Jody Hill & Danny McBride are at the forefront of television comedy. At least, they should be. Their endlessly quotable expeditions into the waters of pitch-black humor with Vice Principals and Eastbound & Down remain my most rewatched programs ever. Yet, it was the first season of their satire of megachurches, The Righteous Gemstones, that was their biggest hit.
Now that season 2 is here, co-creators McBride and Hill come out the gate swinging… though not in the way you expect. The Righteous Gemstones jumps back to 1968. A young wrestler is hired as muscle for his employer to go shake down an abusive man late on a payment. The wrestler violently breaks the man’s hands. After the deed is done, his employer and employer’s son Junior drop him off at the home of his religious family. The wrestler is then revealed to be none other than the modern patriarch of the Gemstone family Eli.
Thus a clear theme for season 2 is laid out. As much of a comedy as The Righteous Gemstones is, it’s also a potent melodrama. Season 2 seems to be indicating that the sins of the past are going to come to light. This notion is communicated in a palette cleanser big comedy scene set in the modern-day. Eli (John Goodman) and the board of the Gemstone church are having a meeting with a pastor (Victor Williams) embroiled in a sex scandal.
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Said pastor is begging not to be dropped from the upcoming streaming service, hilariously named G.O.D.D. (Gemstones on Digital Demand). As the decision is made clear, he proclaims “I’m gonna kill myself”. He cartoonishly runs out of the room, jumps off the second-story balcony, and breaks his leg.
To some, that scene sounds far too macabre. In a sense… it is. Nonetheless, it’s totally hilarious for those dialed into McBride and Hill’s particular brand of comedy. Speaking of McBride, his character – series lead Jesse – seems to have his life together. Him and his wife Amber (Cassidy Freeman) are back together. Him and his son Gideon (Skyler Gisondo) are practically best friends. Heck, the only strife in his life seems to be his youngest son Abraham’s excessive masturbatory habits.
The other Gemstone siblings are seemingly living their best lives too. Judy (Edi Patterson) and BJ (Tim Baltz) are married. Kelvin (Adam DeVine) and Keefe (Tony Cavalero) have a practical army of musclebound warriors for God. And, naturally, everyone comes together for a rowdy Church lunch. Here all sorts of instantly memorable exchanges are made, like Jesse admonishing Judy for her Disney World-held ceremony officiated by Prince Eric. “You had a wedding at Disney, didn’t invite your family, and couldn’t even get married by a legacy character” – comedy dialogue doesn’t get much better than this.
Much of the premiere episode revolves around setting a status quo. It’s nice to catch up with the characters, get some good bits in, but there is a certain lack of forward momentum. Thankfully, there are two new plot threads to contend with. That is, two new plot threads of varying quality. The first involves Jesse’s ongoing attempts to take over the family business.
On their own accord, Jesse and Amber take a visit to Texas to see fellow megachurch pastor Lyle Lissons (Eric Andre). Eric Andre’s addition is a welcome one. He puts a serious amount of energy into the character of Lyle Lissons, and the church’s show is bombastic to match. It’s unfortunate, then, that so much of Lisson and his Houston church leans on tired Texan stereotypes. As a native Houstonian, the characters of the Gemstones already hit close to home because they’re practically reflections of our very own Joel Osteen. It’s hardly some kind of miscarriage of justice, nor is it offensive. It’s just disappointing.
Upon having dinner with the Lissons, Jesse and Amber are drawn into their newest business venture. Entitled “Zion’s Landing”, the idea is to build an all-inclusive Florida resort. For Jesus, of course. Jesse sees this as his attempt to make something of himself in his father’s eyes. Upon seeing Lisson’s proposed site for the resort, Eli turns the offer down. Outraged, Jesse whittles his father down, eventually getting permission to go in on the operation on his own.
The Righteous Gemstones ends on its juiciest plotline of the week. Earlier we discussed the past coming home to roost. Well, that comes in the form of Eli’s former employer’s son Junior (Eric Roberts) re-appearing in his life. Surprisingly, Junior’s reappearance doesn’t seem to drag Eli down. Instead, Junior is in awe of what Eli accomplishes in his life. Furthermore, he actually wants to reconnect and learn the ways of Christ.
At least, things start off that way. The Righteous Gemstones can never leave its audience too content. After an altercation with a restaurant patron considering their inappropriate behavior, Junior is knocked out in the parking lot. This prompts Eli to unleash a rage he had long since forgotten, destroying the attacker’s hands in the process. Roll credits.
The Righteous Gemstones season 2 premiere does what a good premiere should. It gets us up to speed, does a victory lap for what worked in the first season, and then introduces an intriguing hook for what’s to come. It is a smidge disappointing what they’re doing with Eric Andre’s character, and I wish we had a little momentum in this episode. Overall, though, it’s good to be back in the world of the Gemstones. – James Preston Poole
Season Rating: 8/10
The Righteous Gemstones season 2 is now streaming on HBO Max.