‘Moral Orel, Volume 1’ Review

Moral Orel, Volume 1, **** Stars

Moral Orel aired on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim from 2005 to 2008, but since I avoid commercial TV as much as possible I have not seen this brilliant little show until now. The DVD collects 15 episodes which are like candy, you can’t stop watching them–short and sweet.

The obvious parody is the stop motion animation of the original Davey and Goliath (“Helloooo Daveeey”) brought to us by The Lutheran Church. It ran on TV in the sixties (the official site link given also says fifties but a clarification may be needed based on Wikipedia’s own entry–see comments for why I am even bothering to mention this) and featured a kid named Davey and his talking dog named Goliath (odd name for a dog, Goliath in the Bible was an enemy of God). Davey also had a typical Christian Dad, reminiscent of Ward from Leave It To Beaver. The show was about morals taught in a gentle way with the wisdom of God and parental figures. It still has a nostalgic appeal to this day and runs on TBN where I catch it occasionally. When I was growing up I want to say that I saw it in the eighties on PBS, but it could have been on one of the big 3 networks. I know on Sunday mornings they would run a series with famous celebrities doing moral and Biblical theater style drama which then also had Davey and Goliath before or after that show.

According to an older article on ChristianFilmNews.com, The Lutheran Church has produced more Davey and Goliath specials, or at least one Christmas special about tolerance of other faiths (which is appreciated). The modern Lutheran church which I visited after attending a Greek Orthodox church had its focus on social issues more than Bible thumping.

The genius of Moral Orel is to keep the nostalgic feel of Davey and Goliath while using dark satire to show life isn’t a fifties kid’s show. Davey and Goliath idealizes small town America and how good Christianity is. Moral Orel, who lives in Moralton, reflects the dark underbelly or behind the scenes of the Christian illusion. Divorce, jealousy, racism, anti-intellectualism, alcholism, child beating, and a general distaste for supposed traditional family values. The odd thing is, this series puts me in a good mood every time I watch it. It was like it kept the fantasy Christian illusion somehow even as it was destroying it.

Two of the best and darkest episodes  on volume 1 are “The Best Christmas Ever” and “Love.” The Christmas show delves into the break up of Orel’s family as we begin to see how that Orel’s younger, mentally disturbed brother might have been the result of an affair. With most Christmas specials we expect a Christmas miracle at the end as Orel prays to God to fix his family–but in Moralton God is strangely absent. “Love” introduces us to Orel’s pet dog Bartholomew which leads to an important Bible lesson: You are not love anything or anyone more than Jesus. Therefore this poor kid has his dog taken away by the grown-ups with a final scene that is simply hilarious if not utterly cynical. But it reflects something so true about Christianity in that how many Christians really love their invisible Jesus more than their spouse, their kids or even their pets? Would they leave their family if they discovered that they were interfering with the love for Jesus Christ? Nope, Christians don’t do that. Only monastics or hermits or people who go crazy and actually start talking to Jesus out loud.

For Christians who want to watch Moral Orel, they may be able to tolerate it but it is going to be offensive (sometimes because the truth hurts) and they will cry foul at many of the episodes. The show reflects a white Protestant America with all of its fears and yet Orel tries his darnedest to do what’s right. Because the real problem is that Moral Orel is an honest Biblical literalist and as we all know, modern Christians apply modern reason to the Bible to try to make sense of it all. When you use reason to rationalize superstition you can get some strange results.

For freethinkers, unless you have an aversion to some of the more gross elements of the humor, you’re going to love the series. It’s not always laugh out loud funny, often it’s, “Oh Man, they hit the nail on the head with that comment.” It may not be as enjoyable for those who are not familiar with Davey and Goliath, but if you were raised on that show combined with a Protestant church (which I was) you’ll love it. It’s dark, heart warming satire that parodies human nature more than God. And even as Moral Orel tries to be the best Christian ever, he’s a likable, optimistic character. If only his father was an atheist, he’d be better off and the life lessons would provide real guidance.

SIDENOTE: According to Wiki, “Three episodes of the first season were initially held back because Cartoon Network’s Standards & Practices Department found them to be too dark and explicitly sexually crude even for Adult Swim.” I find it hard to believe the show got any episodes on the air. The themes and messages are explicitly anti-Christian or rather anti-Protestant as Catholics are found to be immoral in Moralton.

SIDENOTE 2: If you’re looking for volumes 2 and 3 they are harder to find. Madman Entertainment has them. I did find a Moral Orel toy figure on Amazon.com and had to get it. This show is likely to find cult status but may be drowned in the deluge of other shows and products out there trying to be shocking. While many shows can give the Christian right a good jab very few strike at the foundation of Christian beliefs and the illusions of an ideal Christian community.