As of this writing, I’ve finally seen “Honor”, the last episode of Moral Orel. It’s a beautiful end to a third season that visited the darker corners of human behavior. Not to spoil anything, by my Jewish heart is pretty much covered in Christmas lights for the time being.
As with pretty much every critic, I think my opinion (or ability to express it) matters at least a little. So the nagging question is, then – why did Moral Orel get canceled? In a recent interview with The Onion A.V. Club, series co-producer Scott Adsit theorized that the more serious tone introduced in season two had something to do with it. And he’s right to point that out: while season one was dictated by the comically vulgar misadventures of Orel as he tried to follow the righteous path, by the second season we were treated to a more serious look at Moralton, a town filled with people dealing with the trials and hypocrisies of fundamentalist religion. This isn’t Assy McGee or Squidbillies, and it’s a shame that creator Dino Stamatopolous’ finest moment was cut short to a final season of 13 episodes.
Scott Adsit, Jay Johnston, Carolyn Lawrence, Britta Phillips, William Salyers, Tigger Stamatopoulos, Dino Stamatopoulos
(Cartoon Network; US: 13 Dec 2005)
Moral Orel wasn’t immune to groan-worthy “look at how dumb people with faith are!” moments, but through season two – and especially season three – a stop-motion show became a bravely nuanced drama of damaged people just trying to make the best of things. Other than Orel, no one in the Moralton universe was without major faults, or redemption. Take Reverend Putty (many of the characters were named after parts of the stop-motion process), whose single-track obsession with sex, often at the expense of the feelings of those around him, stemmed from crippling loneliness. Putty’s ultimate redemption comes with a surprise daughter, but giving away her identity would spoil one of the tenderest moments from a show full of well-placed ones.
The real genius of Moral Orel is that, particularly into the third season, it manages to venture into some outlandish settings, without losing the tinge of emotional realism. Witness Ms. Censordoll, the barren Moralton librarian, whose eccentric infatuation with eggs still manages to elicit sympathy. Moral Orel can be dark without getting cartoonish, and heartwarming without dissolving into pap. Much like the Muppets or The Peanuts gang, there’s a divinely human touch on the animated characters, and Moral Orel belongs in that lineage of classic animated takes on the human condition. This one just has a few more Satan jokes.