TV has been relatively busy of late skewering to religion through Perpetual Grace Ltd., Preacher, Waco, with the latest being HBO’s comedy The Righteous Gemstones.
With the gravitas of John Goodman as Southern preacher Eli Gemstone, this series uses Christianity as a backdrop for yet another dysfunctional family.
Danny McBride (Eastbound & Down, Vice Principals), who is also series creator, plays eldest son Jesse who bickers constantly with brother Kelvin (Adam DeVine) while sister Judy (Edi Patterson) is on the outer in a hierarchy that suppresses women. I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt that suppressing the women will be redeemed given the men are deliberately full of it.
Set in South Carolina, the setting is deliberately over the top: loud voices, big trucks, lear jets, ranches, testifying, rock & roll religion, gleamin’ suits, and big dollars in the church plate. In this sense the series is pretty foreign to Australian eyes, although perhaps not too far removed from Hillsong, and gospel churches favoured by Aussie PMs, perhaps?
In the opening episode, chip-on-his-shoulder Jesse is blackmailed over a seedy video which sees him swept up in a naked, excessive party. It threatens to bring family shame, implode his marriage to wife Amber (Cassidy Freeman) and deny him his inheritance as chief pastor when dad eventually relinquishes his throne.
Brother Kelvin, who has his own curious relationship with beefy former satanist Keefe (Tony Cavalero), is furious with his inept brother while Judy is busy trying to get her outcast boyfriend BJ (Tim Baltz) anointed into the family clan.
Overseeing it all is unsupported dad Eli, clinging to the memory of their late mother and trying to elbow out rival ministries led by a local rival (Dermot Mulroney).
Throughout such hijinks, the public message of faith is betrayed by greed, bitterness, profanity and commercialism -none of which is particularly new – behind the scenes. To its credit the production values are quite high here and the glossy, pretence of it all adds to the hollow centre.
But the characters aren’t particularly likeable, which would be fine if they were a little more interesting (refer HBO’s Succession) and the comedy just isn’t unique enough to compensate.
Directed by McBride as largely rollicking, rather than a dark and sincere portrait, left me feeling like this is a missed opportunity. Maybe the whole thing is supposed to be a metaphor for the White House and its hallelujah President….
Ultimately I just didn’t believe in these folk, which in a comedy about religion is a twist I didn’t expect.
The Righteous Gemstones airs 8:30pm Tuesdays on FOX Showcase.