Deviance, greed and charitable work? Danny McBride talks about his new televangelist family in 'The Righteous Gemstones'

Danny McBride in 'The Righteous Gemstones.' (Photo supplied: Showmax)
Danny McBride in 'The Righteous Gemstones.' (Photo supplied: Showmax)

Cape Town - New HBO comedy The Righteous Gemstones tells the story of a world-famous televangelist family with a long tradition of deviance, greed and charitable work – all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Creator Danny McBride (Vice Principals, Eastbound & Down) stars as Jesse, the eldest of three grown Gemstone offspring, who looks to lead in his father’s footsteps but finds his past sins jeopardising the family ministry.

Golden Globe winner John Goodman (Roseanne, 10 Cloverfield Lane) stars as televangelist Eli Gemstone, alongside Teen Choice and MTV Movie Awards winner Adam DeVine (Pitch Perfect, Modern Family) and Emmy nominee Walton Goggins (Justified).

The show which is now streaming first on Showmax and was recently renewed for a second season. The hit comedy currently has an 8.1/10 rating on IMDb and an 81% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  

We caught up with Danny, who also writes and directs, to find out more about the series.

What inspired you to create the show?

This idea of taking a megachurch family and portraying them almost like a mob family, there was something there that felt rich comedically. I wanted to do an ensemble with a lot of characters and a lot of ways in for the audience. So I started visualising this family, and they felt real to me pretty quickly. I grew up in a really religious household: I went to a Baptist church as a kid, my parents were involved in the church, and my aunt is now a minister in a church.

They are very different shows, but do you see any similarities between the characters here and the ones you created for series like Eastbound & Down and Vice Principals?

Yes, the commonality is they’re characters that I don’t think traditionally would be followed as the main character in a story - maybe because of their morals or how they think or what they believe, which are always askew from what you would expect in a lead character.

Like in Eastbound & Down, it feels like you should be following a successful pitcher who returns to his hometown as a hero, and instead, it’s a successful pitcher who returns to his hometown as a villain. And with Vice Principals, it’s a riff on the buddy comedy, but with the buddies working together on something that’s horrible. It’s always about starting with a character that is left of centre - I think that gives you a better insight into the world and you don’t have to follow clichés or tropes.

Adam Devine, Danny McBride and John Goodman in 'Th

Why did the world of organised religion feel like fertile ground for a comedy?

A lot of times when I’ve seen comedies set in the religious world, I personally would feel like they weren’t that funny. I feel like it’s because the people making them have such a disdain for religion and for people of faith; it felt like you’re just clowning people based on their beliefs, which feels cheap to me. So it felt like I hadn’t seen a good representation of this before, and like I could craft something that would be a little more authentic.

So the show isn’t intended to be anti-religious?

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?" And ultimately, this is not about trying to target people’s faith and what they believe in - 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 McBride in 'The Righteous Gemstones.' (Photo

The show starts out looking like a satire but then morphs into more of a family drama. Were you trying to play with audience expectations?

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. 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.

Adam Devine, Edi Patterson and Danny McBride in 'T

And somehow we end up rooting for these guys. Is that your goal?

With all these guys, the idea is never to condone what they’re doing or to root for somebody who’s a son of a bitch. But our world could just use more empathy at the end of the day - just understanding that we’re all more similar than we’re told.

If you can watch someone like Jesse and think he’s a fool and a crook, but there are insecurities and issues there that you might deal with in your own life as well, it helps people see that, ultimately, we’re all wounded and trying to do our best.


Watch The Righteous Gemstones now on Showmax.

Compiled by Leandra Engelbrecht.

(Photos supplied: Showmax)

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