It should be obvious to say that religion is not a bad thing. It has just been used by bad people. None have been as bad as the Bible thumping televangelists who use their money to live richer than the whole congregation, sin on the regular, and all the other acts documented in the podcast Swindled by A Concerned Citizen. This show is what life must have been like for the walking example of everything classic Panic! At the Disco hated.
The series follows the Gemstone family, a group of preachers and televangelists who get embroiled in a scheme when a video of one of the pastors doing drugs so hookers comes out and they must find ways to cover it up while staying holy (in the Holy City I might add).
The show is chock full of goodness. The cast and characters are just such endearing losers and jerks. From John Goodman’s Eli, the patriarch, to even Baby Billy Freeman played by Walton Goggins. Each member of the Gemstone family feels full realized with their strengths and many, many crippling flaws. Those lead to some incredibly funny, tragic, and heartfelt moments to transpire completely naturally.
It would be incredibly satisfying to break down every characters arc and journey. Go into detail on how incredibly funny and tragic Baby Billy is, or desperate and controlling Jesse Gemstone is and how that changes. It would be great, but you should watch the show. That kind of analysis is for longer think pieces. Here I’m just saying it’s good.
I will also say that the characters are all here to reflect the themes and ideas the show has on its mind. It tackles corruption, fraud, deceit, feminism’s role in the family, and redemption over its 9 episodes. These play out through a series of one off episodes, constant character interactions, and season long story arcs. The Gemstones and their friends get tested and fail just about all of them, but still keep going, and want to reach to be better people.
Sure, the middle daughter Judy is a deceitful, selfish, annoying, cloying, clinging dirt bag. But she is also neglected, never given the proper attention, needs guidance, and does want to help out in the end.
The ideas this show has about modern Christians is interesting. The characters are incredibly open to homosexuality and bisexuality, but still against abortion. They feel that the women don’t need to be involved in “mans work,” but can be a partner in serving the lord and helping people. The best example is in the first episode when, first born son, Jesse is asked by his wife if she can speak for herself in order to defend herself from the accusation they aren’t allowed to be independent. It’s cutting and funny.
All of the interplay is what keeps the show alive. It does dip when it tackles the main plots of the series, but survives it through sheer force of chemistry and dialogue. Some lines will just be seared into my brain forever. It can be just so, so clever about its jokes, and have the jokes the characters make tell us something about them as people.
It is a great show with great production values. The Gemstone ranch, which is not commented on directly, but is put in our minds to ask if a preacher should have that, looks wonderful. They have an amusement park, zoo, gun range, and four houses. It’s wonderfully ridiculous and poignant. The houses are immaculate, the mega churches we see look huge and oddly familiar. In fact so many locations feel like I am at home…
(One Google Search Later)
Yeah, so this show was shot 20 minutes from my house. It was filmed and takes place in Charleston, SC. This feels special, and why I got a classic southern drama vibe from it. The mall the church is in is one I go to every day. The mega church we see is a convention center I go to all the time. Heck many of the city locations I can pick out on a map. It is weird. Is this how New Yorker or Vancouverians (is that right? I want that to be right) feel all the time? I want more of this show because it feels like exactly like something that would happen here (not literally, but you get the point). It was also a strange experience to watch the show and not think of how those sets are not there in real life. It’s just so strange and took me out in a fun, Where’s Waldo sort of way. It did not take away from the characters though.
In many of the televangelist corruption stories they end with the preacher/pastor (is it obvious I need to go to church?) going to jail, getting out, saying he’s changed, and going back to their same old ways. That is not very Christian at all. This show looks to solve that. It looks and says that these characters are not those people. They do believe in the Bible and Jesus, and want to help. They are real Christians who will follow the Bible and not swindle their flock out of their money. They want to use it to help all they can.
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