Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger has a thing for claymation nudity—which explains why he doesn't get Silly Putty in his stocking anymore.
He just wants to do good.
Allow me to introduce this review with a personal anecdote. The last time I reviewed an animation cult-hit was a nightmare. I gave the set in question—Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy: Seasons One And Two—a B+ and summarized it as follows:
After having witnessed the DVD boxed set, I can say the devotion is well-founded. Family Guy has loads of truly funny gags; I laughed out loud in every episode. However, Family Guy never quite escapes the pall of unoriginality.
That set went on to singlehandedly redefine the DVD boxed set revenue model and resurrected Family Guy in the process. Thousands of angry fans read my review, filling my inbox with scathing emails. A heated flame war erupted in our forums which spilled into their forums. I received death threats from a couple of slighted Family Guy fans (I called the purple squid gag "lame," sue me) along with mere threats of bodily harm. Internet servive providers and site owners were dragged into the fray.
I'm telling you this because Moral Orel: Volume 1: The Unholy Edition is giving me a strong sense of deja vu.
Facts of the Case
Moral Orel is a claymation spoof of moral shows of yesteryear (like Davey and Goliath). Orel Puppington is a god-fearing young lad in Moralton that takes the words of the Lord literally—to drastic effect. His father Clay is a closet alcoholic/homosexual, while his mother Bloberta is a neat freak who fetishizes her cleaning products to express repressed sexual desires. Orel bounces warped religious logic off of Coach Stopframe, Reverend Putty, Billy Figurelli, and the sheep-like residents of Moralton; these conversations invariably reinforce Orel's egregious acts in the name of the Lord.
Moral Orel leaps out of the starting gate. "The Lord's Greatest Gift" yanked laughs out of my throat right and left, particularly when Orel checks out the Necronomicon from the library and starts raising holy zombies. The episode ends with an absurd spectacle of nudity, gore, and religious satire—the kind of comedy that you can't wait to share with your friends the next day. In fact, it gets funnier the more I think about it; I'm laughing right now.
When Clay Puppington consults his handy book of lies and sends Orel on a disturbing masturbatory mission in "God's Chef," the jury was practically decided: Moral Orel is a subversive hit. Though it doesn't reach the sublime sophistication of Todd Haynes's He Was Once (another psychosexual parody of Davey and Goliath, included as an extra in Dottie Gets Spanked), Moral Orel still presents a surreal aura of religious brainwashing that is fertile ground for satire. If it borrows heavily from South Park, so be it—if the comedy works. And work it did, right up through Jesus telling Orel to smoke the crack in "Charity."
The next day or two I settled in for more Moral Orel insanity, but found my enthusisasm for the show waning. In many ways, "Waste" was just as funny as the first three. Actually, make that "in all ways." From plots of recycling urine to getting genital piercings and onward, Moral Orel collapses under the weight of self reference. Each episode is a virtual clone of the other. There's the monotone lecture by an authority figure, Orel's bubbly monologue of warped logic, a new fictional commandment, a witty slogan on the church billboard, some gay innuendo…The self homage is so complete that I wonder if your first Moral Orel episode is the best no matter which one you see.
The seventh episode "God Fearing" is particularly disappointing because it has the best source of potential tension in the series. Orel decides to break all 10 commandments. This should be pure genius. We should be on the edge of our seats wondering when he will kill, or how he will commit adultery. But the sins are so straightforward that this tension never builds. Orel does actually kill, but in a random way that removes all sense of purpose from his list.
Only in "The Best Christmas Ever" is the straightjacket loosened and something different allowed to creep in. Clay and Bloberta have an actual argument which if nothing else at least develops their characters. But the episode soon finds the rut of previous plots. Even though the show is painfully predictable, moments of keen humor pop up from time to time. For example, a decidedly non-chaste kiss between Bloberta and Coach Stopframe reveals an amusing secret. A homosexual beat-down is pretty violent for claymation fare, which if not outright funny is at least arresting. Yet the occasional gem is not enough to disguise the plodding predictability of each episode.
While twiddling my thumbs during the predictable parts of Moral Orel, I had time to notice the frequent cheap shots it takes. The show makes fun of Catholics and Jews in obvious ways, as though Dino Stamatopoulos picked up a book called 1001 Religious Jokes and referenced it whenever he needed a gag. "Hey, look out for rosaries and yamakas!" Yuk, yuk. Despite its failings, Season One of Moral Orel was good enough to propel the show into a second and third season, which I hear through the grapevine are less formulaic than this season.
Warner Bros. has included a decent slate of extras for this release. The vast majority of them—including the promos/bumps, behind the scenes, "Odds and Ends," and episode commentaries—are self-congratulatory, promotional, marketing pap that tend to highlight a camera-hogging Dino Stamatopoulos. But one truly intriguing extra makes up for the others. "The Awkward Comic-Con Panel" was a Comic-Con Panel featuring Seth Green and the Robot Chicken gang, Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer (The Venture Bros.), Brendon Small and Tommy Blacha (Metalocalypse), and of course, Dino Stamatopoulos and his posse. Stamatopoulos basically assumes that the audience hates Moral Orel and will not be asking him any questions; he consumes most of a fifth of vodka and starts screaming obsceneties at the audience and the other panel members. Imagine that your most awkward, embarassing moment was captured on video and given two commenatry tracks and you'll get the gist of this extra.
As expected of a Warner Bros. release of a recent animated hit, the DVD looks and sounds great.
Moral Orel is an extremely formulaic show with a narrow focus. It cheapens itself through self-homage and scads of obvious, easy jokes. Even so, it has a handful of truly gut-busting barbs aimed towards blind faith and the religious right. If subsequent seasons break free of the formula and loosen up a bit, I have no doubt that Moral Orel will earn a devoted following.
This court damns Orel to a fiery prison.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• The Awkward Comic-Con Panel
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