Danny McBride’s new HBO comedy, The Righteous Gemstones, centers around a televangelist family corrupted by deviance and greed, which is exactly the kind of juicy, scandal-ripe premise you might think is based on a true story. The short answer is that it’s not. But McBride did draw from his own life when crafting the show.
In a recent interview with GQ, McBride reflected on his southern Baptist upbringing and how it informed the story. He said that as a kid, he went to church frequently, but after his mom got divorced and his dad left, their church alienated her. This “left a bad taste” in his mouth, and he stopped going. But after he moved to Charleston, South Carolina about two years ago, he started to revisit his childhood and think about how he might write his background into a show.
“[S]eeing all the churches … it brought me back to my childhood. It got me curious about, what is church like now? How is it different from when I was a kid and I went?” he told the magazine. “That’s when I started reading about these megachurches and seeing how totally different church is now. And then the more I read about these different pastors, it just felt like it was a world that sort of would be an interesting place to set a story like this.”
Certainly, the world of televangelism has a checkered history, and several reviewers have compared the Gemstone family to the infamous Bakkers, who built a Christian TV empire throughout the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s before a series of sex and financial scandals dismantled it. But while McBride told GQ he did visit several megachurches and talk to pastors there while working on the series, he clarified during the Television Critics Association tour in June that Righteous Gemstones isn’t meant to skewer religion; it’s simply exploring some of the hypocrisy that’s baked into it.
“The goal isn’t to be a takedown of anything. When Hollywood takes on religion, they make the mistake of lampooning one’s beliefs,” he said, per Deadline. “For us, it’s about lampooning hypocrites people who present themselves in one way, an act differently in another. I don’t think that’s something that’s relevant [only] to the world of religion and televangelism but the world we live in: people who present themselves one way on social media and present themselves in another way.”
Overall, McBride has made clear that though he drew inspiration from real-life, The Righteous Gemstones is a satire through and through, and the story is not based on any real church or family. “Ultimately, these characters and stuff are completely from our own, my own imagination,” he told Polygon. “They’re not really based on anyone in particular. It was more or less headlines or things that I was seeing that people would get away with.”
Instead, the show is just a new avenue for McBridge to apply his signature brand of irreverent, subversive humor even if sometimes, the story gets awfully close to mirroring real life.
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