A televangelist family doesn’t have a prayer in ‘The Righteous Gemstones’

‘The Righteous Gemstones’ – Ministry of broken people

Danny McBride stars in “The Righteous Gemstones,” premiering Sunday on HBO.

On the surface, the Gemstones are a family of televangelists who have been doing God’s work for two generations and are beloved by millions. But beneath it, they all suffer from the very human frailties of lust, envy and greed.

And that’s what gets them in trouble in “The Righteous Gemstones,” a half-hour comedy series from Danny McBride (“Eastbound & Down,” “Vice Principals”) that premieres Sunday, Aug. 18, on HBO. Here, McBride stars as Jesse Gemstone, the oldest child and heir apparent to the Gemstone empire run by father Eli (John Goodman, “The Conners”), a man with solid business sense who has been left broken by the death of his dear wife Aimee-Leigh (country artist Jennifer Nettles).

Also figuring into ministry’s equation are youngest child Kelvin (Adam Devine, “Pitch Perfect”), a pseudo hipster and persistent thorn in Jesse’s side; and Judy (Edi Patterson, “Vice Principals”), who secretly lives with her fiancé and dreams of escaping the family compound.

But those problems are minute compared to what surfaces in the premiere episode – a video showing Jesse with hookers and others in various states of undress partaking in drugs and pleasures of the flesh. And when blackmailers demand payment to keep the video from going public, Jesse and his siblings set about trying to make the whole thing go away, keeping the ministry’s name clear and preventing Dad from finding out, lest Jesse lose what he sees as his birthright.

Adam Devine, Danny McBride, John Goodman and Edi Patterson (from left) star in “The Righteous Gemstones,” premiering Sunday on HBO.

Of course, that doesn’t go too well.

“I think he sort of imagines that one day this will all be his,” McBride explains, “but I think he sort of lacks the moral compass for it. And he’s struggling with the idea that he might be like handed the kingdom that he’s not really cut out to lead.”

It turns out he’s not a great leader in his own home either. He’s unfaithful to his devoted wife Amber (Cassidy Freeman, “Longmire”), a former journalist, and his kids hate him. He is also something of a kid himself, bickering childishly with his siblings and not comporting himself as someone who seeks great responsibility and to do the Lord’s work.

As for Eli, he is just an empty shell of a man dealing with his wife’s death the only way he knows how – by throwing himself into the business.

“That’s the only thing he had and he doesn’t really do that very well,” Goodman says. “He’s pretty shattered. Yeah, he’s kind of I guess looking at his kids more to hopefully take over but I don’t think he really believes that. … It basically comes down to focusing on a career and the church instead of the children and the seeds of that bear bitter fruit.”

George Dickie

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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