It wasn’t low ratings or the cost of animation that led to the first (and until now only) season of MTV cult favorite Clone High not continuing, way way back in the 2000s. According to Season 2 executive producer Erica Rivinoja, the reason was simple: “Our representation of [Mahatma] Gandhi was very upsetting to people. We screwed up with that, and it was the reason it was canceled. So we didn’t want that to happen again.”
The first season, which introduced a high school full of clones made from the DNA of history’s most famous figures, heavily featured a party-loving Gandhi clone (voiced by Michael McDonald). This portrayal led to protests including a hunger strike featuring 150 Indian politicians and Gandhi’s grandson at the MTV India offices… and eventual cancelation.
Yet, as a staff writer on the original series, Rivinoja says that she noticed about five years ago that there was a growing momentum around the cult appreciation for Clone High. “It got really popular on TikTok, and it became kind of a thing again, which was really weird because for the longest time it was just sort of, ‘Wait, what was that Clone High thing on your resume?'” she laughs. “I’d meet people that were like, ‘You worked on Clone High? Oh my gosh.'”
Rivinoja was intimately aware of the issues that led to the show’s abrupt end. So when original series creators Phil Lord, Chris Miller, and Bill Lawrence asked her to serve as showrunner on the show’s revival on Max, she says that she and the other writers knew “right away” that they’d have to tackle not just the issue of Gandhi, but other issues that wouldn’t be considered kosher in 2023. “It was just, ‘We have to do better this time around. We have to,'” she says.
So, beyond a few nods at the character’s absence, Gandhi is not a featured player in the new season, and the show’s approach to casting has also changed, with new clones like Frida Kahlo, Confucius, and Harriet Tubman joining the cast, played by voice actors Vicci Martinez, Kelvin Yu, and Ayo Edebiri. (And OG character Cleopatra is now voiced by Iranian-American comedian Mitra Jouhari.)
These choices, Rivinoja says, didn’t happen because “we are just trying to be woke and amazing. We just really wanted to make sure there was better representation — not just for the sake of doing it; for us, it genuinely felt important and fun and comedy-driven to do that. You know, seeing Harriet Tubman in high school, or how [new clone] Christopher Columbus would be perceived now… It just seemed like these were all really, really funny ideas, so that was what we wanted to evolve the story with.”