dawson’s Creek’ as the model of training, complete with slightly more adult humor and even sillier – and less well known – situations. executive as creators now wield greater power.
Returning Abe Lincoln (Will Forte), Cleopatra (Mitra Jouhari to replace Christa Miller), JFK (Chris Miller) and Joan of Arc (Nicole Sullivan). They are joined by new clone classmates Harriet Tubman (Ayo Edebiri), Frida Kahlo (Vicci Martinez), Confucius (Kelvin Yu), Topher Bus (Neil Casey as canceled Christopher Columbus), and Sacagawea (Jana Schmieding). Still, party animal Gandhi remains on ice (no point in courting controversy again as pressure from India was a factor in the show’s cancellation). Abe and JFK have shifted their desire from Cleo to Joan, who fits in with the cool crowd, while artsy Frida (the class monitor) and theatrical Harriet are now the most popular clones, and social media savvy Confucius and super charged fights to live up to its legendary status.
Erika Rivinoja (a season 1 writer) and Erik Durbin are the new showrunners and are currently in the middle of season 3. Both previously worked with Lord and Miller on the Fox series “The Last Man on Earth.” The first question was how to fill the gaps left by Gandhi. “We got trapped in this little square of love (in Season 1),” Rivinoja told IndieWire. “All these teen shows need more characters because you want to have more of this love stuff, and also, as far as comedy, we wanted to get more people in from the beginning. At its core, it’s still the same kind of emotional drama you’ve always had, but it’s nice to have more to draw from: “The Hunger Games,” “Maze Runner,” “Yellowjackets.” It’s a fun little sociological experiment to see how these personality types interact with each other.
For Rivinoja, it was fascinating to revisit and expand on a show she first worked on when she was 23 and the only female writer. “I was Mrs. Maisel,” she said, “but it was just that kind of event about how we evolved as storytellers and how our humor evolved over 20 years. The story room was half women this time. It was so diverse and really just a very different vibe. And it was fun to revisit those same things 20 years later. I always thought Abe was so wonderful. He was our point of view character. But many of our younger writers hated Abe. They thought he was so awful…he’s mean to Joan.
“And it was really cool for us to see Chris and Phil revisit this because it was their baby,” she continued. “That’s what put them on the map, and then they passed it. But you could tell they still really cared. They got totally involved along the way. Lots of notes from them. They are part of the fabric of this show. And Bill Lawrence helped us with this pilot’s story and chimes in from time to time. He provides fresh eyes with astute observations. He has (contributed to) an emotional resolution between Abe and Joan.
Durbin, who came in during production to help smooth out character arcs, was a fan of how the show pushed the boundaries of comedy 20 years ago. He added that Lawrence reminded them that “you have to care about the characters. I think it really affected all of us who worked in that writer’s room,” he told IndieWire. “I think he’s really knowledgeable about everything.”
While season one focused on Abe, season two shifts from Joan’s perspective. “What happens when the outcast becomes the popular person?” said Durbin. Some of the showrunners’ favorites are Episode 5 (“Some Talking Points But Mostly Songs?”), in which students perform a musical version of the game “Twister”, Episode 7 (“Spring Broken”), which is a “Yellowjackets” riff on getting stranded in the desert, and episode 9 (“For Your Consideration”), which explores the backstory of the beloved robot Mr. B. “In the second half, we really got busy,” added Durbin. “It gets very experimental. We found our voices and our characters and really pushed it.
Meanwhile, the ShadowMachine animation team (Oscar-winning “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” and Emmy-winning “BoJack Horseman”) in Los Angeles not only kept the edgy 2D look of season one (“Gerald McBoing-Boing meets “The Powerpuff Girls”), but devised a more rounded form language to distinguish the new clone characters. They were also more dynamic in their camera work without appearing CG.
But they embraced bold experimentation in Episode 9, with three distinct styles for Mr. B’s tragic journey, where he’s separated from his human family and struggles to survive before finding a home at Clone High. There’s the 1930s black-and-white look for early domestic scenes in the South, influenced by Fleischer Studios’ “Betty Boop” cartoons, an 1980s/90s television style reminiscent of “Alvin & the Chipmunks” and a ’70s expressionist look influenced by Ralph Bakshi.
“It was a little bit of a challenge finding animation styles that hadn’t been referenced in one way or another,” ShadowMachine animation supervisor Anna Hollingsworth (“BoJack Horseman”) told IndieWire. “We had our own overseas studio, Jam Filled (based in Canada), working on the back end. We sent them key poses because we wanted to make sure they had a lot of control over how it came back, and we didn’t want it to look like a puppet.
Two ShadowMachine artists traditionally collaborated on the black-and-white sequence, applying filters for the proper retro quality; even the Saturday morning cartoon look was traditionally done by one of the in-house artists, and the background team nailed the expressive Bakshi-like animation. “I remember Phil for that just being, dirtier, making him look dirtier. He’s really good at pushing you.
“We were very keen to find people who like doing this style of animation and they were working in their wheelhouse,” added Hollingsworth. “So they really wanted to have that authenticity to those segments, and I think it was a fun little experiment that turned out to be great.”