Review: Megachurch Satire The Righteous Gemstones Tops Itself Again With a Stellar Third Season

Writer and director Danny McBride is obsessed with the trappings of narcissism. Whether it be teaching gym, vying for power in the public school system, or making millions off the backs of the faithful, his characters’ greatest weakness is always that they can’t let go of themselves. The Righteous Gemstones is filled to the brim with characters that are motivated solely by their own interests—the children of megachurch mogul Eli Gemstone (John Goodman) are all greedy, egotistical and desperate in their own ways, and this greed is usually what leads to disaster.

The Righteous Gemstones‘ second season topped its own displays of predatory preaching, greed, excess, and general stupidity quite well, so I hoped that it would outdo itself again in its third season. Indeed, Gemstones returns triumphant with very funny arcs for its major characters, great performances backing its new ones, and a heightened grasp on its filmmaking. Season three distinguishes itself by focusing on an aspect of the Gemstone empire that often goes overlooked: the people they take advantage of to get to where they are.

To see the show tackle this idea is inevitable; it would be a wasted opportunity to not stop and look back on what the Gemstones left behind. But to see it done this well is just a little miraculous. It does, at times, focus on the wrong thing—the first half of the season is focused on a plot involving a rival church family that doesn’t go anywhere until the finale—but for the most part, the focus of this season is tight.

Following Eli’s retirement, his children are (predictably) fighting amongst themselves about who controls what, all while dealing with their own issues. Jesse (McBride) tries to join an elite society alongside his father but finds that his typical shitty attitude doesn’t fly with its members; Judy (Edi Patterson) faces the consequences of recent infidelity; and Kelvin (Adam DeVine) spends all his time trying to bankrupt local sex shops, because, you know, sin or something. Gemstones‘s second season didn’t balance its plots super well, but season three manages to keep everything on target and (mostly) really funny.

The new season’s villains also outdo their predecessors significantly. The Montgomery family is full of great characters, from their dim-witted and shifty sons to the exiled matriarch and Eli’s sister May-May (Kristen Johnson) to Peter (Steve Zahn), the father and the standout amongst the season’s new characters. Zahn has always been an actor who performs best when he’s given plenty of comedic insanity to work with, and Gemstones clearly recognizes this by giving him the role of a doomsday cult leader, which he performs spectacularly. The siblings’ uncle and general leech Baby Billy (Walton Goggins) is as much a standout as ever, Goggins continuing to prove himself as one of the best and most versatile actors on television as he swaggers his way through the season with his increasingly poor wardrobe choices.

What I was really looking forward to was the “Interlude,” an episode always placed in the middle of every season that shows an event from the siblings’ childhood and always ends up being the best part of the season. “Interlude III” continues this tradition by being a dark and absolutely phenomenal forty minutes of television, one that sets up the origins of the Gemstone-Montgomery feud perfectly and showcases some fantastic performances by Zahn, Goodman, and the kid they got to play a younger Jesse (J. Gaven Wilde). (Seriously, where did they find him? His attention to detail with recreating McBride’s performance is fantastic, and it’s got to be him, because I don’t see the same level of commitment in Judy’s younger actor, Emma Shannon.)

The humor of Gemstones—and any McBride show in general—is a little flawed, with jokes that rely solely on vulgarity and gross-out lines to be funny always having been an issue, but this season is by far the funniest of the show. The season’s laughs are at their strongest when they draw as much awkwardness, pain and stupidity out of a character’s (often pathetic) situation as possible—I’m thinking of Judy’s beleaguered husband BJ (Tim Baltz), who has my favorite arc of the season by far when Jesse has to teach him how to defend his honor and gets…mixed results, to say the least. The characters’ obsessions with the things they can’t have and how those things would benefit them (and only them) if they could just have them is something Gemstones does magnificently whenever they decide to play it out.

If season one of Gemstones was about family and season two was about greed, then three is about greed and family. It’s about what happens when a family that only cares about itself gets tangled up with one that can barely afford to take care of its own, and the disaster that occurs in the meeting’s wake. With a fantastic middle point, a chaotic, conclusive, and captivating finale, and the strongest set of new characters the show has yet to produce, The Righteous Gemstones marks itself with its third season as a show that gets better with every go around, and one that’s earned the title of the year’s best comedy so far.

All seasons of The Righteous Gemstones are now available on Max.

Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support! 

Sam Layton
Sam Layton

Sam Layton is a Chicago suburb native that's trying his best to make a career out of his (probably unhealthy) habit of watching too much television. When he's not working as the Third Coast Review's current sole TV reviewer, he's making his way through college or, shockingly, watching too much television.