The Righteous Gemstones
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An extremely dysfunctional family of wealthy televangelists. The first season saw widow Dr. Eli Gemstone and his three spoiled children, Jesse, Judy, and Kelvin, work towards expanding their network of megachurches. But their plans become complicated by a blackmailing scandal that threatens to ruin the family’s reputation. The second follows the family as friends from Eli’s questionable past pop up and Jesse tries to invest in a Christian resort.
Dr. Eli Gemstone is played by the always brilliant John Goodman; Danny McBride plays his eldest son, Jesse; Edi Patterson plays his middle child, Judy; Adam Devine plays his youngest son, Kelvin, and Walton Goggins plays their uncle “Baby” Billy. Season two added Eric Andre, Eric Roberts, and Jason Schwartzman to the cast.
Satire, and especially satire of major religions, is not easy to write, as evidenced by the number of shows centered around religious satire that were cancelled after one season. The Righteous Gemstones, however, succeeds in its sardonic take on televangelism by adding a layer of sentimentality underneath. The show is a bonafide comedy (albeit a dark one) with just the right amount of snarky asides to keep it from veering into truly bleak territory.
The series is the third HBO series from McBride, Jody Hill, and David Gordon Green, who were behind the hysterical satires Eastbound and Down and Vice Principals. It’s filled with the same morally questionable characters, but it also has a bit more warmth than their previous endeavors, as the characters actually grapple with and are forced to reflect on their actions.
The first season was hysterical, and Season 2 only ups the ante. Season 1 centered around just a few plots with most of the characters’ lives intertwined, whereas Season 2 separates the characters a bit and offers a deep dive into each one’s psyche.
Jesse and his wife Amber (Cassidy Freeman) get involved with the powerful Texas version of the Gemstones, the Lissons, played by Eric Andre and Jessica Lowe. They are launching a Christian resort and Jesse wants in on the action. Andre’s manic energy, slightly toned down here, works well in the chaos of the Gemstones.
Meanwhile, we learn a bit more about Eli’s past, adding to his already complex and mysterious behavior. We also learn more about the relationship between Judy and her husband BJ (Tim Baltz), and a bit more about Baby Billy’s past, which helps to explain why he is the way he is. Since each of the characters are three-dimensional human beings, it’s hard to dismiss them as complete garbage humans. While they do engage in garbage behavior, the nuanced writing and likable cast make you root for them in spite of their flaws. In the end they just want to be respected by their father and to do what they believe is right for their families.
A brilliant and sardonic look at the gaudy world of televangelism, The Righteous Gemstones is filled with quick one-liners and surprisingly heartfelt moments. Season 2 ups the comedic stakes, the talent, and the psychological back stories.
Fans of McBride’s work and films, and especially fans of Eastbound and Down and Vice Principals. This may not be the best series to show a true evangelist, unless they have a real sense of humor about their church.
Danny McBride was inspired to write the show after moving to Charleston and seeing how many churches there were in the area. He’s explained that the series was never meant to bash religion; it was meant to make fun of and critique hypocrites. McBride himself was raised in the church and did not want to make fun of anyone’s beliefs.