Glorious depravity shines bright in The Righteous Gemstones
Danny McBride has built a career out of writing and playing incorrigibly awful and egotistical characters. From his scene-stealing treachery in the most successful stoner comedy of all time, Pineapple Express, to his openly racist, alcoholic professional baseball player in HBO’s Eastbound & Down, and his similarly cruel stint as a vice principal in another of his HBO vehicles Vice Principals, you’d be forgiven for assuming he’s intentionally typecast himself as the quintessential despicable jerk.
It’s a credit to McBride’s writing that he’s able to craft such horrendous, self-serving characters whose humanity glistens just brightly enough and just often enough for us to not root for their enemies.
Fortunately, for audiences who enjoy these ridiculous anti-hero antics, McBride’s ability to write characters like these for himself and other actors has resulted in some of the most uniquely depraved schemes and insults to vie for attention in the oft-lauded Golden Age of Television.
Not that these characters are entirely unsympathetic. In fact, it’s a credit to McBride’s writing that he’s able to craft such horrendous, self-serving characters whose humanity glistens just brightly enough and just often enough for us to not root for their enemies.
In his latest outing, The Righteous Gemstones, McBride plays one of three ambitious siblings intent on succeeding their megachurch mogul father, Eli Gemstone (John Goodman).
McBride plays the eldest, Jesse, whose flaws as a father and husband are almost as sinful as his fleecing of the star-struck flock who give generous tithes to a church which then uses the money for a mass baptism of Chinese converts in a water park wave pool. That’s after flying to China in three private jets named The Father, The Son, and you guessed it, The Holy Spirit.
Satirising US megachurches might seem like low-hanging fruit in comedy circles but, refreshingly, Gemstones eschews these easy pickings in favour of exploiting the personal foibles of the supremely dysfunctional family members.
Jesse’s sister, Judy (Edi Patterson), furious at being excluded from evangelical duties because of her gender, provides some of the most creative sexual outbursts in the show, subverting gender roles by demanding impossibly kinky exploits from her doe-eyed boyfriend BJ.
Young Kelvin Gemstone (Adam DeVine) is also desperate to impress papa Eli, but his spiritual salvation of his good pal and former Satan worshipper Keefe is his biggest, and only, triumph thus far. He’ll need to save many more young souls to impress his father.
Then there’s Uncle “Baby” Billy, played by the dependably hilarious Walton Goggins, a favourite partner of McBride’s, having previously played opposite him in Vice Principals. Baby Billy’s Southern drawl and sly machinations fit in perfectly with the family’s desperate plotting and scathingly mean dialogue.
If you like your characters flawed but funny, desperate and depraved, then you’re in for a delightfully vulgar treat with The Righteous Gemstones, currently streaming on Showmax.