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The Righteous Gemstones Review: A Hilariously Dark HBO Comedy

Season 1, Episode 1
(Image credit: Fred Norris/HBO)

In The Righteous Gemstones, Danny McBride (one of HBO's most reliable comedic actors), is at it again. This time, the man who's donned minor league athlete Kenny Powers' mullet and vice principal Neal Gamby's sweater-vest is taking on an industry even more ripe for satire: America's for-profit megachurches.

McBride isn't alone, though, as John Goodman (The Big Lebowski, Roseanne) and Adam DeVine (Workaholics, Pitch Perfect) join him to bless this industry with hilarious mockery. And having attended a preview screening of The Righteous Gemstones' premiere episode, I can say with confidence that this show is definitely a reason to keep your HBO subscription. 

When does The Righteous Gemstones premiere on HBO?

The Gemstone family antics begin this Sunday, August 18 at 10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific. Its premiere episode is an hour-long, but subsequent episodes run 30 minutes a piece.

Season 1, Episode 1

(Image credit: Fred Norris/HBO)

The Righteous Gemstones Premiere Review

Before I get to my thoughts about the episode, I'll state the obvious: beyond this point lie spoilers. I do my best to not tell the whole story, and save some huge plot points for your enjoyment.

Much like most Danny McBride shows, The Righteous Gemstones finds laughter in the dark nooks of the misdeeds performed by half-wits with too much power. It's an equation that's proven successful since his breakthrough performance in The Foot Fist Way, and will continue far after Gemstones ends.

McBride stars as Jesse Gemstone, son of Eli Gemstone (Goodman), the patriarch of a televangelist family whose work is a seedy melange charity and greed. Goodman's early performance is a bit restrained, but I figure his character will have a simmering rage that builds through the series.

Season 1, Episode 1

(Image credit: Fred Norris/HBO)

While Eli's wife is no longer on the mortal coil (the cause of death is notably unsaid), Jesse's surrounded by his family, led by Amber (Cassidy Freeman) his loving — but notably naive — wife, and sons Pontius and Abraham. Oh, and he's also got a third child, Gideon, whose absence is a burden that Jesse is still sensitive about.

Eli might favor Jesse, but his other children Kelvin (DeVine) and Judy (Edi Patterson) despise the Jesse. While Kelvin's anger is rooted in envy over who's the better minister, Judy's frustration stems from the Gemstone family's rampant sexism. In one of the more memorable moments from the premiere, we see a shocking amount of subservience that had me chuckling at how depressing it got.

The ties that bind these relationships soon become taut, as Jesse's past catches up with him. His problem is simple: thugs threaten him with the release of a seedy video that would expose his less-than family friendly antics. While the clip itself is only slightly humorous, I found myself laughing until it hurt through repetition and other characters' reactions.

Season 1, Episode 1

(Image credit: Fred Norris/HBO)

Soon, everything goes pear-shaped. Everyone's yelling at each other. Nobody's happy, except the audience, which is likely cackling at the buffoonery. 

The Righteous Gemstones premiere episode's hour-long length gives it time for proper world-building, teasing out future characters. Both Walton Goggins and Dermot Mulroney appear to be serious scene-chewers for the full season, which IMDb suggests will be an 8 episode run.