Peer pressure of historic proportions

Times Staff Writer

Expectations can be funny. And in the case of “Clone High USA,” an animated series premiering at 10:30 tonight on MTV, they can cut both ways.

The show’s intriguing premise is that a mad scientist has created clones of various historical figures and now, 16 years later, they are all attending the same high school. In addition to the usual teenage anxieties, they also struggle with the legacies of the people whose DNA they possess.

The series revolves around five characters: Abraham Lincoln (voiced by Will Forte), Joan of Arc (Nicole Sullivan), Gandhi (Michael McDonald), John F. Kennedy (Christopher Miller) and Cleopatra (Christa Miller-Lawrence). Most behave more or less as you’d expect them to: Abe is lanky, awkward and preternaturally honest; his main rival, JFK, is a hopeless womanizer; and Cleo looks to exert power over everyone with her sexiness and smarts. Joan is still a crusader, but she’s given up religion and gone goth. Gandhi, however, has completely rebelled against his “clone-father” and become the ultimate hormone-fueled party animal.


Their nemesis is the scientist who created them -- and serves as school principal -- the evil Cinnamon J. Scudworth (Phil Lord), who has a robot butler named Mr. Belvetron, whom calls everyone Wesley.

Sounds funny, and it is. In a style reminiscent of “South Park” and “Beavis and Butt-head,” but not nearly as crude, “Clone High” mixes pop culture and historical references with some crassness. The problem is that the first episode, which focuses on crushes and beer, doesn’t quite live up to the obvious comedic potential behind the killer premise.

That’s somewhat surprising, given the series’ pedigree. The regular cast’s credits range from “Saturday Night Live” and “MADtv” to “The Drew Carey Show,” and guest stars include Michael J. Fox (appearing as Gandhi’s talking kidney), Marilyn Manson and Tom Green. Bill Lawrence, who created NBC’s hit “Scrubs” and co-created ABC’s “Spin City,” helped this project’s creators (Miller and Lord) bring it to television.

One can only hope that all the positive buzz “Clone High” has generated in Canada since its premiere there in November will be borne out in future episodes.