On August 18th, the team behind Moral Orel took the stage at Cinefamily for Everything Is Festival IV. Years have passed since Adult Swim canceled the stop motion-animated series, which satirized strict interpretations of religion as well as small town life.
However, creator Dino Stamatopoulos still had content to share in the form of scripts that had never been produced and one roughly animated, un-aired episode. Joining him were executive producer Nick Weidenfeld and the voice cast, including Carolyn Lawrence (Orel Puppington) and others. The event gave fans of Moral Orel some insight into the show, namely where the series was heading before it went off the air and why it was canceled.
Somewhere in the middle of the country, in a place called Moralton, Statesota, there was a young boy named Orel. He wanted to be a good, God-fearing child. He wanted to please the adults around him. But, every time Orel tried to do the right thing, situations went horribly wrong. Launching a zombie apocalypse in his hometown was only the start of it. The results were sometimes hysterical, other times, cringe-worthy. It was always good satire. The show, Moral Orel, became a staple of Adult Swim’s mid-2000s line-up. Then Orel was shot by his father.
Nick Weidenfeld, who led development of Moral Orel for Adult Swim, cites the stop-motion animated hunting accident as a turning point in the show. It was the moment when Moral Orel got really dark. For those of us who watched the show, the signs were there far before the two-part episode called “Nature.” Even as early as the first season, Moral Orel had plenty of disturbing elements to it. We weren’t watching a simple comedy about a kid who grossly misunderstands the world around him. We were watching a child’s loss of innocence as Orel gradually realizes that he’s been fed lies. After the hunting episodes, though, Moral Orel‘s days were numbered. There was, as Weidenfeld said, “no way to recover.”
Stamatopoulos talked about why the show was canceled. Basically, Moral Orel got really depressing, so much so that, according to the show’s creator, Adult Swim head Mike Lazzo couldn’t handle it. To demonstrate how far removed from comedy the show had traveled, they read one of the unproduced scripts. Stamatopoulos told the crowd that it was a first draft, an episode titled “Raped.” It was a brutal story focusing on the aftermath of a crime committed against Orel’s teacher, Miss Sculptham. It’s a story that delves into rape and abortion in ways that probably would have been extremely difficult to watch on television. As it was, the table reading seemed difficult. There were awkward pauses, both with the voice cast and the puppeteers who were acting out the scenes for the theater screen. At one point, Stamatopoulos remarked, ”Jesus, Lazzo was right. What the f**k was I thinking?”
Following the table reading, the team showed a very rough version of an episode called “Abstinence.” The focus was on Doughy, Orel’s almost-equally naive best friend, whose innate ability to ruin romantic moments between his parents leads to his first job. It’s more light-hearted than other later episodes, at least at first. By the end, “Abstinence” delves into the creepy underworld of Moralton. Orel isn’t in this episode much, and, when he is, we see the show’s original protagonist slipping further into depression. When they discuss the link between the attitudes about sex and kindness in their hometown, he says to Doughy, “Maybe being nice here in Moralton feels dirty.”
In the end, it appeared as though Moral Orel became too cynical for its own good. Maybe that was redeemed by the end of the series finale, or by the special Before Orel. What was in the works, though, was heavy in a way you don’t normally see in a middle-of-the-night block of animation programming.
Following the Moral Orel presentation, Stamatopoulos brought out his old friend Andy Dick and screened comedy videos that they had filmed back when they were about 18-years-old. Yes, the creator of Moral Orel and the notorious actor were a comedy team during their young adult years in Chicago. The videos were goofy, but kind of charming. Overall, though, this segment only added to the undeniable weirdness of the event. We were watching two guys on the start of a path towards comedy, performing randomly for people at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Later on, one of these guys would go on to make a show so deeply disturbing that it still elicits awkward silence and nervous laughter five years after the fact. The other became a comedy star whose fall from grace has been widely documented. In all, it was an event so bizarre that it was hard to talk about it after leaving the theater.