A comedy series on a world-famous televangelist family with a long tradition of charitable work, yet seasoned with “deviance and greed” debuts on HBO on Aug. 19.
SCENE FROM ‘The Righteous Gemstones’ (Photo courtesy of HBO)
Given the premise, one would think the show is likely “anti-religious” but it’s not, says writer-director Danny McBride.
“I hope people don’t come out and think this is in any way anti-religious. In crafting this, the fact that my aunt’s a minister and my family’s religious really made me think: ‘What’s the target of this show? What are we trying to say?’” he said of the concept.
Ultimately, Danny added, the show is not about trying to target people’s faith and what they believe in. Indeed, based on the trailer, the show starts out looking like a satire but then morphs into a sort of family drama.
“It’s really just targeting hypocrites and a family that has exploited religion for their own gain, which has made them lose touch with what their original mission was.”
Danny is also cast as Jesse, the eldest of the three grown Gemstone siblings who looks to lead in his father’s footsteps but finds his past sins jeopardizing the family ministry.
“That’s what I love about television – that it has chapters! So I try to follow what novels I like do, where you might be brought into a book one way and then, four chapters in, you’re suddenly reading about a side character that enlightens the whole thing and takes you somewhere unexpected. That’s what we wanted to do here,” he explained. “We enter the show through my character Jesse’s eyes and what he’s dealing with, but it was designed so that as the show progresses, you start getting other characters’ points of view, and suddenly the bigger issue of what this family’s dealing with comes to light. It’s much more than Jesse being blackmailed – that is just the symptom of a much larger problem of what’s happening with this family.”
John Goodman is Eli, the man most responsible for the tremendous success of the family’s megachurch, is mourning the loss of his wife.
What made the project appealing to him is working with Danny, whom John described as “very observant.”
“I like Danny McBride’s view on things Southern. He’s from there… and it’s a nice prism. He also makes these people funny by never talking down or punching down – it’s just basically human nature. And when I read the script, it seemed new to me – I can’t remember seeing any other funny preacher families. It was funny, and that counts for a lot. It was well-written,” he said.
And while Eli may seem like a crook in the beginning, viewers will subsequently see a weariness and melancholy about him.
“He’s devastated over the death of his wife. She was the reason the Gemstones are where they’re at now. The building of the business was joy, and it all derived from her – he was so in love and would do anything for her, and the fact that she’s gone is still devastating to him. So he’s lost interest and he’s depressed. The only challenges he has now are business-related, and he and the Gemstones are kind of rapacious there – he just grinds people under his feet and doesn’t care,” Danny explained.
Did he approach his character as if he were playing, say, a mafia boss?
“That’s what it feels like, which is always kind of fun. He’s behaving like that because this is the way he knows how to get things done best now – just by taking over things, by acquiring things,” he laughed.
Still, John thinks Eli believes in the mission of his church.
“He might think he’s following the Lord’s will, but you can get in a lot of trouble when you start thinking that. He’s a man of faith, but there are other things to temper that now – greed, loss, and I think he’s given up on his children. He tries to do what he thinks is best for them, but I think he just knows they’re going to mess it up,” he said.
Completing the cast are Adam Devine as pseudo-hipster Kelvin, the youngest of the trio and a thorn in Jesse’s side, Edi Patterson as Judy, who is secretly living with her fiancé and dreams of escaping the Gemstone compound.
Walton Goggins as Baby Billy, a former child star who clogged and sang for Jesus. As an aging man, he has fallen on hard times and comes to the Gemstones for salvation; Cassidy Freeman as Jesse’s wife, Amber, a former journalist now devoted to the church; Tony Cavalero as ex-Satanist Keefe Chambers; Tim Baltz as Judy’s finance, BJ; and Greg Alan Williams as Martin Imari, Eli’s right-hand man.
“The Righteous Gemstones” kicks off its nine-episode season with an hour-long episode same time as the U.S. on Aug. 19 at 10 a.m., followed by half-hour episodes on subsequent Mondays, exclusively on HBO GO and HBO. The episode encores on the same day at 11 p.m. on HBO.