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Historical figures sent back to the drawing board

Sunday, January 12, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Attack of the clones? Nah, just laughs inspired by them. A year after "The Osbournes" created a buzzworthy stir, MTV is in need of another buzz. Executives no doubt hope they've found it in "Clone High, USA," an animated series with an odd mix of historical figures and parodies of teen-appeal TV, advertising and music. It's a bizarre combination, to be sure, but it works.

 
 
TV REVIEW

"Clone High, USA"

When: 10:30 p.m. tomorrow on MTV.

Starring: The voices of Nicole Sullivan, Christa Miller-Lawrence, Michael McDonald, Christopher Miller, Phil Lord.

   
 

Created by 27-year-old friends Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the animated half-hour has a totally out-there premise. In the '80s, an Evil Board of Shadowy Figures created clones of assorted historical figures. Now they're attending Clone High, presided over by Principal Scudworth (voice of Phil Lord), your usual megalomaniacal villain.

In a future episode, Scudworth allows an "extreme" snack food to be advertised in the school in exchange for $2 million, which the principal and his robot butler spend lavishly.

"I watched the first two-thirds of the MC Hammer 'Behind the Music,' and if I learned anything, it's that the money never runs out," Scudworth says.

But the clones are the center of this strange, funny universe, especially Abe Lincoln (Will Forte), his sidekick Gandhi (Michael McDonald) and their friend Joan of Arc (Nicole Sullivan), who has an unrequited crush on the oblivious Abe.

Turns out Abe is hot for Cleopatra (Christa Miller-Lawrence), who pines for John F. Kennedy (Miller), who lives up to his tabloid reputation.

"I invaded her Bay of Pigs, if you get my meaning," JFK says in tomorrow's premiere. But his home life is decidedly different from the real JFK's. "You know that show, 'My Two Dads'?" JFK says, pointing to his two male foster parents. "It's like that, only more gay."

Elvis and Genghis Khan are students at Clone High, and Eleanor Roosevelt is a gym teacher. Each episode of the series begins with an announcer calling it "a very special episode" in the kind of serious voice usually reserved for "very special" episodes of "ER."

It's noteworthy that the creator and executive producer of "Scrubs," Bill Lawrence, is an executive producer of "Clone High." His influence is apparent from the pop culture references to the quick cut-away fantasy sequences (at the Grassy Knoll restaurant where the teens hang out, George Washington Carver pops up from a booth to display his summer project, an anthropomorphic peanut he bioengineered).

Yes, "Clone High" has the MTV-requisite sexual innuendo, but it's more clever than much of what passes for humor in prime time today. And like "Scrubs," it has heart, particularly when it comes to Abe and Joan. That distinguishes it from "South Park," which is more subversive and more likely to cross the line of good taste.


Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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