In a standout scene from the Season 2 of The Righteous Gemstones, Texan preacher Lyle Lissons (Eric Andre) shreds on an electric guitar while a church audience goes wild. “Pray, pray, pray!” they chant before he starts throwing invisible curveballs at members of the audience, hitting them square on with The Holy Spirit. People fall out of their chairs by the dozens. They’re knocked over like bowling pins by the force of his spiritual might. The whole time, Lyle’s wife, Lindy (Jessica Lowe), stands by in a glittering outfit fit for the Country Music Awards, doing an audience call-and-response amid laser lights.
This is a perfectly bombastic skewering of the American megachurch, the kind of moment The Righteous Gemstones needs more of. While fans of the show’s first season will likely enjoy the second, its humor too often falls into the habit of reveling in the dumb, gross, and broadly obnoxious. This wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t already have a smart premise it could take full advantage of, but it does.
Season 2 of The Righteous Gemstones begins with a flashback that reveals patriarch Dr. Eli Gemstone’s (John Goodman) shady connection to a guy named Junior (Eric Roberts). In the present day, the adult Gemstone children are thriving. Jesse (Danny McBride) and Amber (Cassidy Freeman) are starstruck by Lyle and decide to invest in his idea for a Christian-themed Florida timeshare. Meanwhile, Judy (Edi Patterson) and BJ (Tim Baltz) have finally tied the knot.
But it’s youth pastor Kelvin (Adam Devine) whose plot offers up the season’s biggest laughs.
Purportedly straight Kelvin has a knack for doing the least heterosexual thing in any given situation. This season, he and right-hand man Keefe (Tony Cavalero) start a pseudo-cult for dudes who want to get ripped for Jesus. Kelvin’s plot is largely irrelevant in the scheme of things. That makes seeing his buff guy squad devolve into petty infighting and highly ritualized displays of strength all the more entertaining. The Gemstones are mostly static characters this season, entrenched in their worst habits, but at least Kelvin and Keefe’s reality show-like adventures are reliably funny.
The Righteous Gemstones is all about the inflated egos and rampant hypocrisy of money-hungry religious leaders — undoubtedly juicy topics — yet it too often wades in the shallows of its chosen subject. The show doesn’t aim to be an incisive satire so much as an over-the-top farce. That’s fine, but glimpses of cleverness like Lyle’s Holy Spirit-tossing and a soundtrack of cheekily placed Christian songs remind that it’s is capable of doing more.
Edi Patterson is far and away the funniest cast member in The Righteous Gemstones, delivering deranged ideas with a slurring Southern drawl and the petulance of a child. Yet her character doesn’t do much this season. When Judy does joke around, it’s with bits about incest or hepatitis that are more nasty than funny. Her most uncomfortable jokes go on way too long, but in a choice that mirrors the Gemstone family dynamic itself, she’s not given much to work with. Then again, this is a show that thinks a prolonged sequence of synchronized projectile vomiting is funny. Maybe I shouldn’t expect so much.
Still, some of the show’s big comedic swings do pay off, proving that it’s possible for The Righteous Gemstones to be smart about its stupid characters. As Baby Billy Freeman, Walton Goggins decks himself out in a white wig and oversized shades and commits to the chaos of his skeezy character. His borderline child bride, sweetly clueless yet matter-of-fact Tiffany, is also hilarious thanks to Valyn Hall’s performance. Jason Schwartzman also appears as a religion-critical reporter snooping in the Gemstone family’s business. It’s a great role for him, albeit one that’s all too brief.
This season doesn’t give several of its key players enough screen time, but its biggest mistake might be underutilizing Skyler Gisondo. The actor who stole scenes in Booksmart, Santa Clarita Diet, and Licorice Pizza lent the show’s first season a core of emotional truth as Jesse’s black sheep son, Gideon. This time around, we basically just see him ride a motorcycle.
If you unreservedly loved the first season of The Righteous Gemstones, you’ll probably still enjoy Season 2. Comedy aside, the show made a strong impression with its first season’s bloody surprises, and the action-packed sophomore season continues that trend. But if you’re like me and were only half-sold to begin with, this uneven season might be your sign — from above? — to move on.
The Righteous Gemstones Season 2 premieres on HBO Max on January 9th.
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