Western animation for adults has recently regained its heart. Shows like Bojack Horseman and Rick and Morty have shown an effort not just to make people laugh but to inject real human pathos into their characters. This while not completely unknown in adult cartoons was for the most part rare. The 2000s saw the rise of shows like South Park and Family Guy which reveled in the bleak and the shocking. That mode of uncaring mean spirited comedy would become the norm for most of the adult animation on television especially on Adult Swim. For a long time there focus was largely on making shows that were strange and weird designed to give the audience a season or two of one off gags that shocked them.
One of these shows was called Morel Orel a parody of the classic Davey and Goliath Claymation shorts by Art Clokey. Morel Orels started off as a one-note parody of the Christian themes of these shorts with every episode focusing on Orel, a perpetually happy and faithful child, misinterpreting some lesson from Reverend Rod Putty leading to some wacky and fucked up situation. As time went on you got to know many characters most of whom were one note, such as the aforementioned Reverend Putty whose is defined by his failure in romance, Stephanie the local lesbian who owns a sex shop and the only sane person in the show, and the various members of Orels family such as his repressed mother Bloberta, his father Clay a man who fakes the stereotypical 50s father but is a basket case of emotional issues, and his perpetually angry brother Shaky.
If it was just this would have made this show a pretty generic footnote in Adult Swims history if it wasn’t for the first season’s final episode which centers around Orels parents falling apart and leaving each other. It ends with Orel looking up into the sky completely convinced God will fix the situation while shitty Christmas music plays. It could have been just a cruel sendoff but the marital drama is treated with a real sense of weight with some honest to god shots that make you feel for a goddamn claymation puppet.
From there the show become something much more than just a shallow parody as Orels parents decide to stay together to save face. Every one note character even the background ones started to become more developed, the episodes became much more willing to explore human emotions rather than just one note “Man Christianity is easy to misinterpret jokes”. The abusiveness of Clay to Orel also became less of a Homer strangling Bart type joke but an actual horrific thing. The second season culminates in a two part episode called “Nature” which ends with Clay shooting Orel in a drunken rage shattering Orels perpetually cheeriness. The episode closes with Orel asking his mother why he married his father to which she answers “why not”.
When we pick up with season three the show has fully morphed into something completely unrecognizable from what it was in season one. Almost every episode focuses on a background character fleshing them out from a one note, stock archetype to a fully realized character. The bully Joe and the school nurse Bendy, a dumb blonde stereotype both are given reasons for their actions in an episode called Dumb which revealed Joe is the long lost son of Bendy. It ends with both starting to live with each other and implies both will improve psychologically from the result. Another is the absolutely fantastic “Sundays” a look at the lives of Florence and Dottie both women who attend the church who leave there husbands and start to live together. “Sundays” references many past episodes of the show and underlines how far it has come from the sophomoric humor of the first season. “Closeface” is an episode which is a personal favorite of mine focusing on Stephanie and Reverend Putty who in season two were revealed to be daughter and father (lot a children don’t know their parents in Moralton apparently). It gives both characters a rather fitting ending one that is resolutely happy despite the dark tone the show had taken at this point.
By far where the third season shines through the most is in revealing the backstory of Morels parents which is all scored to the absolutely fantastic music of the Mountain Goats. See Orels father suffers from an abusive and tragic childhood that left him eager for any sort of attention whether it be positive or negative throughout his life. His parents’ marriage was one of convenience as his father as always wanted attention and his mother felt left out by all the marriages her friends where having. That leads to their current relationship issues and some truly amazing scenes especially for a show based around Claymation.
Two in particular I love are the first person walk of Clay Puppington to his room scored to the Mountain Goats “No children”
And the scene where his parents marry scored to “Old College Try”
Sadly the shows ending is abrupt and feels tacked on giving Morel a happy ending that seems fitting but leaving many plot threads dangling loose such as a plot by the sinister “Ms. Censordoll” to take over the town, a subplot about Orels friend Doughy grappling with how his desire for attention stemming from his uncaring parents, and a incredibly dark (and not to mention pretty detailed and complex) subplot concerning the sexual assault of Orels teacher Ms. Sculptham (having read the script for the episode that would have resolved this called “Raped” I personally think this plot in general should have been cut as most of it felt like being dark for the sake of it).
This is all caused because when Adult Swim saw what had been produced for the third season they decided that it was too much and cancelled it cutting the number of episodes from a planned 20 down to 13. This is ironic considering that when they requested a third season they wanted it to be as dark as possible. Shows you can’t please the network no matter what. It’s a tragedy that we never got to see a complete season 3 though some scripts and a very rough claymation reproduction of an episode with the original voice work exists. This leaves the show in a position of being a flawed gem. It is a truly great show with some beautiful moments but I can never bring myself to admit that it is amazing given its flaws. Still I love the show in spite of everything and it deserves a place in animation history as a precursor to the likes of “Bojack” and “Rick and Morty”. So give it a watch if you can track it down as it’s a show that I don’t think should be missed.