The fifth episode, titled “Some Talking but Mostly Songs”, hits the refrain of another musical outing. Opening on a preview for the steamy serial Tropical Hospital, Harriet (Ayo Edebiri) is left foaming at the mouth. Joan (Nicole Sullivan) isn’t buying into the machine, but when the net for hiring staff is cast, Harriet is quick to pounce for that non-Union contract. She wants to seize the opportunity and prove she can become someone that her original can be proud of in the afterlife with her script for Twister: The Game: The Musical.
With Joan and JFK (Christopher Miller) as co-leads Blue and Red, respectively, the opening number is unapologetically meta. I’m a sucker for mellifluous exposition. Harriet is the director, JFK is an exhibitionist, Joan is a supportive friend, and Abe is a utility player. Topher (Neil Casey) simply isn’t invited “to the table” and for this, I’m sure Sacajawea gives thanks.
After the riotous hot open, we drop in Candide (Christa Miller) chewing out Principal Scudworth (Phil Lord) for not keeping his thumb over the student body. She predicts an obscene mob scene a la Footloose, so Cinnamon needs a pawn. Enter Topher, stage left, for a fight the Principal could break up. Candide’s not impressed by the production. Being derelict on his duty isn’t a good look, but neither is stewing.
During rehearsals, Joan’s acting is flatter than the metaphorical diving board JFK is using to jump into his role. Jackie Boy can move Harriet, but what really brings tears to her eyes is their kiss, and not in a good way. Harriet tries to give Joan some motivation by “letting” her cast Abe (Will Forte) as Mayor Spinner. Not one to let it get to his head, he imparts some wisdom to Confucius (Kelvin Yu), Cleo (Mitra Jouhari), and Carver. Sacajawea (Jana Schmieding) doesn’t get the source of Abe’s swagger until production designer Frida (Vicci Marinez) bitingly breaks down “white guy confidence” in a solo number. They need Abe’s distilled sweat. Imbibing it may seem like a plot from a certain teen drama, but in the 11th hour, it’s worth the literal shot.
The working relationship between Joan and Harriet grows strained when Joan’s notes have found their way into the script because Harriet just couldn’t say “No!” What she ultimately gets is if Buñuel & Bergman ejaculated a tableau out on stage. Aghast, Harriet’s had enough. Her desire to please the masses through mindless exploitation isn’t so far removed from the real Harriet Tubman’s mission statement to provide sanctuary. She’ll be damned if she loses JFK though, spurring the second mass free for all.
Scudworth finally puts his foot down, trenchant and stern, shutting it all down. Go off, King. Candide’s acknowledgment of this lasts for but half a second before he’s dismissed, and no doubt he is chubbin’ down there. Big deal at this point. The “will they/won’t they” of vituperative Candide and her mewling chew toy isn’t as grating as it is static. It comes in dribs and drabs, like an IV, but as the kids say, it’s just not “giving me life”.
At the Grassy Knoll diner, Joan’s not willing to accept her biggest role yet: dream killer. Upon drawing a parallel between her plight and the god-awful fish oil quiche she ordered, Joan springs into action. In U2 fashion, the group stages their vision on the restaurant’s rooftop. Joan tricks Harriet into making good on her script. This is Harriet 2.0 through and through, and somewhere lodged deeply in that Type A personality, there’s an F for “frivolity”.
Joan lets the creative juices (and saliva) fly by abdicating her position as second lead to Harriet. Yeah, with the tag-in, the optics of the situation don’t look weird at all, right?
The welcoming song sees no shortage of instructional dry-humping to get us acquainted with the very straightforward rules. With two practices under their belt, Confucius and crew go out and nail 100% of the only few steps they practiced. Hey, despite what Mr. Gretzky says, there’s no official statistic on the shots you don’t take, so on paper, they’re flawless.
With Red JFK and Blue Harriet in an entanglement with Green, Abe chews the scenery harder than if he had teeth of titanium. Harriet’s number is up. Sung with nascent torment, the song is remixed, incorporating Joan’s concept in a clever reveal.
It wouldn’t be Clone High without the juicy bits. The kiss was as I expected: first love. Oh, Joan, the colors don’t lie… and neither does the audience as A Standing O is in place. Tropical Hospital talent agent, NBA Coach Steve Kerr was also present to witness the magic firsthand. Though Harriet loses out to Tom Hiddleston for the shot, Steve offers Harriet something much more valuable… a start (and championship ring). Call it an investment.
It also wouldn’t be Clone High without destruction and Mr. Kerr’s ‘copter was simply the match that set the Grassy Knoll ablaze. Most importantly, however, it wouldn’t be Clone High without heartache. Fin.
The sixth episode, “Saved by the Knoll,” opens on the scorched remains of the Grassy Knoll, and though a hole is bored out in Joan’s soul, Harriet and Frida refuse to bust out the Kleenex for a scuzzy relic from a troubled era. Lamenting, Joan’s leg starts twitching, revealing a bigger plot point. We’re not here to bury a lede, however, but rather the wife of owner Mopps, who, by some act of God, became battered and deep fried before being unceremoniously finished off with parsley by him. (It’s the little things.)
To Mopps (Stephen Root), there’s nothing left to do but sign on the dotted line so they may pave Joan’s paradise to put up a condo mall. There’s only one problem: The contract contains a “Goonies Clause,” granting the gang a few days to raise the scratch and resurrect a dream an old man didn’t want. Oh, god. Are my ’90s senses tingling? Could this be a student-run eatery a la “The Max” in Saved By the Bell?
Joan strolling down memory lane with her Grassy Knoll scrapbook only reveals a history of cutting corners sharper than Jack’s pink coffin. Something about retreading this ground sets her legs in motion. Candide hasn’t time to worry, as she has her own agenda at a business retreat.
At school, Joan’s barely keeping her legs under control, but JFK’s got his own problems to worry about. He and Harriet have an unspoken heart-to-heart before handling the situation as mature teens: through utter avoidance. In the midst of her handing out fliers, Joan’s legs finally gin in, causing her to pass out.
Joan’s in urgent care and Candide’s denying her cell. It’s Scudworth’s first time in an official capacity with the Board of Shadowy Figures, but who gives a shit? It’s ‘crunk o’clock’ or whatever the shit the kids today say. Joan chooses to come clean to Abe about her ‘Psylly Legs’ and their sillier cause. You know what? Hat on a hat. Let’s go. We revisit Joan’s past, the night John Mellencamp put the Cougar to bed. Her legs had none of it, kicking into overdrive. The only thing Joan can do is take the prescription tap shoes and wait out the storm, lest the toxicity reaches her heart. What are they going to do, rebuild the friggin’ place themselves?
Abe rallies the troops and… a simple cheque is cut for $100k, negating any fundraising montage (for the sake of keeping our nostalgia down, I assume). Le cinéaste Joan retreads the first film festival to produce a brand new fundraising commercial featuring the inimitable David Tennant, putting them in the red. Joan’s only saving grace is Abe who even explains the diminishing returns of nostalgia through some (leg) lampshading. Clone High, I like where your head’s at.
With Joan now having reached critical levels of nostalgia, the store owner comes in leading to one of the funniest sight gags I’ve ever seen… but the draw is too damn powerful now we run into former guest star Mandy Moore, still the homeless champion of the trash.
At school, Harriet and JFK steal a moment to see if what they want is real. The survey says that it’s just ambivalence. Abe’s already seen enough. And two secrets are one too many for a day. Dr. Neelankavil (Danny Pudi) knows Abe’s decision isn’t one to be taken lightly. He trusts Abe will make the right one.
While the clones pitch in and do their part in rebuilding the new restaurant from the trash it always was, Joan nearly lets her secret slip. JFK and Harriet comfort her, desperately trying to pacify their own inflammatory secret. Abe’s not the one you should be turning to, Miss Darc. Abe’s southern accent (which is latently a stereotype from the past) sends Joan back to urgent care. The only thing that could save Joan from a heart explosion now is to see the construction of the Grassy Knoll all the way through, ignoring Dr. Neelankavil’s very sound commentary on the palliative nature of such an act. How about an A for Effort?
The Grassy Knoll 2.0 might be greener, but sustainability was never a part of the equation. The contract carefully stipulated “OPEN” signage must be present on the door. Hey, “fine print” is the fine print, even when it’s BOLD on the back of the contract, so the reconstructed trash heap is unmercifully razed. The “old” Joan is back, making the news broken to her an uncomfortable, but relatable montage. (Yes.) In order for her to fully heal from Abe’s betrayal, however, a side must be taken. Like his forebear, Abe is no stranger to being pulled like taffy by two sides. Unlike his dad, he’s not had to deal with the fallout until now.
On the bus back, a very hungover Board of Shadowy figures things are back to normal as well between Scudworth and Candide. Hey, it’s the call of the wild with corporate retreats, am I right? Things admitted are tamped down or forgotten. Secrets go back inside their crypts and are sealed shut. Life. Moves. On.
At the new (açaí serving) Grassy Knoll, the gang is underway making new memories. Despite her ex-foster parent buying it, Cleo wanted it back as grounds for chucking food at nerds. Umm… is she supposed to be the remnant toxic or am I missing something? I could picture a disembodied voice taking the line/action but don’t just feed it to one of the main cast for us to remember their existence. Trust me, they’re teens. They flagellate themselves enough on the regular. Come on, the real Cleo’s somewhere in that writer’s room. Don’t just throw her one episode and be done with it.
Starting and ending with curtains, with an intermission, Clone High‘s second musical could have been handled with hands so nostalgic, Wes Anderson could’ve used them to jerk off with, but they didn’t, using clever callbacks to segue into what I’ll call the “partner-piece.” Frida’s song ripped. It spake truth to pain through humor and is honestly to me one of the more shining star moments in this season so far. MTV’s Clone High saw a rock opera in three acts with Jack Black. Because this is a stage musical, the only voices heard should be the students’.
During the doctor’s explanation, I thought I heard a few Andy Dick outtakes. Maybe it was to save a few pesos or maybe it was to amp up the audience’s Psylly Legs before “the toxicity” reaches our hearts. I have a feeling this was by design. Andy’s vox possesses an unmistakable elan, so I’m buying this as a slight to him. Remember, it’s peanut to the elephant in the room, not parade.
Though the Tennant cameo was a surprising treat, the Kerr one really threw me for a loop. It just seems so fuckin’ random, ‘seems’ being the operative word. Mandy Moore’s presence surely brought back some old-school feelings, if but momentary.
The lampooning of ‘misplaced nostalgia’ is one that Lord/Miller hit hard on with their Jump Street series and to be fair, I’m here for it. It’s the anti-Woody Allen and though I do love some of his films, the evergreen nostalgia in them hit so fucking hard, they reek of cheap air freshener. So keep up the good fight, guys. Nostalgia isn’t harmful if it’s ephemeral. That’s what makes it special.
Both episodes will be graded as a pair because of the connective, albeit charred tissue of nostalgia. In the episode proceeding the first musical, “Litter Kills: Literally“, JFK must deal with the death of a best friend. Not only is litter recycled to build the new restaurant, but now more than one character has to deal with the loss of a best friend. They bring in the help of (four!) episodes to shine the spotlight on something that has no expiration date and is easily recyclable: teenage drama.
It’s not recycling, it’s Up-Cycling.
4/5 Stars. (As A Duet)
ADDENDUM: I’m not mad that I wrongly intuited a Saved by the Bell reveal for the reconstruction of the restaurant. It might have lent a brighter, more organic flow to the landscape continuing with the ‘time moving forward’ aspect rather than giving the Grassy Knoll a cold, cynical, corporate facelift, but I get it. “The more things change” and that all jazz. Speaking of jazzy, way to go on Steve Kerr’s suit, Curly (R.I.P.), way to go.