A girl going undercover as a boy hits a sweet spot for the teen show. It’s a shortcut to the “you go girl” brand of girl power—not explicit feminism, mind you, but “girl power.” It lets everyone learn the valuable lesson that girls can hang with boys, so that everything can return to the status quo the next week with the added veneer of specious enlightenment. It sets the stage for several lengthy speeches. In other words, it’s a perfect storm of righteous teen revelations and temporary empowerment for Clone High to skewer.
The best part of Joan’s disguise is how completely ineffectual it is at the same time that it fools everyone. Her curlicue mustache and superfluously deepened voice are enough to get on the basketball team, infiltrate the boys’ locker room, seduce Cleo, launch Abe into a flying rage, and best of all, send JFK into a sexually confused spiral of self-discovery. In fact, listing all the things Joan’s mustache accomplishes makes me realize that while this episode is named for Joan, it ends up being a much more fun showcase for everyone else. “John D’arc” brings out the pettiest parts of Abe, who’s never funnier than when he’s throwing tantrum. Cleo is Clone High’s least three-dimensional character—her entire personality up to this point has just been “sexpot”—but Eric Kentoff’s script ramps this trait up to the point where she basically becomes a cat in heat. John D’arc’s irresistible studliness combined with the fact that he has no interest in Cleo sends her into a seduction tailspin. And since there’s no time for subtlety for either Cleo or Clone High, the flirting starts at a baseline of deep-throating a banana.
But it’s JFK who runs away with “Homecoming: A Shot In D’arc.” His internal babe radar pings in a big way when Joan/John struts onto the team, and since the mustache is just that convincing, JFK spends the entire episode grappling with the possibility that he might just be a little gay. The best thing about this realization is that he never once questions that he’s attracted to Joan/John. He just is—who is he to resist John’s milky white thighs?—and watches some Will and Grace with his gay foster dads to think it out. Eventually, he accepts that his attraction to John D’arc is just another facet of his awesome self, and sidles up to him during practice and says, “you should pass me the ball more, because I’m open for anything” with zero shame. It’s one of those Clone High plotlines that starts as ridiculous as any other, but ends up with some of those genuine moments that the actual teen dramedies Clone High was parodying rarely achieved.
Still, Joan’s time as “John” does lets her and Nicole Sullivan have some fun at the expense of stupid teenage boys and the patriarchy just in general, especially with Joan/John’s attempt at locker room talk. Joan /John has to prove her masculine worth by joining in the “sexual conquest discussion,” but sets off the boys’ bullshit meters when she says she’d never kiss and tell (“INTRUDER! INTRUDER!”). When trying to convince Abe to forget Cleo and go for Joan, Joan/John’s entire case is, “that Joan of Arc seems like one tasty piece of bitch.” Joan’s conflict over whether to kick basketball ass as John and make Abe look bad also brings us another heartwarming interaction between her and Mr. Butlertron. We so rarely get to see Mr. B outside of Scudworth’s plans that his mellifluous advice is a treat—even when he tells Joan that there’s a thirty-eight percent chance she’ll get burned at the stake just like the original Joan.
While “A Shot In D’arc” is preoccupied with the basketball drama, though, there is some absurdist work around the edges that keeps things weird. A running gag includes throwing things off-screen only to hear a dolphin cackle. But the most gratifying aspect of this literal throwaway gag is that it isn’t actually a throwaway—the dolphin reveals himself to be another undercover basketball player once he removes his magical mustache disguise.
Meanwhile, Gandhi’s C-plot falls through the looking glass to the point where it becomes a hallucinogenic nightmare (hey look, a sentence I could use in just about every review!).
As I’ve written before, Gandhi can be an exhausting character, and the show seems to have realized that fact as we approach the halfway point of the season. He therefore gets to hang out in a rainbow world montage with the mascot from Clone High’s rival school. Even after Gandhi rips Geshy’s “costume” open to find the very real organs underneath, it’s all very heartwarming. Of course, Geshy turns out to be both an adorable squeaky hodgepodge of a Muppet and a bloodthirsty hellbeast, but this wouldn’t be Clone High if there weren’t some sort of perverse twist that leaves us going, “…huh.”
I figured there would be a time when I would have to bring my “hey, it’s 2002!” stray observation into the main reviews, and I can’t think of a more fitting way to do it than with O-Town’s own Ashley Parker Angel. All credit in the world goes to Angel for voicing a less flattering version of himself at the height of his popularity, though having Ashley Parker Angel on Clone High was of some promotional instance to MTV, which also produced the show that created O-Town (Making The Band). As even JFK points out, though, O-Town never came close to achieving the glorious heights *NSYNC or The Backstreet Boys did, even though it was manufactured to be the boy band of every 2000-era girl’s dreams. Years from now, when our descendants are studying American pop culture of the aughts in their liberal art colleges slash anti-smog pods, they could save themselves a whole lot of time by just looking at a picture of Ashley Parker Angel. Everything about him from his name, to his swooping hair and highlights, to his unnerving ability to smile and smirk simultaneously, is so specific to this era that I spent the entire episode having flashbacks to my pastel platform Sketchers.
Celebrity cameo aside, though, “Plane Crazy” is about as straightforward as Clone High gets. Oh sure, Gandhi creates a rapping alter ego named “G-Spot” and Cleo grinds with Ashley Parker Angel on national television, but there are far fewer perverse twists than usual. Other episodes delight in subverting expectations; “Plane Crazy” depends on repetition.
First there’s Scudworth, who spins off into a random slapstick rivalry with a diabolical skunk. All their scenes play like classic Looney Toons like Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, or even Tom and Jerry, but Scudworth and Skunky’s cat-and-mouse game is more viscerally violent. The problem with Scudworth and Skunky Poo, though, is that doing the gag where cartoons have literal consequences for their violence inevitably throws it under Itchy and Scratchy’s considerable shadow. Clone High’s version leans on Scudworth falling for a thinly-disguised stick of dynamite over, and over, and over again to horrifying effect, but again, Itchy and Scratchy have trod that territory to death and back. There’s also the fact that Scudworth is isolated from everyone in this plot. He has no connection to anything else in the episode at all. The only character he gets to bounce off of is a skunk who shouts, “try to catch me bitch”—which is limited, as far as interactions go. Not even dear Mr. Butlertron comes to Scudworth’s rescue. In this instance, repetition is not Clone High’s friend.
The titular plane gate, though, uses repetition to much better effect. The romantic rush to the plane gate is exactly the kind of cliché Clone High skewers best. It’s a ridiculous display of emotion that in real life would impress maybe two percent of its targets while the other ninety-eight percent would just be concerned for their bodily safety. Writer Tom Martin (now on Randy Cunningham: Ninth Grade Ninja) sends Abe, Joan, Gandhi, Ashley Parker Angel, and Skunky Poo all running to stop someone from getting on that plane, but it’s Abe who nails the reason why just about any character has ever made this dubious pilgrimage: “I’m here to stop you from making the worst decision of my life.” Running to the gate (or as it would go today, security) is almost always a selfish act. The runner doesn’t care that the person getting on the plane has made a decision—just that the decision has totally screwed them over. Martin plays with this in a few different ways, like how Abe and Ashley rush to stop Cleo out of jealousy while Gandhi rushes to give her his demo out of greed. Joan is the only one whose run is selfless, because she’s the only one who actually loves the person she’s trying to reach.
The other notable aspect of “Plane Crazy” is that it finally gives Cleo something else to do beyond look hot. I mean, she still spends the majority of the episode looking hot, and she does grind on Ashley Parker Angel as previously mentioned. But it must have been a huge relief for Christa Miller to get to shift into another couple of vocal gears beyond “sexy.” Between her excitement at finding out she’s going to be on television, her earnest talks with Abe, and even her frantic energy as she comes spilling out of Abe’s locker, Cleo finally gets to be a character in her own right—and yes, look crazy hot doing it.
- High School Commiseration Corner: I was more of an *NSYNC girl than a Backstreet Boy fan, but neither could ever touch my love for The Spice Girls. I went to their reunion concert, they walked out to “Spice Up Your Life,” and I cried. I…don’t have much more to say about that.
- Hey, it’s 2002!: Because Gandhi’s Sarah Michelle Gellar autograph is too good not to share. (“Gary, good luck slaying that cancer!”)
- The funniest part of Scudworth’s problems is his very first acknowledgement of Skunky Poo: “Why, that sounds like the pizzicato tiptoeing of a pesky skunk! Unacceptable.”
- “We set rules. No touching below the eyebrows.” “Oh Abe. All celebrities are completely hairless.”
- Gandhi, panicking: “Oh my God, he was genetically engineered with a zipper! Oh my God, who’s driving the van?!”
- I would listen to JFK/G-Spot’s patriotic hip-hop. I would do it.
- Is Cleo’s mom just Ellen Barkin from Drop Dead Gorgeous?
- I will no longer believe in the awesome powers of the Internet if there is no JFK/John D’Arc fanfiction.