The latest season of The Righteous Gemstones is there for you if you have a bleeding, Succession-sized hole in your heart. That is, if that bleeding heart hole is also open to deeply absurd, crass, glorious mega-church comedy. (One could perhaps risk saying that this version of family-heir theatrics is even more enjoyable, but I do not wish to upset the primetime television crew).
In America, everything is bigger and louder — churches included. The Gemstone family continues their vague Southern preaching from their mega-stadiums and livestreams. Their endless encouragement around “tithing” continues to fund the huge estates and monster trucks that multiple generations of spoiled Gemstones live in and careen around on.
As the Gemstone kids — Jesse (Danny McBride), Judy (Edi Patterson), and Kelvin (Adam DeVine) — attempt to take over their church while their father, Eli (John Goodman), edges toward early retirement, matters are a wreck within the church. Little of the kids’ time is spent on meaningful preaching or Christian practices (but has that ever been a value of the greedy Gemstones?), and much of their time is spent on particularly useless philanthropic ventures — things like porn and sex shop “busting” that helps no one and means nothing, or overpriced and useless marriage counseling packages, or a “rock star” song-and-dance tour.
The Righteous Gemstones occasionally retreads the same ground it has before this season, especially regarding the Gemstone patriarch, Eli. Eli’s three kids are in a constant back and forth, hot and cold relationship with him, and Eli — both in present and in flashback — is near constantly paying people off and calling it “kindness.” We sometimes risk learning nothing new about Eli as he moves through the same seasonal cycles.
But this newest season feels majorly like Judy Gemstone’s in many senses. While the usual flashbacks shade in blank spots of everyone’s pasts, Judy’s past and present arcs — as an only daughter, as a not just flawed but totally out-of-touch immature horndog of a woman — are total show-stealers. This spotlight is helped greatly by Patterson’s pitch-perfect and certifiably insane performance. The character Judy Gemstone may follow in the footsteps of a rich history of unlikable and strange women characters on sitcoms attempting to fit into their mostly male sitcom groups, but Judy Gemstone has a whole new flavor — equal parts totally childish and totally crass.
The latest season of Gemstones seems particularly invested in the way that everyone involved in the process of turning Christianity into a money making racket is entrenched in conservatism — and thus, inherently have a certain disinterest in actually helping others. For the Gemstones, this conservatism is a sort of hands-off-my-money-and-guns libertarianism, down to the secret society that a few of the Gemstone men join to justify their wielding guns (of which there are many wielded this season). For the Gemstones’ villain-of-the-season foes, their “weird cousins” the Montgomeries, Christian conservatism comes in the form of doomerism and a rejection of video games, music, movies, or television — to avoid any “tainting” from mainstream culture. Gemstones suggests that neither of these paths are really the loving ones, let alone the Christian ones, and instead often plant the seeds of deeply harmful and selfish lifestyles.
All these so-called good Christians seem, mainly, connected by their frequently useless escapades into helping themselves, making more money, and signaling philanthropy without enacting any actual change. They waste time and resources on preparation for apocalypses that aren’t coming, buying silences, Family Feud type Bible game shows, and useless moral judgment calls that are never applied to their own families. Like so much good satirical comedy, Gemstones decides to laugh instead of cry about the hypocrisy it deals in, taking Evangelical racketeering out at the knees with a larger-than-life, ridiculous, nasty satirical bite.