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television: High School Hell 

MTV's new cartoon series is just like any other high school, except for the historical icons.

Plus, it's chock-full of — don't tell the kids — relevant and positive social commentary cunningly hidden among the yuk-yuk laughs and clever sexual innuendos.

The fun starts with the twisted premise. A deranged scientist has extracted DNA from bits and pieces of revered historical icons — Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc, John F. Kennedy, Cleopatra and Mahatma Gandhi. These new creations are now clones in their teens, coping not only with all the angst and torment that accompanies normal high-school life, but also with the perceived need to live up to their legacies.

Life at Clone High, just like at any high school, is a bitch. Which makes it fun to watch, just as long as you're not in high school. Or maybe even if you are, since Clone High with its double-helix twist, is really not like any other.

Some of what aims at the funny bone on "Clone High" misses the mark, such as the name of the burger joint where Abe, Cleo, Gandhi, JFK and Joan hang out: The Grassy Knoll. But for the most part, the humor is both surprisingly reflective of reality and firmly rooted in rebellious cartoon tradition. It's hard not to laugh, and even squirm a bit, at the teenage Gandhi's inspired proposal for an action film about George Washington Carver and himself, to be called "Black and Tan."

One recent episode focused on the morality of politics as two of the clone teens, JFK and Abe, run for student president. "Ask not what your student body president can do for you," declaims a hormone-driven JFK. "Ask what you can do to your student body president's body." The more sober-minded Abe sees a question of class schedules as the pressing issue — adding an AP calculus class that doesn't conflict with AP physics.

Early polls show JFK in the lead. But Gandhi has a suggestion for Abe. "All you have to do is abandon your values" and let a sleazy soft drink (X-Stream Blu, made from pancake mix and house paint) sponsor negative campaign ads. But Gandhi OD's on the product and Abe sees the truth about corporate greed and fires his sponsor. To keep the message from being too obvious, Abe almost wins the election, but he's edged out by a cute puppy.

Think about what that says about real life.

You've got to hand it to Phil Lord, Bill Lawrence and Chris Miller, the creators and executive producers of "Clone High." They're distinctly creative. And they've produced a winner.S



New episodes of "Clone High, U.S.A." air Monday nights at 10:30 on MTV, with repeats scheduled throughout the week.

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