When a TV show goes after organized religion, a lot can go wrong. On HBO’s new dark comedy The Righteous Gemstones, writer and director Danny McBride decided to take the idea of televangelists and set it up like a crime drama.
To be honest, that is exactly what the Gemstones family is all about.
Eli Gemstone (John Goodman) is the patriarch who has built his congregation into a multi-million dollar industry. Along the way, he has done everything he can to make it bigger and bigger, even if that means walking over other church leaders and stealing their congregations.
That is shown at one point in the Righteous Gemstones season premiere when a local preacher (Dermot Mulroney) calls them conmen who just want to get richer and is told, “if your congregation comes to us, were they ever yours, to begin with?”
The entire series is set up like a dark comedy, though, and that was shown with the very first scene where a 24-hour baptism in China turns into a hot mess when someone turns on the waves in the giant pool they were using.
From there we see the Gemstones have their own compound that includes a shooting range and mansions for each member of the family.
There is Eli, who has a house full of servants but no one with him, as his wife had passed away. Eli’s loneliness and desire to do what he feels his late wife would have wanted weighs heavily on him in the premiere.
There are his two sons and partners in evangelism, Jesse (Danny McBride) and Kelvin (Adam Devine), and a daughter in Judy (Edi Patterson), who wants to be seen as more of an equal than she is.
Jesse is who the story seems based around. He is the oldest son and holds the keys to the kingdom. Sadly, someone else holds a video of him snorting coke with strippers and blackmails him for $1 million. Not only would it end his marriage to Amber (Cassidy Freeman) and two kids (the third ran away) but it would end his family’s empire.
While his brother and sister won’t help at first, they come through when the chips are down and Jesse accidentally tries to take that rival preacher that talked down to Eli, thinking he was responsible.
To understand how far this show goes, the money pass goes wrong when one of the two blackmailers tells them they might have more copies of the video and won’t stop. They proceed to beat him down, take the money and flash drive, and then Judy accidentally runs over him.
When the second guy shoots at them before checking on his buddy, Jesse backs up and runs him down as well. It was … unexpected to say the least.
To properly describe The Righteous Gemstones, imagine a darkly funny version of The Sopranos, but instead of Tony Soprano as the leader of a mafia family, Eli Gemstone is the leader of a family of church leaders who do exactly what Tony’s family did on that former hit HBO show.
Bad things happened in The Righteous Gemstones premiere and it was gloriously dark. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
The Righteous Gemstones airs Sunday at 10/9c on HBO.