The Gemstone family of evangelists finds comfort in The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.
Not the traditional Holy Trinity, mind you. Those are the names of their matching private jets as depicted in the dark comedy “The Righteous Gemstones” (10 p.m. Sunday, HBO).
From the warped mind of Danny McBride, who helped deliver the HBO comedies “Eastbound & Down” and “Vice Principals,” comes this scathing look not at religion, but at some of the despicable people it’s been known to attract.
McBride, who wrote and directed Sunday’s premiere, stars as Jesse Gemstone, the Conway Twitty-looking oldest child of evangelical superstar Eli Gemstone (John Goodman).
They share a family compound stocked with mansions, a theme park and a pistol range — plus those jets and matching Range Rovers — with Jesse’s fauxhawked little brother, Kelvin (Adam Devine), whose church clothes resemble something a professional wrestler would wear to an arraignment.
Then there’s Jesse’s oft-neglected sister, Judy (Edi Patterson), who’s left out of everything from the ministry to the family’s “24 Hours of Saved Souls” baptism marathon in China, where the male Gemstones take over a wave pool for a baptismal font. Judy is so desperate to be included, when Eli smacks his sons around for being disrespectful, she begs, “Daddy, slap me, too!”
That status quo is upended, though, by a blackmail scheme that could cost the Gemstones everything, from their arena-sized sanctuary with its count room that would rival that of any casino, to their Bible heroes wax museum and Holy Grounds coffee shops.
Jesse’s self-absorbed bumblings should feel familiar to McBride’s fans, as it isn’t long before his very thin veneer gives way to expose his absurd levels of overconfidence and never-ending reserves of jealousy.
“Maybe we should go pray with them. I bet they could use some Jesus,” his see-no-evil wife, Amber (Cassidy Freeman), suggests when two of their friends and parishioners experience marital problems. “I mean, if you wanna get all involved,” Jesse shrugs. “I mean, I don’t really see how it’s our business.”
It’s little wonder his oldest son, Gideon, ran off to Hollywood to become a stuntman, while Jesse’s middle son, Pontius, can’t stand his father.
Unlike “Eastbound & Down,” which focused almost entirely upon the descent of once-prominent relief pitcher Kenny Powers and featured McBride’s depraved lunacy in almost every scene, “The Righteous Gemstones” is much more of an ensemble. Whether it’s Devine’s Kelvin trying to prove the value of youth pastors and win back a lost soul with a trampoline party or the great Goodman’s Eli tapping into the potential power of a church located inside a mall where there used to be a Sears, the supporting cast is more than capable of holding up its end of the shenanigans.
By the time McBride’s “Vice Principals” co-star Walton Goggins turns up as Eli’s estranged brother-in-law, the charismatic former child star still known as Baby Billy on the revival circuit, the whole thing becomes a sort of free-for-all for character actors.
The comedy is foul-mouthed and surprising — and crammed full of far more full-frontal male nudity than it would suggest.
It’s also, most assuredly, a diamond in the rough.