Once again I must thank my father for introducing me to this superlative comedy a few weeks ago. Written by Danny McBride (top, centre in the picture below), this 2019 series follows the story of the Gemstone family, a collection of remarkably egotistical evangelicals as they face a variety of challenges opening a mega church in a new town.
The show is written by Danny McBride (Vice Principals), who also stars as Jesse Gemstone, the corrupt eldest son of a patriarchal religious dynasty led by preacher Dr Eli Gemstone (John Goodman). Standard
I watched True Stories, David Byrne’s film recently, which also starred John Goodman and felt the need to review The Righteous Gemstones as a result of this. The two could not be more different from one another but I want to put True Stories (1986) on your radar, do look into it if you so desire.
The family have become ludicrously rich through the success of Eli and the late Aimee Lee Gemstone’s enterprise at garnering a country wide following and setting up a number of mega churches. They have an enormous complex where each of the family have an individual house each, all of which are lavish. They have a fleet of private jets named the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They also have a fantastic sign at the front of their property which I shall include below. This show did remind me of an excellent track on Stevie Wonder’s best album, to me, Jesus Children of America.
Tell me, holy (tell me)
Are you standing (I’m standin’)
Like a soldier? (Like a soldier)
Are you standing for everything you talk about?
By way of a nice segue, the above track does hint at the beginnings of the Gemstones’ issues which are explored in early episodes. Jesse Gemstone receives some video footage showing him participating in a very Christian drug fuelled orgy, they threaten him and attempt to extort $1M from him by the end of the week. The series’ struggles unravel from there. Of course as can be expected the blackmail does not entirely go to plan. But I shall leave you to find out how and why!
Why do I like this series? This is a topic and environment which is ripe for comedy; the idea of churches profiting from their ministry rather than sowing this back into the community has rankled me for some time, and the wealth of fascinating characters which make it engaging and consistent. Also, it is really very very funny.
Baby Billy is one of the most brilliant characters, jaded at Eli Gemstone taking his sister Aimee Lee away from him and profiting from her magic while leaving Billy in the dust. This long term feud fuels Billy’s desire to throw spanners in the works of the Gemstones’ activities.
Finally I’d like to mention Keefe Chambers, played by Tony Cavalero. He is the close friend and confidante of Kelvin Gemstone (Adam Devine), and is a former Satanist who has been reformed and is now following a life in Christ. His gigantic 666 tattoo is almost too funny, as is the underlying sexual tension between him and Kelvin. the consistent discomfort between the two as a result of this is a deep well of comedy.
The Righteous Gemstones is an exquisitely rendered comedy which makes the most of a rich seam of comedy. I cannot recommend it enough. I hope it will be available on more widely available platforms in the near future.