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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    ‘Righteous Gemstones’ with John Goodman lampoons megachurch family

    John Goodman (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

    Fans have watched John Goodman manage the goofy tribulations of the Conner family for 30 years — first on “Roseanne,” then on “The Conners.” And while he’s played everything from the King of England to a drug dealer, viewers have never seen Goodman’s latest incarnation.

    The 67-year-old actor portrays a millionaire evangelist who doesn’t see the difference between greed and grace in “The Righteous Gemstones,” premiering on HBO tonight.

    The Gemstones are a family of televangelists who reign over a megachurch and attract money like locusts in a wheat field. The show stars Goodman as the family patriarch, Danny McBride (who is also producer-writer-director) as Goodman’s elder son, Edi Patterson as his daughter, and Adam Devine as his younger son.

    Goodman says he understands the fascination for such religious adoration. “When I was a child, I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, and it was very emotionally involving,” he says.

    “Anyway, I think that’s how they got me. It was a lot of splendor and screaming up at the pulpit. And the rhythms of the speech, and it’s something you wanted very badly to believe in. That’s basically what I remember about it. That, and I would get swatted if I didn’t go.”

    McBride, who produced and starred in “Eastbound & Down” and “Vice Principals,” also shares a background as a Southern Protestant. “I grew up in a very religious household,” he says.

    “I grew up going to the Baptist church. My mom did puppet ministry growing up. She ministered the children. I spent every Sunday, every Wednesday, every Saturday night at church. And a lot of my family is still very involved with the church. My aunt is a minister in Atlanta.”

    Edi Patterson, who plays Goodman’s feisty daughter, shares a church-going background. “When I grew up — maybe not as many times a week as Danny — but we went every Sunday, for sure, and then to other things through the week, to an Episcopal church. I think even if it’s not a megachurch setting, I think religion in general is all about family and feeling like you fit in somewhere,” she says.

    “I think that’s what this show boils down to, too. It’s this family against the backdrop of this world. But it’s all about their relationships and how they’re dealing with each other.”

    Devine describes his religious upbringing as fairly conventional. “I grew up in the Catholic Church, and honestly I was always jealous of my Christian friends that would go to a megachurch, because it seemed way more fun,” he says.

    “There was rock-climbing walls and video games to play, and we just had a hard wooden bench to sit on and to kneel. So I was jealous of that. That was my experience with the megachurches.”

    While the acquisitive Gemstone family gleefully divvies up the proceeds, it’s not about skewering the faithful, insists McBride. “The goal of it is not to be like a takedown of anything,” he says.

    “ … I do feel when Hollywood decides to take on religion, I think they make the deathly mistake of lampooning people for their beliefs, which is not something I’m really interested in doing. I don’t know enough about what I believe in order to go and pass judgment on other people,” he says.

    “It’s about lampooning a hypocrite, lampooning somebody who presents themselves one way and does not act that way underneath,” says McBride.

    “And I don’t think that’s something that is just relevant to the world of religion and televangelism. I think it’s something that’s relevant in just the world we live in, that you’re constantly being exposed to people who present themselves one way on social media but act another way in person. I think hypocrisy is everywhere. And that’s ultimately, I think, what this story is about, about what happens when you don’t practice what you preach.”

    McBride, who says he gets much of his inspiration from chatter on the internet, thinks some of the most profitable megachurches stretch in their efforts to involve the multitudes.

    “Some of these megachurches, they just try to appeal to as many people as they can,” he says, “going so far in some instances that they even take down images of the cross or things that might turn people off. So, I think the Gemstones are the epitome of that. I think they’re trying to basically water everything down to not offend anyone and just to get as many people bringing money into the church as they can,” he says.

    “So when I say that we’re not taking aim at people’s faith, I’m being honest. I’m not just saying it to try to shy away from controversy. It wasn’t a goal of mine. I wanted to make something that my aunt, who’s a minister, could watch and find the humor in as well.

    “And I don’t think she’ll appreciate the language or the drug use, but I think ultimately, I’m not taking a swipe at her or what she believes in. I’m setting a story in a world that she is familiar with. And ultimately it’s a story about a family, and about a family who has grown very, very successful and have lost their way along the way. And I think that that’s relatable.”

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