Way, way back in 2002, a little show about teenage clones hit MTV, delighted audiences, and was promptly cancelled. Clone High was a slapstick satire of the teen shows that grew out of the Dawson’s Creek mold, but it had a sci-fi twist and an irreverent sensibility that allowed it to send up just about everything. But more than anything, it was about love. The dry kind, and the kind you find in a meat locker. We’re talking versatility here.
Sadly, even though the first season adventures of Abe, Cleo, Joan, JFK, Gandhi, Principal Scudworth and Mr. Butlertron ended with a massive cliffhanger, a second season was never to be.
Despite being insanely busy with a follow-up to 21 Jump Street and an epic Lego Movie, Clone High co-creators Phil Lord and Chris Miller agreed to explain what might have happened if we’d gotten to see more of our friends from Clone High High School.
Today, in a very special Film School Rejects feature, we reveal the insanely unbelievable things that they probably made up right before I called.
The Initial Plan (or Clone High Forever)
“We had grand plans for an overall arc for the show,” said Lord. “Season one would be junior year, season two would be the first half of senior year, season three would be the second half of senior year, and at the end of season 3, they would go through a wormhole and go back in time to repeat senior year, and if there was a season five, it would be college.”
Miller added, “We were gonna contrive many ways for them to stay in high school. Until they were even into their 30s. 90210 was maybe still on the air, and they had done everything they could to keep them around, and I think they graduated the same year we graduated from college, but those characters were all still there, and at that point all the actors were in their 40s, playing young people in their 20s.”
Resolving The Cliffhanger
Lord: We definitely had our suspicions that we might not ever come back, and we thought it was funny that we would leave the series in suspended animation. Maybe forever. So it was a very deliberate move.
Miller: The main idea that we had was that the first episode of the next season would be where they’re walking — Gandhi and Abe and Joan — are walking to school for their senior year, just like they were at the beginning of [the pilot]. Then they’re talking about, “What did you do over summer break?” and they’re like, “I don’t know. I don’t remember what happened,” so there’s a mystery that, throughout the season, they put together what happened between when they were all frozen in the meat locker and when they somehow showed up for senior year.
Lord: Maybe they were all like Jason Bourne, and they had no recollection, and it slowly started coming back, the horrible things that happened in the deep freeze.
FSR: I would have both been pissed and loved it if you’d just said, “What a wacky adventure that was!”
Miller: Yeah I know. We thought we could always do that. We could always be like, “Whoa! So many interesting things happened off-screen. That was crazy. Well…let’s never speak of it again.”
The Love Quadrangle
FSR: So we would have had to wait an entire season for what happened in the deep freeze, but did you have something in mind for the romance between Abe, Cleo, JFK and Joan?
Miller: We…did not.
Miller: We like to give ourselves problems to solve. I’m trying to think off the top of my head how we would handle it, and it makes me want to introduce some sort of third female into the mix to really stir it up. Like Charlotte Bronte comes in…
Lord: We still naively think, or maybe it was a good idea, but we definitely had this theory that you should write problems for yourself and force yourself to figure your way out of them.
Miller: What if a new character got introduced who was a much older woman? Like a teacher or something?
Lord: Getting a bit more scandalous.
Miller: Yeah, exactly. Because that sounds ridiculously over-dramatic.
FSR: Like a Pacey in Dawson’s Creek‘s first season kind of twist.
Lord: Totally. We were definitely riffing on that.
Miller: Like Martha Washington or Susan B. Anthony. Somebody that, they would really get each other because they both had clone-parents who were both politically assassinated. But I don’t know enough about history to tell you exactly who that would have to be.
FSR: Ayn Rand was a teacher.
Miller: Yeah, maybe it was Ayn [Laughs].
Lord: That would be hilarious. [Laughs] It would open us up to whole new way of thinking about things.
Miller: [Laughs] Oh my god, and she’s one year older maybe, and she’s got just the worst theories about life, and she converts him into a far right-wing Republican.
Lord: And Lincoln was a Republican. That’s true.
A World Without Gandhi
As a few fans know, the show got into hot water because of their portrayal of the clone of Mahatma Gandhi. It was so intense that a few hundred protestors got together (on the anniversary of Gandhi’s assassination no less), proclaiming they would participate in a hunger strike against the show. People were planning to starve themselves to make a statement against a cartoon that turned Abraham Lincoln into a churro salesman.
With the slim chance of a second season still in the wind, it was something they were going to have to address.
Lord: After the incident in India, we had to go to MTV and pitch a version of the show that didn’t have Gandhi in it. They thought, “Maybe we can still do the show if we just don’t have Gandhi as a character.” So we went in with two different versions of the show. One was where Gandhi mysteriously disappears, but he was the one who sacrifices himself to save them from the frozen meat locker, and he’s just not in it anymore. The other version we had was that we keep the character, but he finds out in the first episode of the second season that there was a mix-up at the lab, and he’s not actually the clone of Gandhi. He’s a clone of Gary Coleman, and then we just called him Gary.
FSR: Genius. Could he have just exhibited more of the traits of the original Gandhi?
Miller: Well in that case, maybe it turns out that Gary Coleman’s DNA is more predisposed to great works.
Lord: Our idea of him was that he rejected all the pressure of being as amazing as the original Gandhi, so he went the other way with it. Having read about the real Gandhi being a lawyer who liked to drink and tell jokes in South Africa before he changed his ways, he was kind of a goofball apparently. It seemed interesting that once the pressure of living up to being Mohandas Gandhi is away, he can actually be super magnanimous and thoughtful once he doesn’t have to be like Gandhi.
FSR: There’s probably an entire lesson episode right there.
Lord: Our goal was always to educate more than entertain.
FSR: That’s a great seque because I’ll probably call one the segments “I May Be Blind, But…”
I May Be Blind, But…
Every episode had its lessons. Marilyn Manson gave us proper nutrition guidelines, Jack Black tried to make everyone creatively ingest dried fruit, and there were a few that had nothing to do with food items at all. Obviously a second season would have had to carry on that tradition.
Miller: I can’t decide if they should be issues from the current day like cyberbullying or if it should be…
Lord: Issues of the early 2000s?
Miller: Right. Which is like…modem crashing? Or something like that?
FSR: What to do with all the AOL discs.
Lord: The environment.
Miller: We pretty much mined Dawson’s Creek and 90210 for all their lessons,… and the year after Clone High came out, The O.C. came out, which was trading on all the same tropes we were. In that first season, they had, like, four episodes that had the same storyline structure as ours, and people kept emailing me saying, “Oh my god! Can you believe this? It’s the same thing as Clone High!” But they were ripping off stuff from the same source that we were ripping stuff off, so of course it was the same story.
FSR: But isn’t that the sign of successful satire?
Lord: [Laughs] Yeah.
Miller: So we probably would have started ripping off The O.C. which was ripping off the stuff we were ripping off, and it would turn into a wormhole that would eat itself.
Lord: That means we would need a guy from the wrong side of the tracks to roll up and really shake things up with his blue collar ways. Like John Henry or something.
Miller: I like John Henry. He’s a good one.
FSR: Well you tackled a lot of lessons for high schoolers. You did multiple lessons per episodes, but race relations weren’t something that was completely touched on.
Miller: There was a very brief thing between Moses and Martin Luther King, Jr. that happened in one scene about conflict mediation. But it was more about eating ham sandwiches.
Lord: But maybe there would have been something between Medgar Evers and somebody else? I think what we would have tried was some sort of very, very narrow distinction between two close cultures. Like one person from Rhode Island and someone from Delaware that have a very serious rivalry.
FSR: Since the show tackled issues indirectly?
Lord: Yeah, exactly.
FSR: So you’d tackle race relations, but maybe it was because JFK started dating a mailbox or something, and people don’t approve of it.
Miller: [Laughs] “You guys, mailboxes are people too.” “No they aren’t!”
Lord: Maybe they pass a rule where no one can vote in student elections unless they have a frontal lobe and the ability to speak. And that’s really considered very racist because it’s suppressing the inanimate objects’ vote.
Miller: I do think that maybe Jackie Robinson really cares about letting dolphins have the right to drive cars.
FSR: [Laughs] What?
Miller: Because they are the smartest mammal, and if you give them a way to steer with their flippers, if they can pass the driving exam, they should be allowed. That’s what I think. That’s just what I think. I know the rest of the world is behind the times from me.
Lord: I think if a person has made love to it, that animal should be able to vote.
Giant Guest Stars
Lord and Miller didn’t get to the icing part of the baking process that is development on a second season, so it’s understandable that they didn’t daydream of what guest stars they might attract. Trying to remember who was famous (especially in the MTV set) a decade ago also proved pretty challenging. “At the time, Tom Green was a huge get,” said Lord. “Now it seems like getting Tom Green would be achievable.”
Instead of causing an aneurysm attempting to dreamcast the biggest pop icons of 2003 (sorry, Ja Rule), they decided to imagine what it would be like to make the show here in 2013.
“Right now it would just be really fun to bring in more of our buddies that we’ve been able to work with since then,” said Lord. “Obviously having The Lonely Island be a part of that in some way, to have people like [Bill] Hader, Anna Faris and [Chris] Pratt, and all those awesome people we’ve gotten to work with, it would be so fun to have them come in and do, like, one insane thing.”
Even though that set up will never happen (no matter how fervently we prawn), there was also one potential guest star that they regretted not being able to get.
“Johnny Cash,” said Miller. “We wanted him to be the trucker [John C. McGinley ultimately did it], and he said he’d do it, but only if we didn’t portray the trucker as having anything to do with the police officer dying, It was a reasonable point of view.”
“Somehow that was a deal breaker for us. I don’t know why,” said Lord.
“Because we were idiot little kids.”
Fortunately, Ashley Angel from O-Town is probably still available.
Everything’s Normal, Nobody’s Mopin’
Never having a second season of Clone High means we’ll miss out on a lot as fans. We’ll never know for sure what happened after the horrific best night of their lives in the meat locker, or figure out if Scudworth gets away with freezing the Board of Shadowy Figures. We’ll also never see some of the episode concepts Lord, Miller and fellow co-creator Bill Lawrence had planned (the random everyman clone of someone who “gets famous 100 years in the future,” or a body-switching story arc for Scudworth and Butlertron).
But that’s okay, you guys. We can still cherish the full season and revisit it whenever we want — reliving with dolphin squeal-filled joys all our favorite moments. You guys, the point is that a second season will never be born, but the first will also never die, you guys. As the old saying goes, “Every cliffhanger ending is really just an ending that doesn’t feel ended yet.”
Still, maybe we should say goodbye to the frozen friend we can see whenever we want. Watch the video, replace the word “Ponce” with “Clone High” and let Genghis take us out.
Thanks, Clone High. You were a regular character.