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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Moral Orel, Vol. 1, The Unholy Edition
Moral Orel, Vol. 1, The Unholy Edition
Warner Bros. // Unrated // April 24, 2007
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted April 28, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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In 10 Words or Less
Sunday school was never like this

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Animation, religious satire
Likes: Davey and Goliath
Dislikes: Blindly following religion
Hates: The current [adult swim] line-up

The Show
Back in the day, the series on the [adult swim] sub-channel, like "Sealab 2021" and "The Brak Show," excited me enough to fight sleep and risk exhaustion to watch them at their ungodly scheduled hours. These days, I can't even be bothered to DVR their offerings. The last time I really looked forward to an [adult swim] series was the introduction of the claymation comedy "Moral Orel."

Drawing inspiration from the Lutheran church's greatest contribution to '80s pop culture, "Davey & Goliath," and created by "Mr. Show" collaborator Dino Stamatopolous, the show chronicles the twisted adventures of young Orel, a child whose every thought and action is ruled by a way-too-literal interpretation of God's word. A thinly-veiled jab at Christian fundamentalists, the show cleverly turns hot-button political and/or religious topics into your usual sitcom plots, just with the undead, crack addiction, euthanasia and genital piercings thrown in for fun.

There are several levels on which this series really works, but it's the parody of old-school sitcoms and the skewering of religious conservatives that work best. So as Orel learns about God's plan and laws from the people of Moralton, be they church leader, family or librarian (but mainly church), he takes the lessons to heart, and tries to please the Lord, whether his effort makes sense or not. For example, to try and stop the dead from disrespecting God's gift of life, he raises corpses from the dead, unleashing their unholy hunger on the town. It's the kind of inability to properly reason that would make him an excellent suicide bomber. He's so driven that the only person who can stop him is his stern father, Clay, whose words of wisdom and belt of leather, offered up in his foreboding study, get through to Orel every time. That is, when he's not involved with the school gym coach Coach Stopframe, whose interest in Clay is definitely not platonic.

The first 15 episodes of the series are presented here in their production order, and not how they aired, which means you get to see the Christmas special in the right place (thus allowing the Clay/Stopframe story to develop the proper way) and Orel's actions are all over the map, instead of building to the insanity of "God's Chef," the way it unfurled on TV. This set has some classic episodes, including "God's Image," which sees the town segregated based on skin color (helping out those who are being segregated,) "Love," about how to satisfy a jealous God, and "The Lord's Greatest Gift," which is a pitch-perfect poke at how Americans manage to see sex and violence in two totally different ways. Though each episode is only about 11 minutes in length, the creators have packed quite a bit into each.

Those creators, which include Stamatopolous, fellow "Mr. Show" alum Jay Johnson and "30 Rock" cast-member Scott Adsit, have done a wonderful job of giving the show a very consistent feel and level of comedy, which is impressive, considering the limitations inherent in the series' concept. Overcoming the formula that guided the early episodes was part of that, but expanding the show beyond Orel's tales. There are plenty of stories of hypocrisy, hatred and intolerance to be told not including a young boy.

Regarding the "Unholy Edition" business, these episodes are uncensored, but there's not much added in from the original broadcast versions. Or at least, nothing that's all that noticeable.

One of the best parts of the [adult swim] DVD line is the highly creative design of the packaging. So it was surprising when the cover for this set turned out to be rather pedestrian character art. Flip it over, and things get better, and when you slide the two-tray digipak out of the slipcase, you're treated to some of the infamous lost commandments and a nice three-panel spread of the Moralton church. There's also a cute insert that ties into one of the episodes.

The two-disc set features static full-frame menus that, like the cover art, don't live up to the usual [adult swim] creative standards, but they seem to fit. Options include a play-all choice, episode selections and language set-up, with special features found on the second disc. There are no audio options, though subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French, along with closed captioning.

The Quality
The full-frame transfers on this series are as good, and in may cases better than they ever looked late at night on TV. Perhaps it's because you can watch these shows at a reasonable hour, without blurry eyesight, but they look great, with a nice crisp image and great color, and no dirt or damage. The only negative in the video are the digital mouths, which feature some pixelation when they move.

The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtracks recreate the TV presentation perfectly, with clean, distortion-free dialogue, strong music, and well delivered sound effects. There's some minorseparation between the left and right channels, but for the most part there's nothing dynamic about the audio.

The Extras
Though the majority of the extras are found of the second disc, cast and crew commentaries are spread throughout the series, on eight episodes. Participants include Stamatopolous, Johnston, Adsit and several animators and actors, as well as an [adult swim] marketer. The tracks are rather low-key remembrances of who did what and battles with network standards, and some pointing out of favorite performances and moments. Considering how different the show is from your average animation series, the slight production bent on the tracks is informative and interesting, though they aren't as fun as expected. Annoyingly, you have to hunt for these tracks with your audio button, as the only option on the menus shows up after you choose an individual show.

The biggest (and best) extra outside of the commentaries is "The Awkward Comic-Con Panel." Filmed at the San Diego Comic-Con, the panel brought together the creators of four [adult swim] series, including Stamatopolous, Johnston, Adsit, Seth Green, Brandon Small, Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer. I won't pretend to understand the reality of the scene, but it comes off as a free-for-all, as Stgamatopolous drunkenly(?) hijacks the session, getting into a bit of a verbal skirmish with Publick and Hammer, the creators of "The Venture Bros." Awkward is the right word for this one, as even Green ends up thinking he's being insulting. The best part of the extra are the two commentaries included, one from the "Moral Orel" team, one from the "Venture Bros." crew, as they give their sides of the story. Suggestion: Watch the piece with the natural sound, then with the victims' (Venture Bros.) track, and then the insiders (Morel Orel.) It's a good listen.

A 10-minute behind-the-scenes featurette follows, focusing mainly on the show's opening and closing sequence and how the show's animation is created. It's a fun piece, with the main talent chiming in on the process. The rest of the extras are, as the box says, odds and ends, including the promos aired for the various episodes, the text bumps the channel aired, footage of Stamatopolous doing Reverend Putty's voice, the show's end animations (without the credits that air over them) and some very short deleted scenes, including the show's original opening. It's quite a decent amount of material in all.

The Bottom Line
Like "South Park with a very specific focus and very different tone, "Moral Orel" does an excellent job as a satire of religious extremists and a parody of the traditional family sitcom. It's also a technical beauty, bringing "claymation" into the present with impressive results. While it fits in with the general [adult swim] mindset, it's more likely to appeal to fans of more topical comedy. The DVDs look and sound solid, and the extras will be of interest to those who enjoy the show, especially the Comic-Con featurette. There's a large segment of those reading who have never seen this show, and now, there's no excuse for them not to check it out, while the fans have a reason to check it out again.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter

*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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