‘The Righteous Gemstones’ Has the Most Underrated Ensemble Cast on Television

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The Righteous Gemstones is the third show Danny McBride has created for HBO (after Eastbound & Down and Vice Principals) and for many, it’s still an acquired taste. Unabashedly goofy and with a scat sense of humor—last season had a long-gestating subplot involving ninja bikers and opened with a lengthy sequence of Jesse Gemstone describing all the places his pubescent son had been ejaculating—it’s not the kind of subdued political satire that usually generates thinkpieces. Which is a little ironic, considering Gemstones is almost as much a roman-a-clef about the Falwell family as Succession, the undisputed champion of thinkpiece television, is about the Murdochs.

Setting aside that parallel, Gemstones has, mostly in keeping with McBride’s previous shows, made “too muchness” something of a house style. As soon as one of the zanier subplots begins to inspire disinterest, a perfectly deployed, singularly strange one-liner is there to snap you back to attention—and make you miss the next lines from laughing too hard.

The Righteous Gemstones is Danny McBride’s first solo creator credit, without his fellow “North Carolina Mafia” members, the UNC School of the Arts grads with whom he frequently collaborates, including Jody Hill, Ben Best, and David Gordon Green). Yet if forced to choose just one transcendent aspect of the team’s singular oeuvre that The Righteous Gemstones most embodies, it’s their flair for casting, and the offbeat actors they nurture.

Eastbound & Down brought us Steve Little, Katy Mixon, and Elizabeth De Razzo, all criminally underused across television since then. Righteous Gemstones brings back Walton Goggins back to the fold from Vice Principals, (arguably the platonic ideal of a North Carolina Mafia show cast member, whose career has soared to greater heights, and far more in the direction of comedy, partly on the strength of their shows), squeezing him in alongside classic character actors like John Goodman and Eric Roberts (a season 2 addition) and comedic up and comers like Adam Devine and Skyler Gisondo. What makes Gemstones, though, isn’t the familiar faces. It’s the new(er) ones.

Playing a far-too-good-for-the-material version of Ozzy Osbourne in 2019’s rightfully underseen The Dirt, Tony Cavalero’s list of credits is otherwise full of productions that sound fake. In Gemstones, Cavalero gets maybe his ideal showcase, playing Keefe, a former Satanist-turned-devoted Smithers to Adam Devine’s homoerotic aspiring masculinity guru, Kelvin Gemstone. Maybe it’s partly because everyone around him tends to shout that Cavalero’s soft-spoken take on Keefe stands out. But he’s a beefcake (his dad-bod an inseparable part of the character) with the dramatic deftness of a ballerina, drawing laughs with a subtle curl of the mouth or a darting eye. McBride and company are unmatched at taking actors who don’t seem to fit any type and letting them lean into whatever makes them strange.

Edi Patterson is giving one of TV’s great performances on The Righteous Gemstones.Courtesy of Jake Giles Netter for HBO.

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‘The Righteous Gemstones’ Has the Most Underrated Ensemble Cast on Television

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