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We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

TV Series Review

Jesus had some strong words for the religious leaders of His day. “Brood of vipers,” He called them. “Whitewashed tombs.” “Blind guides.” And, especially, “hypocrites.” Jesus used that particular moniker again and again.

Methinks that the Son of God might have an issue or two with the Gemstones as well.

Dollars & Souls

The Gemstones are in the business of salvation. And boy, has business been good.

For decades, Eli and his family have been saving souls and spending money, though not necessarily in that order. Eli started the Gemstone family ministry with his wife, Aimee Leigh, back in the 1980s, when televangelists ruled the airwaves. As the Jimmy Swaggarts and the Jim and Tammy Faye Bakers of the world fell into sin and cultural oblivion, the Gemstones stood strong (or, at least, their popularity did). Together, they parlayed their flock’s devotion and generosity into a worldwide empire, including a massive worship center that’d rival many an NBA arena.

Aimee Leigh departed this mortal coil for her great reward some time ago, but Eli still has company on the Gemstone spiritual stage. Jesse, his oldest, might be the heir apparent—if his horrific secrets don’t bust out like Amasa’s intestines. Jesse’s kid brother, Kelvin, is a faith focal point, too, even if he’s still feeling his way in the ministry. Oh, we shouldn’t forget Judy, either—even if Eli and his boys sometimes do. “Flyin’ around on private planes, being leaders, that’s men’s business,” Jesse tells her.

They all live in their own mansions on the Gemstone family compound. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” a sign reads outside. (“No trespassing,” it adds.) Judy secretly lives with her insecure fiancée, B.J. Meanwhile, Kelvin cavorts (and experiences some homoerotic tension) with a reformed Satan worshipper named Keefe. Jesse goes home to his picture-perfect wife and their picture-perfect kids. Does it matter that his eldest, Gideon, ran away and is no longer in the picture at all? Or that their middle boy, Pontius, only reads the Bible to highlight all the nasty words?

Yep, the Gemstones are doing kingdom work, really: their kingdom.

Sinners in the Hand of an Angry Viewer

The Righteous Gemstones is the work of comic and star Danny McBride who, with frequent collaborator Jody Hill, is known for his pitch-black satirical comedies. His shows have long polarized both critics and viewers: People either seem to love his wicked wit or are appalled by his vile characters and uber-bleak storylines.

This HBO show, considered a relatively nuanced McBride product, engenders a third sort of reaction from me.

Squint hard enough, and The Righteous Gemstones serves as biting satire—a cautionary warning about how genuine faith can be twisted into all kinds of awful. McBride, who was apparently raised Baptist (and whose mom, like the show’s Aimee Leigh, performed puppet shows in church), knows his way around a certain brand of Southern evangelicalism: The language feels right, even if the spirit is right out the window.

That makes this pointed satire all the more effectively pointy, and that’s not entirely a bad thing. Every Christian reading this review can point to plenty of Christian leaders who departed from the straight and narrow and pursued fortune in a Bunyan-esque Vanity Fair. And, at least early on, it seems as though the show’s satire mainly aims at this particular family’s excesses, rather than trying to tear down faith itself.

That said, McBride does occasionally skewer what we might broadly call evangelical Christianity: The Righteous Gemstones takes particular joy in suggesting how men and women are treated wildly differently in this culture, and in the pilot episode, J.B. is roundly humiliated for posting what’s characterized as a “pro-abortion” message on social media. (Remember, this is satire. In this ethos, the Gemstones’ scorn equals the show’s praise.)

And man-oh-man-oh-man-oh-man is this show foul. All the Gemstones’ many, many, many sins are exposed on screen, and we do mean exposed. (Viewers see both male and female nudity.) We see violence, murder and drug use, too. We hear incest jokes and streams of profanity. Temporal laws and eternal commandments are broken like uncooked spaghetti, and we’re witness to it all.

The Gemstone family is anything but righteous. And the ironically named Righteous Gemstones is anything but as well.

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Episode Reviews

Aug. 18, 2019: "The Righteous Gemstones"



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Danny McBride as Jesse Gemstone; John Goodman as Eli Gemstone; Edi Patterson as Judy Gemstone; Adam DeVine as Kelvin Gemstone; Cassidy Freeman as Amber Gemstone; Tony Cavalero as Keefe Chambers; Tim Baltz as BJ; Dermot Mulroney as Rev. John Wesley Seasons






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Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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