The Righteous Gemstones
Praise Be to He!
Streaming on HBO | 2019 | TV-MA | 1 season, 9 episodes
Why We Watched: How I decided to press play on The Righteous Gemstones is a conundrum for me. I've never liked Danny McBride. And the cast was very white/straight/male, so not my typical cup of tea. However: The trailer for this show absolutely floored me, and the pilot was so dang good. For the first time in a long time, I found myself watching a show as it was airing rather than waiting for a full season to land on a streaming platform. I'm obsessed!
You Might Also Like: It's fall, which means new TV is in full swing. I'm overflowing with recommendations! Aside from Gemstones, there's The Politician (on Netflix), Unbelievable (on Netflix), mixed-ish (on ABC and Hulu), American Horror Story: 1984 (on FX), and even a new season of Mindhunter (on Netflix), the show we all loved to be freaked out by but completely forgot about because there were three years between seasons one and two. If you can't find me, I'll be on my couch staring at a screen for the rest of 2019!
“Everybody in your line keeps getting water up their nose. You’re dipping them back too far.” The line comes from Jesse Gemstone (Danny McBride) as he stands in a dormant wave pool in Tokyo, baptizing people by the hundreds with his younger brother Kelvin (Adam Devine). The two continue to bicker while their father Eli (John Goodman), lead pastor of the Gemstones' megachurch, rolls his eyes while he dunks yet another parishioner under the water bathed in neon lights. And then the wave pool turns on...
As a former megachurch attendee (with no ill will against my former church), I can tell you that The Righteous Gemstones is the realest parody I've ever seen. Rock-concert-style sermons? Check. Satellite campuses in foreclosed department stores? Yes. Weird youth group events that have very little to do with Jesus? Uh-huh. Catchy songs that you just can't get out of your head even though the lyrics are objectively terrible? Amen! It's clear from the get-go that the writers on this show have done their research. The payoff is the funniest show currently airing, which is also a cutthroat critique of money and megachurches. (For those wondering, Christianity and its flock aren't the target of the series' cynicism.)
Several subplots drive the first season, but the most significant through-line is the scandal that threatens to erupt when someone blackmails next-in-line to the Gemstone legacy and oldest son Jesse. There's a very incriminating video of him and other church execs doing regular guy stuff at last year's Prayer Power Conference, like snorting cocaine and hooking up with prostitutes. Meanwhile, the family struggles after the death of matriarch Amiee-Leigh (Jennifer Nettles), Jesse and Amber's oldest son Gideon (Booksmart's Skyler Gisondo) has just returned from a failed career as a stunt double, Ed's daughter Judy (Edi Patterson) worries she won't be able to tap dance as well as her mother, Aimee-Leigh's creepy estranged brother Baby Billy (Walton Goggins) is back in the picture, and youngest son Kelvin tries to save the heiress of a fried chicken chain.
This series show is very on-brand for McBride and collaborator David Gordon Green, who have a track record of creating obnoxious complicated comedic male characters. I don't know that'd I'd rush to rewatch Pineapple Express or Eastbound & Down (on HBO), but after entirely loving Green and McBride's 2018 reboot of Halloween (on HBO), I'm reconsidering my previous harsh opinions of the duo. Maybe their male characters are supposed to be fragile drug-addled idiots and the joke was on me all along. And if this is their shtick, then Gemstones delivers.
The season finale airs this Sunday, and HBO has already signed on for a second season. In the age of wait-and-see-how-it-streams-before-renewing, that's a pretty big deal. In the words of Gemstones churchgoers, "Hallelujah!"