With its first season, the Danny McBride-created The Righteous Gemstones parodied the world of televangelists, ludicrous megachurches, and the dirty business of success in the name of The Lord. As we reunite with the Gemstone family in the show’s sophomore season, they have somehow grown even mightier, as Eli Gemstone (John Goodman) and his three spoiled children (McBride, Adam DeVine, Edi Patterson) debut their own streaming service, GODD (Gemstones on Digital Demand), as their empire continues to grow through the faith and money of their followers. Yet in this second season, McBride and his team dig deeper into this absurd family, its history, but also the bond between parents and children — and lack thereof — that could bring such people into the world. In Season 2, McBride has turned The Righteous Gemstones into the Christian Succession, and is all the better for it.
Almost every episode of The Righteous Gemstones, fittingly, takes its title from a Bible verse, but this entire season could be summarized by Ezekiel 18:20: “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” And who has tried to prove themselves to be righteous more than the Gemstones? Hell, it’s even in the title.
As Season 2 begins, we see the various Gemstones children trying to lead in their own ways. Jesse (McBride) is planning his move as the future leader of the church, while Jesse and his wife Amber (Cassidy Freeman) also strike up a friendship with the Lissons (Eric André and Jessica Lowe), a Texan televangelist couple who want to partner with the Gemstones on a Christian timeshare in Florida called Zion’s Landing. Kelvin (DeVine) is leading Kelvin’s God Squad, a group of muscle men who lift weights, praise God, and live in Kelvin’s yard. Judy (Patterson) is becoming an integral performer during the Gemstones’ Sunday services, and recently married BJ (Tim Baltz) at Disney World.
Yet this is all secondary to Eli, who takes the spotlight in Season 2. The season starts by looking into Eli’s past in the 1960s Memphis wrestling circuit. Known as the “Manic Kid,” Eli moved up from wrestler to enforcer, where he broke thumbs alongside his boss’ son, Junior. In the present day, Junior (Eric Roberts) has come to pay a visit to Eli, reminding the paterfamilias of his seedy beginnings, which could be a problem for his future, as a reporter (Jason Schwartzman) is snooping around, bringing down the problematic leaders of other major churches.
McBride has always excelled at crafting scumbag characters that are still sympathetic, from Eastbound & Down’s Kenny Powers, all the way back to Fred Simmons in The Foot Fist Way, but he’s completely outdone himself with The Righteous Gemstones. Season 2 is largely about the relationship between parents and children, how abandonment, misplaced affection, and lack of trust can affect future generations. The Righteous Gemstones never tries to make this family’s questionable choices right, but more importantly, tries to make it clear why these characters could become this way. This is especially true with the relationship between Eli and Junior, and both Goodman and Roberts do a fantastic job of presenting flawed characters with unruly pasts trying their best to learn from their mistakes.
Even as The Righteous Gemstones draws comparisons between faith-as-business and actual crime families, the series shows how important leadership is for followers and family. Season 2 shows four generations of the Gemstones and how the varying levels of compassion and love have altered this family. The Righteous Gemstones presents each member of this family finding their own way to lead, and in doing so, growing up. Or, at least growing up as much as they can.
But The Righteous Gemstones does all of this in a show that is inherently funny in every scene, whether through an ingenious line reading by Patterson, a hilarious directing choice by David Gordon Green, Jody Hill, or McBride, or by costuming Baltz in a romper with a cummerbund. The Righteous Gemstones has one of the greatest ensembles in comedic television right now, with each character presenting new ways to laugh alongside the insanity on screen. Even the minor details are inventive, like a gravy dispenser at Fancy Nancy’s — Gemstones’ take on Chic-Fil-A — or the ridiculous posters for BJ’s appropriately bizarre baptism. Even when The Righteous Gemstones is presenting tragic or moving moments, which happens more than one would expect, the show still does it with levity.
This is especially the case with the story of Baby Billy (the always tremendous Walton Goggins), who is reckoning with the family he left behind as he prepares for his new child with Tiffany (a scene-stealing Valyn Hall in a series full of scene-stealers). Goggins is always playing Baby Billy as the most preposterous of televangelists, but the core of his story this season is startlingly tragic. Late in Season 2, one particular scene in which Billy must come face-to-face with his past ends up being both one of the funniest and most heartbreaking scenes of the entire series. The fact that The Righteous Gemstones can balance both elements so remarkably well is a testament to McBride, Hill, Green, and the rest of the team, and how much they’ve grown since their previous shows of Eastbound & Down and Vice Principals.
This new season of The Righteous Gemstones is the first great comedy show of 2022, a brilliant combination of insanity and surprising heart. Even though McBride has proven his excellence in television before, Season 2 of The Righteous Gemstones feels like a step above what he’s already done, a season that seems just as inspired by Coen Brothers films like Fargo and The Hudsucker Proxy as it is by people like Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker. With this new season, The Righteous Gemstones has shown that the greatest petty, backstabbing, and farcical family on HBO might not be the Roys; it could be the Gemstones.
The Righteous Gemstones premieres on January 9 on HBO and HBO Max, with new episodes debuting on Sundays.