HBO‘s latest comes from triple threat Danny McBride, who wrote directed and stars in The Righteous Gemstones. The show premise sits right on that that street where Christianity and capitalism intersect, along with outrageous deadpan parody.
Last Sunday’s first episode was the network’s most-watched comedy premiere in years with nearly 850,000 viewers, since McBride’s Vice Principals debuted in 2016 with 1.2 million.
The Southern megachurch is run by Daddy, Eli Gemstone (John Goodman) mourning his late wife, his eldest Jesse (McBride) and hipster preacher son Kelvin (Adam Devine) along with their much-maligned sister, church secretary, Judy Gemstone (Edi Patterson) Sister wants to be center stage with Dad & brothers but is denied because she’s female. Patterson says,
“Sometimes I have a bit of a restraint because frustration feels different than absolutely letting it rip. But it’s really fun to play someone who wants something with a white-hot, almost angry passion.”
Vox’s Emily VanDerWerff and Alissa Wilkinson both grew up in evangelical Christian subcultures depicted on this series. Alissa says,
“…Gemstones is interested in the gigantic gray area between ‘godliness’ and ‘the appearance of godliness’ — i.e., the way that attaining a certain kind of wealthy lifestyle is important to seem virtuous in these churches, but also all but impossible to attain without doing something that contradicts the core tenets of the faith.”
I love the vaguely homoerotic charge between baby brother Kelvin and his houseguest, a man recovering from addiction, whose scenes with the junior Gemstone have a weird, lustful energy, because the weird combination of openness with emotions and utter refusal to acknowledge that openness that characterizes a lot of evangelical masculinity is so hilarious and toxic.”
“McBride’s shows walk this very thin line between deeply empathetic dramas about the sorts of characters we don’t always see on TV and hilariously out-there parody. Sometimes, the blend doesn’t work as well as it might — and I think the thriller elements in The Righteous Gemstones’ first episode aren’t all there yet — but sometimes he just nails something about the ways that white folks outside of major urban areas carry and think about themselves.
…when I watch a scene like the Gemstone brothers competing to see who can baptize the most people without getting water up those newly baptized noses, or Eli looking upon that painting of his wife, or sole sister Judy (Edi Patterson) bristling at her diminished treatment within the family, I feel the shock of seeing people I once knew. They’re heightened and slightly more comedic for the purposes of making a TV show, but they’re still recognizable to me.”