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"Dear Orel: Always remember, son, even though you are the perfect candidate for brainwashing in this town, you're also too pure and good-hearted to be corrupted. Love, Grandpa"
In the town of Moralton, Statesota lives the Puppington Family. Eleven-year-old Orel Puppington, a devout Protestant Christian, thinks of Jesus as his biggest role model. He always pays rapt attention in church, taking the advice of the local preacher's sermons to heart, but due to his age, he doesn't always understand some of the topics, which leads to Orel acting on them in his own special way. Needless to say, Hilarity Ensues!...or maybe not.Originally conceived as a satire of sitcoms from The Fifties and The Sixties, and designed to resemble an Affectionate Parody of Leave It to Beaver (not Davey and Goliath, despite the art style), Moral Orel ultimately evolved into one of the darkest pieces of western animation in years.Every member of Orel's family shows some form of dysfunction: father Clay abuses alcohol, abuses Orel (emotionally), and fails to hide his closetbisexuality; mother Bloberta cheats on Clay, often finds herself depressed, and suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder; and both parents spoil Orel's rambunctious little brother Shapey rotten. The population of Moralton (a town placed precisely in the middle of the United States) fare little better; most of Moralton's adults lead lives as dysfunctional as Orel's family—if not moreso—while putting on a show of being Good Christians and Good Neighbors.Moral Orel is less a critique of Christianity itself than a Deconstruction of religious fundamentalism. The show aims its real critique towards authority figures who pay lipservice to their inferiors' religious beliefs as a way of preserving their authority — especially when such people make horrible authority figures and role models. In short, it's not a criticism of religion specifically, but of hypocrisy itself.The show served as an affectionate (and adult-oriented) quasi-parody of Leave It to Beaver until series creator Dino Stamatopoulos (aka Starburns) began to move the focus away from Orel midway through Season One. Dino began to explore the dark underbelly of the seemingly happy-go-lucky townspeople of Moralton, which culminated in the two-part Season Two finale "Nature": after getting drunk during a hunting trip with Orel, Clay shoots his own son in the leg, shattering Orel's innocence for good in the process.The network higher-ups loved the two-parter, and bigwig Mike Lazzo asked Dino to make the show's third season as dark as humanly possible. Stamatopoulos complied, but Lazzo and Adult Swim instantly regretted getting exactly what they asked for: after a screening of the darkest episode of the show's run — "Alone" — Adult Swim cancelled the series and cut Season Three down to thirteen episodes, which forced several key arcs to be abandoned. (Dino did provide a sliver of hope amidst the despair, however, with a happy ending for Orel.)While the show was cut short, fans kept hope alive for a revival. After 2007, Adult Swim only played reruns of the show sporadically, but in late 2011, the network began rerunning the show in chronological order on weeknights. When Dino learned of this, he said "[if] enough people watch, there may be hope for a special or two" on a Facebook post. A month into the reruns, Dino made another comment: "Got a great call from the Head of Adult Swim yesterday raving about the ratings that the Moral Orel reruns have been getting. Great job, everyone! Keep watching and the Moral Orel special will be imminent." Dino followed up on this on Halloween with a surprise appearance from Orel in the last bump of a Mary Shelley's Frankenhole mini-marathon, where Orel said a new Moral Orel special would come "sometime in the near future". At its May 2012 upfront, Adult Swim confirmed Orel's return with the announcement of Beforel Orel, a half-hour special that [as] promised will explain "the origin of Orel's religious nature and the birth of his brother, Shapey". Beforel Orel aired on November 19th, 2012.The whole series is currently streaming on adult swim's website....and on YouTube.
Aborted Arc: Clay's father, introduced in a flashback episode in Season Three, was supposed to join the cast in the second half of the season; when the show was cancelled, the arc was deepsixed. Also deepsixed was the Miss Censordoll's scheming to take control over the town via seducing Clay (revealed to be the Mayor of the town in the second-to-last episode of the series, as well as the implications that Censordoll may or may not have manipulated Clay's shooting of Orel.
Clay's father does play a role in Beforel Orel.
There were hints in the third season that something would happen involving Miss Sculptham and Mr. Creepler but once this was revealed in "Alone" the show was cancelled and some episodes were deepsixed. If one saw the scene in "Innocence" where Sculptham was clipping out a newspaper article, that article was about a serial rapist that turned out to be Mr. Creepler. A episode that was scrapped called "Raped" would've brought this to light and another scrapped episode "Abstinence" did show Doughy witnessing Creepler and Scultpham together but Doughy just brushed it off. To make things even more darker and disturbing, if the series continued, Miss Sculptham would have discovered herself pregnant with his twins and that she had aborted only one of them. With Dr. Potterswheel finding out about her pregnancy, it is possible she would have given birth to the child.
Adults Are Useless: Every adult except Stephanie and maybe Nurse Bendy at least as far as Joe is concerned, also Reverend Putty later on in the series.
Grandpa Puppington tried to avert this, at least with Orel, but Clay forced them to never see each other again after the events of Beforel Orel.
The third-season episode "Innocence" plays into this, as the town agrees to stop giving Orel advice in an attempt to avoid the trope's occurrence.
Ironically Putty's advice backfired spectacularly because all of the people tried to pass off Orel to the next unfortunate shmuck, as well as trying to plea with god on a technicality that Orel was just "eaves dropping on them talking to themselves" so they dont end up in hell.
Anachronic Order: Most of Season Three takes place before or during the events of the Season Two finale, "Nature"; episodes take place as either flashbacks or as events during / before the fateful hunting trip.
The blue bird in "Nature"—likely meant to symbolize Orel's innocence, the bird appears in key scenes throughout the first part before flying off at the end of the episode when Orel finally fires off his dad's pistol. It stays missing until the end credits of the second part.
Likewise with the flies that appeared in the same episode, symbolizing Clay's desolation. They appear in the end credits with Orel's bird, symbolizing that his innocence has been stained.
Florence (a name associated with cows in reference to the character's weight) has a fixation with zebras. Cows resemble zebras in that they both have black and white coats, but the latter is generally thought to be prettier; Florence yearns to be a zebra rather than a cow.
Each episode's title usually ends up littered throughout the episode as Arc Words, though "Nature" is one that has shown up throughout most of the series outside of its origin episode.
Most poingnantly in Beforel Orel as Orel's grandfather's explanation for things (As opposed to God)
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: At the end of his big tirade in the episode "Sacrifice", Clay remarks (well, rather scowls) that it's people like Putty, Dr. Potterswheel and Papermouth that are the reason his son is sensitive.
Art Evolution Season 3's art is a drastic improvement from the art of seasons 1 and 2.
Auto Erotica: There's a couple of shaking cars parked out at Inspiration Point when Orel goes to visit Christina.
Black Comedy Rape: Orel raping women with a pastry bag, in order to be able to masturbate in season one.
Blipvert: The last episode, "Honor" opens with the very end of the first episode "The Best Christmas Ever" with Orel believing deeply that God will fix everything, and he still has hope, followed by a rapid fire montage of scenes from the series during the one year between both episodes. The montage ends with Orel getting his cast off his leg after being shot in "Nature." showing the extreme contrast of the once innocently faithful Orel one year prior, to the more depressed Orel who's endured innocence shattering events by the end of the series.
Blood Bath: The episode "Innocence" sees Orel learn about blood's powers to show one's innocence to Godnote Lamb's blood on the door for Passover and remain young forever (based on Elizabeth Bathory) in separate conversations with the Christians and Coach Stopframe, as well as seeing him recruit Doughy, Billy, Tommy, and Maryenetta to provide blood for Orel to bathe in. The episode "Grounded" begins with Clay finding Orel in the tub and covered in blood with the other kids around him, bleeding from their wrists. The show itself, however, presents all this in Anachronic Order with the conclusion to these events in "Grounded" being aired first and the set-up in "Innocence" being shown later.
Book Ends: The Christmas special was aired as the pilot due to a scheduling mix-up; the series' finale is also a Christmas episode (and has a few callbacks to the former, such as the carol "If the Lord Were Alive Today"). Also, the show's opening credits all end with Orel waving up at God/the viewer. The final shot of the series includes Orel's baby daughter waving up as the camera pans out. D'awwwwwwwww.
"Numb" begins and ends with the song "No Children" by The Mountain Goats playing. It also begins and ends with a top-down shot of Clay and Bloberta in their beds.
Arguably Clay's intent, as a means of justifying his own shittiness by trying to show that Orel's own purity is built on a foundation of sand. It isn't.
Brick Joke: There's a few. Orel bathing in blood and, earlier, declaring he'll "never do THAT with THOSE, in THERE, for that LONG ever again!", and the Lost Commandments.
Clay's lousy dead-end job is ultimately revealed to be mayor.
And in a Funny Background Event in "Alone", one of the headlines involving a serial rapist is "This time, it's not Orel!"
And while the cause for it is a Tear Jerker, we later see the "Papa Bear" from "Alone" tied into his seat.
There is season 1 episode titled "God's Chef." Not only is this where the above Brick Joke comes from, but it is also referenced in the season 2 episode "Geniusis," in which Rev. Petty is seen wearing an apron with "God's chef" written on it.
Calling the Old Man Out: Orel to Clay in "Nature." Joe and his father (much more violently) in "Dumb", though this is more due to Joe being furious that his elderly alzheimer-stricken father wants nothing to do with him. Or rather is unable to be the kind of father Joe wants because of his age and his illness with the added revelation that he lied to Joe about his mother and kept the two apart.
Caught with Your Pants Down: Subverted. What appears to be a reaction to this is later revealed to be to something much more dangerous.
Not a Cerebus Retcon. Given this series, it was indeed a plot hook, not a case of going back to make what was funny darker.
In "God's Chef", Clicky the janitor catches Orel in a bathroom stall—with his pants down.
Cerebus Syndrome: Everything from the second half of the second season on. The show dropped any pretense of being a comedy in the third season, after which it's just religious hypocrites torturing each other socially, physically, and mentally.
Chocolate Baby: Clay and Bloberta are brunettes. So is Orel. That Shapey's blond is a hint that he might not be Clay's son. He is in fact Coach Stopframe's. Based on that same sort of clues, it's possible Block and Bloberta's brother Lunchbox were also Chocolate Babies.
Chess Motifs: Miss Censordoll has a miniature model of Moralton and its inhabitants so she can evoke this trope. Also to play God.
Christianity Is Catholic: Averted, and possibly inverted with all the Moralton townsfolk mocking and occasionally reviling Catholicism. In fundamentalism, only protestants are true Christians, while Catholics might as well be godless pagans. And sadly, this isTruth in Television for certain fundamentalists.
Notably to the point where speaking the profane tongues of the Necronomicon is still better than speaking in Latin like a Catholic.
Creator Breakdown/Real Life Writes the Plot: Dino Stamatopoulos went through a rough divorce towards the end of the second season. The toll this took on him is evident throughout Season 3, particularly Clay's rant in "Sacrifice".
Companion Cube: Nurse Bendy's use of teddy bears as a stand-in for family units, since she believes that they won't take advantage of her sexually. When one of them falls upon her rear while she's bending over, she goes into a complete breakdown, believing her trust has been shattered. A shot in "Dumb" reveals she tied the offending bear up in its chair. She got better after reuniting with her actual son.
Darker and Edgier: Season 3 turned it Up to Eleven by turning the show (which was already dark in its own right) into quite possibly the darkest piece of western animation ever made, prompting the show's cancellation out of Mike Lazzo's buyer's remorse.
Dark Is Not Evil: Stephanie. Despite her "punk chick" look, she's generally one of the warmest (and easily one of the most sane) citizens of Moralton.
Invoked in the episode "Holy Visage", in which the sheltering nature of darkness is mentioned. Unfortunately, the person stating this is a stupid, ignorant teacher referring to the Dark Ages in Europe.
Well, except for that time Orel sent him some "sinners".
And he almost got there when Orel's mom came to him, but her request ended up being all he needed.
Believe it or not, his was how Stephanie got concieved.
The main focus of "God's Chef" when Orel is caught doing it and Putty tells him it's a sin despite the fact he does it all the time.
Deconstruction: When you can rival and ''beat" the majority of other attempts at a deconstruction and how dark an animated television show can become, and how much you can rip apart every little thing about the "perfection" of the comedic aspects of the show you're watching, you're falling into this category.
Distant Finale: The last scene of the final episode skips to Orel as an adult, who was able to raise a fully functional family with Christina.
Especially noteworthy is the picture on the wall of Orel's parents. As horrific as Clay was to Orel, Orel's above exiling the old man from his life.
There are two other pictures of a fireman and policeman, presumably the adult versions of Shapey and Block.
Does This Remind You of Anything?: Christina has invited Orel to Make-Out Point after their parents have forbidden them from seeing each other. They meet up, are ecstatic to see each other, then slowly lower out of camera view while lovingly saying each other's names... then the camera pans down and you see they're praying.
And in "Alone", Nurse Bendy has one of her bears fall on her upraised rump while she's cleaning a spill, having some milk spilled on her face in the process, which triggers a panic attack.
This "humor" becomes less and less funny as the series progresses, even though the "joke" remains the same.
Downer Ending: There are so many, but the ends of "Nature", "Sundays", "Alone", and the Christmas Special are especially bleak.
Driven to Suicide: Orel kills himself multiple times in "Grounded" in an effort to meet God.
Drowning My Sorrows: Clay, "burdened" with a loveless marriage and a "stinking dead-end job", does this constantly.
* drink* Still hate her. * drink* Still hate her. * drink* Toler-hate her. * drink* ...tolerate her!
Dysfunctional Family: An excellent example! Clay is emotionally distant and abusive, his wife is a cleanliness-obsessed basket case who married him for all the wrong reasons, Shapey is seven but developmentally is three, and Orel is the Only Sane Man. For a given value of "sane", anyway.
And let's not forget that for a while there, Orel's family just flat-out had another family's child instead of Shapey. Clay noticed, but didn't care, and ignored Orel when Orel mentioned it.
Early-Bird Cameo: A poster for "The Crucibles" shows up well before the episode featuring them does.
Early Installment Weirdness: Played with, some season one happenings don't really jive with the rest of the series. The pilot had the use of magic to bring back the dead, and cause a zombie apocalypse, magic is never used again in the series aside from some moments regarding faith which fall into Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane. Orel impregnating all the women in town was a more out-there moment. Both did get mentions in season 3, with a flashback to the apocalypse, and a newspaper saying that the rapist (Mr. Creepler) wasn't Orel this time. Unreleased plans for the next series may have had Ms. Censordoll using voodoo to control Clay.
Faux Yay: Stephanie's best friend from school was this - Stephanie thought it was sincere.
Feuding Families: The Puppingtons and the Posabules hate each others' guts because they use slightly different versions of the Lord's Prayer. Slightly as in "Forgive us our debtors" and "Forgive us our tresspassers." One word.
Flashback: Most of the episodes in season three are flashbacks, or parts of earlier episodes told from the point of view of people that aren't a Puppington.
For the Evulz: Orel in the Halloween episode. He decided that the only thing that can scare him is God—so he methodically breaks all of the Ten Commandments in one day. ALL. Including that one.
Fourth Date Marriage: Clay and Bloberta marry after one date (And it's kinda hard to call it a date since they just decided to attend a reception together after attending the wedding separately.) Subverted in that both of them know they're making a mistake, but they go through with it anyway since Clay wants someone to help him and Bloberta wants to be the one getting married.
Poignantly, when asked by Orel why they married, all Bloberta could answer is "Why not?".
Freudian Excuse: Clay's an asshole because his insanely religious mother raised him like a spoiled prince (because all of her ten previous pregnancies never made it to term because of her constant drinking and smoking which she stopped when pregnant with Clay because she was too preoccupied with praying to God that he would make it) and his father (who was never able to create a good bond between his son due to his wife's constant spoiling and protective nature and never forgave Clay for the prank that led to his wife's fatal heart attack) emotionally shunned his child, to the point of telling him that he wasn't even worth the effort of punishing him physically, which led to Clay becoming a hellion if only to get slapped by his father, which for Clay was the only emotional response he could ever get out of his father. Bloberta, meanwhile, is the unwanted middle child of an emotionally abusive mother who treated her second daughter like an unwanted pet; she became an obsessive-compulsive neat freak to replace her addiction to booze, after introducing Clay to alcohol and watching him become a massive jerk with his first drink.
While it does explain much, it's not much of an excuse. Orel's childhood isn't far off from this.
Arguably, that was the point: despite all the bad things that happened to Orel, he still got his life back together.
And arguably, that was the point of the other point: Clay's abuse of Orel is to try to bring the boy down to his father's level, so that Clay can convince himself that he's not responsible for what he's become, which is why Orel's continuing intent to goodness makes Clay even more miserable and hateful.
Ms. Censordoll is the way she is because her Mother removed her reproductive organs as a infant which might explain why she looks old despite her age. Sweet dreams readers!
Frozen in Time: Subverted. The show is (possibly) set in the modern day, yet virtually everything in Moralton looks like it's either the 1950's or (way) early 60's. Especially since we don't see any modern tech (not even television!) I guess that's the way to show people what Christian dogma feels about modern society.
Possibly the only indication that we get of the show being set in modern time is that there is a "metal" band occasionally referenced in the show.
Clay DOES mention Lee Harvey Oswald in "Trigger" so the series most likely takes place somewhere during or after 1963.
A God Am I/Drunk with Power: Orel, upon hearing that God is in him (as well as everyone and everything else), starts acting this way, going so far as to pull the plug on a dying woman; granted the woman was asking for it, but still...it's one of the few times Orel actually outright acts like a jerk.
This is how Censordoll acts naturally.
Censordoll: No mother, I am not holier than thou—but I am holier than you.
Gone Horribly Right: Adult Swim wanted Season 3 to go down the same dark road as the Season 2 finale, "Nature". The episode "Alone" went down that dark road—then it got on the highway, swerved into oncoming traffic, and caused a multi-car pileup akin to Final Destination 2. After that episode was screened for Adult Swim executives, said executives cancelled the show and cut its final season down to 13 episodes despite getting exactly what they asked for in the first place. It apparently was that depressing.
Growing Up Sucks: In "Maturity", Clay tells Orel that adulthood means doing things that one hates doing. These things would be "dealing with people who make you unhappy, being stressed about things you have no control over and working soul numbing jobs".
Joe develops a fear of growing up due to his very old father.
The Hero Sucks Song: Part of the school play, in which Orel is cast as Judas, is a song-and-dance number about how Jesus is a rotten little fink.
High School Sweethearts: Mr. and Mrs. Latchkey, Doughey's parents. Not only are they high school sweethearts, they still act like they're in high school, wearing the same jock jacket and cheerleader clothes they did twelve years ago.
Hilarity Ensues: The usual result of Orel misinterpreting the sermons. (This is nonexistent after the middle of Season Two, though.)
Hollywood Satanism: Subverted, this is what Coach Stopframe had attempted to get Clay to love him, when he took Orel to an actual Satanist gathering, it turns out they were all just a bunch of sloppy hedonists.
Hypocritical Humor: In many places; it forms most of the "lessons" Orel learns. A particularly good example:
Mark Posubule: Forgive your debtors!
Clay Puppington: Forgive your trespassers!
Mark Posubule: You owe me a bottle of wine!
Clay Puppington: Get off my property!
In "God's Chef" Reverend Putty tells Orel it's a sin to masturbate and yet he constantly does it himself and it was how Stephanie came to be.
I Did What I Had to Do: Often a downright lie. It's usually "I Did What Was More Convenient" or "I Did What Would Get Me What I Wanted", but using this trope as a thin veneer.
I Drank What?: Orel sells his urine as an energy drink to the school's sports teams.
Identical Strangers: The Posabule family, Art, Poppit, and Christina, are this to Clay, Bloberta and Orel. The youngest child of each family, Block and Shapey, only act the same.
Ignored Epiphany: Orel once had an epiphany—but was spanked into forgetting it—when he disagreed with church doctrine about Fluffy Cloud Heaven; perhaps more importantly, Clay has one about his behavior and apologizes for shooting Orel, only to take it back shortly afterward.
The Immodest Orgasm: Bloberta masturbates with a jackhammer in "Numb". It ends up doing as much damage to her body as you'd expect.
At first. Then, she manages to leave it in all night and is still alive when the power runs out hours later.
In Vino Veritas: Clay. Lampshaded and a source of discussion in the "Nature" and subsequent episodes.
Irony: The pilot has Ms. Censordoll forming a "To Burn" pile of books - among which was Fahrenheit 451.
I Take Offense to That Last One: Variant; when Reverend Putty says that the beer goggles Clay has on makes Jesus's crucifixion look like Marilyn Monroe, he glares at Putty and declares that he never drinks beer.
Jerkass: Clay is the embodiment of this. Censordoll is a big one, too.
Actually, this probably describes everyone in Moralton except for Orel and Stephanie.
Keep Circulating the Tapes: Adult Swim has refused to release the remaining two-thirds of season two or season three on DVD after the first volume set didn't sell well. This is bad since these uncollected episodes consist of the show's high point.
In a bit of subversion though when the show was canceled and Adult Swim did a massive month long marathon/dumping of the third season, Dino was allowed to do a series of promos for the third season where he implored fans to watch and record, as far as telling them that Adult Swim will probably NEVER, EVER reair the series. But the critical praise and high ratings that the last season got has managed to secure future reairings of the series for fans...
Kick the Dog: The townsfolk of Moralton do this quite a lot. Of particular note is putting Orel's dog down because it was causing him to sin—because he loved the dog more than Jesus. They also left a man's wound untreated and infected because it resembled Jesus, and destroying holy symbols is a sin.
"Nesting" has its own dark orchestral cover of the opening theme... which is played over some of the lowest-quality visuals the show has ever had. On top of that, the song gets cut off before it's finished by Ms. Censordoll slamming a window.
Those "lowest-quality visuals" portion was due to Stylistic Suck. For those that don't remember, the opening was made up of the little diorama Ms. Censordoll was tinkering with in "Alone".
Loud Gulp: Happens in every episode just before Orel's father beats him as punishment for whatever he did wrong that day.
In fact, it's a sign of Character Development when Clay's threats evoke a deadpan response and not a loud gulp from Orel, due to him losing all respect for Clay.
In "Honor", there is a game plan on a chalkboard in Coach Stopframe's office that shows Stopframe's plan to get closer to Clay.
Meaningful Name: A LOT of the characters' names refer to how the show is created (stop-motion claymation), though some of them refer to an important facet of the character.
Examples: Coach Stopframe, Mr. Figurelli, ClayPuppington, Bloberta, Shapey, Block, Miss Sculptham, Nurse Bendy, Reverend Putty, Officer Papermouth (that's how they get them to talk)... These are so blatantly obvious that I don't know whether to call them Narm or not.
Doughy Latchkey and Ms. Frances Clara Censordoll (FCC). These aren't so obvious, but they're just as good.
As revealed in "Dumb", Nurse Bendy's first name is Nursula. There are possibly two puns in there: the obvious(Nursula) and another more stealthy and significant(Nursula, which besides being a real name, related to ursa=bear, in reference to her teddy bear family).
In Grounded, Orel's intense and heavily symbolic near death experience sequences are intercut with some of the show's blackest comedy ("It's not healthy to be dead that long").
Near the end of Passing, Clay's father refuses to pass down Ol' Gunny as the Puppington family tradition dictates, telling Clay that said gun is tainted with blood. Clay responds by asking "You sure it's not just ketchup?"
Moral Dissonance: All of Orel's lessons essentially boil down to "Do as I say and not as I do", and even then, the morals he learns are horribly skewed.
What stands out even more, is that Orel doesn't get scolded for raising zombies, but rather for stripping them first.
Nepotism: The only reason Junior Christein was cast as Jesus in 'Crooning Jesus' was because he was the nephew of an influental Broadway producer that Mr. Armiture wanted to suck up to. It backfired spectacularly: the townspeople were not impressed that Orel hadn't been cast as Jesus, and Orel's song and dance number as Judas was the only part anyone liked.
A young Clay's prank on his abusive father, which indirectly ends up killing his mother, setting the stage for the adult Clay's abuse of his son.
Or when Bloberta introduces Clay to alcohol. His instant rampant alcoholism and Jerk Ass behaviour leads her to stop drinking and channel her frustration into to spot-cleaning everything, setting the stage for their miserable marriage.
No Name Given: The red-headed freckled kid that hangs out with Orel and his friends, usually lumped in as "the gang" or "the rest" (ex: Doughy, Tommy, and the gang.) Even in the Beforel Orel commercial, he's cut off by Orel before he could say his name. But his name was revealed through a cast sheet in the play episode. It's Billy.
Not So Above It All: Ms. Censordoll, after Orel gets her favorite food (eggs) banned from the town, as far as Censordoll going to the Moralton black market to get her eggs like the rest of the townspeople. Reverend Putty in "Closeface", who bonds with his daughter after finding out that they both have a snarky sense of humor.
Not So Different: Season 3 makes it increasingly clear that Clay was a lot like Orel when he was a kid and young man, and both were victims of abuse. In the end, Orel manages to become a much better father and husband than Clay.
Not So Harmless Punishment: In "Grounded", when Orel's father Clay walks in on Orel bathing in blood, he grounds him. To Orel's surprise, Clay specifies that Orel is not grounded from playing with his friends; Orel can play outside to his heart's content. Understandably confused, Orel asks, "then what am I grounded from?" It turns out Orel's grounded from church! To a lot of children Orel's age that wouldn't be so bad. But Orel loves church with all his heart and soul, so to Orel, this is actually worse than not being allowed to play!
N-Word Privileges: Subverted. When the town learns about the Italian-American Figurelli family, the entire town starts to segregate exclusively against the 4-member family. The always optimistic Figurelli thank the town for it, oblivious to the reason why they did it to begin with. Everyone else in the town just starts to refer to them as Figgurs.
Oedipus Complex: It turns out that Clay has one, something Ms. Censordoll picks up on quickly to manipulate him.
Official Couple: Orel and Christina are the most heartwarming couple you'll ever see on television.
Once More with Clarity: The opening of the 7th season 3 episode, Help, shows the typical images of a wedding. The ending zooms out on them to show how screwed up and unhappy Bloberta and Clay's marriage has been from the beginning.
One-Word Title: About half of the first and second season episodes have these, but all of the third season episodes have them.
Only Sane Man: Reverend Rod Putty, who is ironically less blinded by so-called faith compared to everyone else as time goes on.
His daughter also counts.
Out of Order: The Christmas episode was meant to be the first season finale but was aired as a pilot.
Recap Episode: When Orel shows his movies to his friends and family, they are the first three episodes. Subverted in no old footage being reused.
Religion Rant Song: "I Hate You, Jesus!" In-universe as Orel performed it at a pageant that required him to play up hostility against the Jesus character. Kinda subverted when Moralton start singing the song, because they just find it catchy.
Room Full of Crazy: When Orel is grounded from church in "Grounded", he makes up for it by drawing a crayon church on his wall decorated with various Bible verses, then builds a cardboard church and wears it like a Halloween costume.
Running Gag: Ms. Censordoll's protesting and censorship, the "Lost Commandments", the fact Shapey is not weaned off breast milk yet, Clay standing up after beating Orel, which causes his pants to fall because he forgot to put his belt back on.
The second and third seasons have Shapey switched with the son of their short term neighbors. Bloberta (who eventually figures it out) and Clay never seem to realize that Block is not Shapey even as Orel tries pointing it out time and time again.
Shock Value Relationship: "Closeface". In a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming, Reverend Putty reveals he was upset because the other girl Stephanie was kissing didn't care for her the way Stephanie wanted.
Shoot the Dog: In "Nature," Clay shoots some other hunter's hunting dog, then proceeds to mount its head and eat it like a deer. Granted, he was drunk at the time, but still...
Having Orel's dog Jesus Bartholomew put down, because the dog was making Orel love him more than Jesus. And annoying the adults.
Single Malt Vision: Clay assumes this is the case, when we see from his point of view the events from the end of "Nature": he sees Shapey on the stairs, remembers he already passed Block in the living room, then just takes a look at his shot glass before continuing.
Single Tear: Orel cries one at the end of Rev. Putty's sermons for most of Season 1.
Sleeping Single: Deconstructed; not only do Clay and Bloberta sleep in separate beds, there's a privacy screen between them.
Based on appearances, Doughy's parents have separate rooms, though this is more because they're still at the mentality of high schoolers—Kim's bedroom is decorated like a high school girl's. And it has no effect on their sex lives whatsoever.
Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: At the beginning, Orel is practically in the wrong show, given how naive he is about the world. The world is deeply cynical, and Orel gradually shifts to a more cynical viewpoint as well, especially after "Nature".
However, "cynical" for Orel is... admitting to himself that he doesn't respect and revere his father as he feels he ought, and thinking that perhaps, everything isn't as perfect as it ought to be. It's still a deep contrast, though not as extreme.
Spoiled Brat: Shapey. His parents always order Orel to let him do what he wants, in case he screams and the neighbors hear. He's constantly screaming anyway, so we can see how well that is working out.
And Clay, as a child, prior to one of his tantrums leading to his mother's death and the subsequent abuse at the hands of his father.
And Block, who's an exact clone of Shapey.
Spoof Aesop: The usual result of Clay's talks with Orel in his study take the form of a ridiculous and/or entirely irrelevant lesson. For example, in the first episode, Orel is chastised not for digging up dead people and zombifying them, but for stripping them naked. (He thought they smelled like death because their clothes were dirty.) Similarly, his crack habit earned him a scolding because of all the slang it caused him to learn.
Take That: After his movies aren't very well appreciated, Orel concludes that sometimes things are misinterpreted. When asked for an example, he scratches his head with The Bible trying to come up with an answer. Really, the whole series.
Ms. Censordoll's full name is Francine Clara Censordoll (FCC).
"Orel's Movie Premiere" seems to be one towards us viewers, Doughy calls Orel "Moral" at one point and Dr. Potterswheel asks if Clay molests Orel during the time in the Study... these are Word of God's pet peeves that we the viewers bring up.
Theme Naming: Many of the characters have names related to the process of stop-motion animation.
"Passing" reveals that Clay would have been one of eleven siblings with names starting with the letter C. All of them but Clay were miscarriages.
The Moral Substitute: Imagine if all media were Christian fundamentalist propaganda? Yeah, this trope is subject to a brutal Deconstruction, showing just how dysfunctional and disturbing such a world would be.
"The Reason You Suck" Speech: Well over half of the episode Sacrifice is just Clay giving these to Potterswheel, Papermouth, Putty, religion, love, and the world in general. He was trying to provoke a violent reaction, because the only way he could make his father acknowledge him as a child was by insulting him until he beat him.
Joe's narration of the latter half of Orel's movie.
Wake Up Make Up: Deconstructed. Bloberta wakes up earlier than her husband, grooms herself impeccably, then pretends to go back to sleep. In this show, chances are better than even it's to make him feel inferior to her in one of the few ways she can.
Executive Meddling. Season 3 was originally going to be 20 episodes, and scripts and animatics had been prepared for all of the episodes—then Adult Swim slashed the order to 13 episodes. This was done after the higher-ups saw rough cuts of the the first couple of episodes, most notably "Alone"—which featured the reveal that not only had one of the female characters purposely allow herself to get sexually assaulted by a rapist in order to have sex, but then be seen performing a coat-hanger abortion upon herself to kill the child conceived by the rape, AND obtain an orgasm as she mentally relives being raped. According to Dino Stamatopoulos, "Alone" got the series cancelled even though its tone was Dino simply following orders to create darker episodes following the success of "Nature". The episode count getting reduced meant that the entire second half of the season had to be aborted (no pun intended), leaving the show with two episodes to deal with the fallout of "Nature", which resulted in a slapdash finale and most of the Censordoll/Clay storyline getting cut.
Word of God in online commentary expands on Censordoll's story. In "Alone", it was hinted that Censordoll's mother had her reproductive organs removed as an infant, in a form of female castration. This is what causes her obsession with eggs—and is probably why she aged so badly. As Reverend Putty's sermon in that episode says, we need other people in our lives to remind us we're not the center of the universe (which is what Censordoll believes). In "Nesting", Censordoll withdraws from the election when she realizes she can manipulate Clay's Oedipus Complex for his mother to get the town's egg ban lifted.
Dino posted one of the lost episode's scripts online. It can be found here.
The series never got around to featuring Arthur, Orel's grandfather and Clay's father, who was only seen in a flashback in Passing. Beforel Orel does redeem this to an extent, but what became of Arthur post-third-season remains unanswered.