“Litter Kills: Litterally”

When I took on the task of reviewing Clone High, I knew I’d be in danger of overusing a few words. Just about every paragraph has sent me running to the thesaurus to find a different way to say “irreverent,” “absurd,” “pithy,” and “skewer”—all perfectly accurate ways to describe Clone High’s tone, but monotonous after their thirteenth use. At the same time, though, there are words I was surprised to write in conjunction with a frantic cartoon about “clones of sexy teens (yeah).” I found myself using words like “heart” and “affectionate” with total sincerity, even though Clone High is ostensibly a parody of those teen shows that tried to be all heart but ended up ringing false.

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Still, the one word I’m most surprised to be thinking about so hard in conjunction with Clone High is “detail.” This show is so packed with specificity that it’s near impossible to register it all. The attention to detail has been impressive throughout this most recent re-watch, and yet my biggest grin at a detail to date was inspired by the Clone High title card filling up with blood in an eerie echo of Ponce De Leon’s gurgling death by litter. It’s a tiny detail in the grand scheme of things, but it points to a level of care that’s emblematic of the entire series. Clone High could have sustained its mission to make fun of teen dramas with broad strokes, and yet it took pains to pack in as many jokes as possible. “Litter Kills: Litterally” could have coasted on JFK’s histrionic misery, or Abe’s jealousy, or Joan’s righteous campaign to stop litter. Instead, it throws all of this together and shades in every ounce of extra space with a wink at its melodramatic source material or sharp jokes that cut through the clones’ overwrought grief. And so the title card fill up with blood, Cleo tops a drooling makeout session by licking Abe’s beard, and most noticeably, the theme song gets a melancholy, Sarah McLachlan-esque makeover:

“Litter Kills” also gets a boost from boosting JFK’s presence in the story. Clone High tends to use JFK as a quick way to punch up a scene, letting him pop his enormous square head into the frame with a perverted quip before sending him off to seduce a teenage queen regent in a broom closet. But another aspect of this re-watch I didn’t see coming was how much I truly, madly, deeply love Clone High’s JFK. First, there’s that voice. Co-creator Christopher Miller luxuriates in every one JFK’s flat syllable to the point that his manner of speaking becomes its own joke regardless of what he’s actually saying. There’s his home life, featuring his endlessly supportive “gay foster dads.” Most of all, though, there’s his unending capacity to feel. JFK feels everything, all the time, always. JFK may have started off the series as the school’s macho alpha dog, but he’s since evolved into the most emotional clone. He approaches everything from a breakup to questioning his sexuality with the same level of intensity. The world is either ending, or it’s awesome. Even Joan, whose character hinges on unrequited love and latent rage, can’t touch JFK’s emotional reserves. And so when we meet JFK’s best friend Ponce DeLeon (Luke Perry), it doesn’t really matter that we’ve never met him before (though that’s its own nod to how shows tend to cheat with deaths). All we need to know to understand JFK’s grief when Ponce dies is that he loved Ponce without reservation or shame. The show’s commitment to laying groundwork and following the more unexpected aspects of the characters’ personalities is what sells JFK’s reaction to Ponce’s death, which in turn sells this episode. This isn’t to say that “Litter Kills” is trying to make some sort of grand statement about JFK’s psyche, really. This is still Clone High, and so the jokes come first. But when JFK crashes Abe and Cleo’s date at Teen Sex Cove with a GameBoy and loses it over killing Mario (“I’m killing everyone!”), it’s hilarious, but also fits in exactly with how his character has developed since the pilot. When a ghostly Ponce glides into JFK’s room, neon green and covered in litter, JFK’s wide-eyed delight is just the logical flip-side of his anguish. (Also, his refusal to believe that Ponce isn’t a ghost or a genie is brilliant, and perfectly capped with Perry’s deadpan “this is so frustrating.”) When Abe finds JFK on the thinking docks, it makes complete sense. Abe started the series as its moral center and beating heart, but being a spinoff of Dawson Leery, he’s actually just oblivious and self-righteous. JFK is the one who belongs on those thinking docks, and if it involves him sobbing, “I’m a Kennedy! I’m not accustomed to tragedy,” into Abe Lincoln’s baseball tee, all the better.

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“Snowflake Day: A Very Special Holiday Episode”

Writing this episode must have been a coveted job in the Clone High writers’ room. Holiday episodes, with all their treacle and forced drama for the sake of a touching resolution, provide the perfect fodder for Clone High‘s gleeful spoofs of affected drama. As is fitting, then, very little walks away unscathed from “Snowflake Day”—and I’m not even talking about Abe’s bloody cheek flap.

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“Snowflake Day” opens as Clone High’s politically correct version of Christmas. As our own Sean O’Neal pointed out during The A.V. Club’s 1994 week, political correctness became a punchline in the mid-nineties, and so this aspect of Clone High’s fake holiday is a little less interesting, or at least less fresh, than other parts of this episode. Writer Erica Rivinoja seems to realize this, though, and so the script abandons the concept of avoiding religious specificity (after a brief detour into stop-motion animation) and launches into the much more fruitful area of ridiculous holiday traditions. There have been more than a few fake holidays on television, but Snowflake Day’s commitment to randomness is most closely echoed in 30 Rock’s nonsensical version of Leap Day. 30 Rock rang in Leap Day with blue and yellow clothing and Jim Carrey; the clones celebrate Snowflake Day with lamb tacos, a pirate mascot, and the fear of landing on “Snowflake Jake’s Ill-Mannered List.” JFK puts out another Newport accented holiday mixtape, including such hits as “Meatshanks We Have Heard On High,” “I Saw Mommy Banging Snowflake Jake,” and “The Boston Celtics Fight Song.” Cleo throws a Snowflake Day party, which just has to feature a cracker girl, and expects an expensive gift that absolutely was not lovingly hand-crafted (gross).

Of special note is the fact that Abe and Gandhi’s friendship gets a subplot after several episodes in which they barely got to share a frame. While Abe’s been killing himself trying to earn the right to see Cleo’s left boob (aka “Poncho”), Gandhi’s been off on his own falling through the looking glass into trippy situation after trippy situation. Even as everyone mourned Ponce’s death together in “Litter Kills,” Gandhi ended up by himself in prison, telling the tale to a group of loveable felons. It’s a relief to have him back in the clone circle doing something at least somewhat related to the story at hand. Abe’s preoccupation with Cleo has also obscured one of his more realistic and funny traits, namely that he’s a total child. Sixteen is a confusing, in-between age for teenage boys. I can’t speak to it in any kind of intimate way, but I still remember starting my sophomore year at high school and not recognizing any of the boys I had grown up with, because they had all shot up half a foot during the summer. Better yet, none of them seemed to recognize each other or even themselves; they were all stuck in these new gangly, hormone-ridden bodies, and they were horrified. Clone High’s Abe is very much in this mold of teenage boy. He knows he wants to round the bases with Cleo, but he can barely walk to class without tripping over his own feet, and when his best friend comes up with a truly stupid and dangerous idea, he’s all in. The “Knork” (half-knife, half-fork, all-stupid) was never going to be long for this or any world, but it’s still a treat to watch Gandhi and Abe tag-team something together again.

Meanwhile, Joan hates Snowflake Day. As the series has progressed, Joan has emerged as not quite the voice of reason, but at least the voice of totally killing everyone’s buzz. She’s the one who will always cry, “we have to stop [insert offending party here]!” while everyone else avoids eye contact lest they get pulled into her latest crusade. But her anger towards Snowflake Day feels different than her righteous fury towards her peers smoking raisins. Sure, she says it’s about commercialism and the all-powerful greeting card industry, and yes, a Greeting Card Industry Sniper almost takes her out for her anti-establishment rage. But really, the reason why Joan hates Snowflake Day and tries to put itching powder in everyone’s Snowflake Day traditional eyepatches is because the holiday fosters a sense of community she’s never really known. Also, as the surly wet blanket of the bunch, Joan has an obligation to hate what everyone else loves.

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Luckily for Joan, though, holiday episodes refuse to let a curmudgeon stay surly throughout the season, and so “Snowflake Day” sends a “sexy dumpster teen” who looks an awful lot like pop sensation Mandy Moore to the rescue. Casting Moore as a homeless version of herself makes no kind of sense, but as is befitting of Clone High, it’s just strange enough to work. Mandy talks wistfully about those “lucky kids with their spices,” glides around Joan in glittering rags, and shows Joan a homeless party that proves the power of the Snowflake Day spirit, which can even make poor people happy if they just open their hearts. And so Joan learns the error of her grumpy ways and opens her heart, looking out onto the snowy vista while Mandy Moore and her merry band of vagrants robs everyone blind. A jolly Snowflake Day, indeed.

Stray observations:

  • High School Commiseration Corner: My hometown actually did have a Snowflake Day. It was pretty much just a parade featuring the marching band and a Girl Scouts troop, so my friends and I would just take advantage of the empty Dunkin Donuts, play cards, and drink coffee we secretly hated.
  • Hey, it’s 2002!: Luke Perry and Mandy Moore aside, I’m here for JFK’s GameBoy and Scudworth’s subscription to YM.
  • Always good to see Gandhi’s mascot friend Geshy, but especially great in context of JFK summoning creatures “from land, from sea, from sky!” to pick up litter.
  • I had totally forgotten about Gandhi going to prison, and was so glad when that story didn’t end up with shower rape.
  • Super fun to have Neil Flynn playing Glenn the Janitor mid-Scrubs run.
  • Joan: “You guys, pick up your trash! You guys, Ponce died for this, you guys!….You guys suck.”
  • There’s nothing quite so beautiful in this world as the joy in Abe/Will Forte’s voice when he finds mini weiners.

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