"Sure, it’s a Danny McBride comedy, full of profanity, nudity, and hilariously uncouth manners," says Meghan O'Keefe. "However, it’s something more than just another ribald comedy in the legacy of Eastbound and Down, Vice Principals, and even The Foot-Fist Way. The Righteous Gemstones is an epic look at the triumph and tragedies haunting a family of famous televangelists. Each episode turns the screws on what makes these powerful people tick. We see them wrestle with faith, ambition, loyalty, and most of all, their need for love...What’s striking about The Righteous Gemstones isn’t simply how it skewers the hypocritical avarice of televangelists. Instead, it digs deep into the pain that drives each of the Gemstones...While it’s true that both Eastbound and Down and Vice Principals reckoned with deep-rooted emotions, The Righteous Gemstones still feels like a huge step forward for McBride, (Jody) Hill, and (David Gordon) Green. The series not only digs into faith, but plays with narrative form. Each episode seems to twist the kaleidoscope a bit more, feeding more information about the family’s past, or introducing a wholly different point of view on the drama. What unfolds is stunning and deep; outrageously funny and terribly tragic."
The Righteous Gemstones misses a golden opportunity to satirize evangelical piety: "Although The Righteous Gemstones does indeed partake in some rather low-hanging fruit as it mocks the megachurch milieu (where the prosperity gospel rains its flashiest blessings upon those who preach it), it occasionally hints at some stronger potential," says Hank Stuever. "Mostly the show comes off as an unfinished, vaguely Coen brothers-flavored gumbo of broad stereotypes, violent occurrences and snaky retributions among a family whose holiest instincts were long ago subsumed by their contempt for one another. The Righteous Gemstones has been poorly plunked into the wake of Succession, a far better, rotten-to-the-core family drama that precedes it. There’s only so much blunt cruelty a viewer can endure."
The show is "chockablock with c*ck, with at least one penis (real or fake) appearing in each of the first six episodes: "It’s hard to be convinced that McBride’s menagerie of manhoods is breaking any ground, but that’s not to say it doesn’t serve a higher purpose," says Inkoo Kang. "The series seems to weaponize its bouquet of willies as part of its assault on toxic masculinity and patriarchal power. After all, they’re never exactly impressive. Their exposures also tend to reveal the most pathetic or venal aspects of the male characters around them...But the show’s phallocentrism also accentuates McBride’s woman problem."
Righteous Gemstones pales when compared to Succession: "It’s tempting to say that it’s hard to invest in the Gemstones because they’re just unlikable," says Jen Chaney. "But that’s not quite the problem, and to understand why, one need look no further than Succession, which happens to be the Sunday night lead-in for The Righteous Gemstones. The Roy siblings in that portrait of corporate nepotism are just as eager to earn daddy’s approval, just as privileged, just as rude to each other, and just as disinterested in ethics as the Gemstone kids. The difference is that, even when we don’t condone what the Roys are doing — which, by the way, is all the time — we find ourselves rooting for them in spite of this fact. There’s a subtlety in the writing in Succession that’s missing from The Righteous Gemstones, even though the latter series does pull off some solid twists along the way."
Righteous Gemstones is especially geared toward Danny McBride fans: "Danny McBride makes shows that broadcast at a very specific and targeted frequency, or maybe a very specific volume," says Daniel Fienberg. "On Eastbound & Down and Vice Principals, characters rarely spoke when they could shout, never hung up a phone when they could throw that phone to the ground and smash it into a million pieces. The trick of the McBride shows is that when they aren't playing to the back row, or possibly to an entirely separate theater next door, they're marked by unexpected veins of heart, understated gems of restraint in a maelstrom. To appreciate the whole requires embracing that life is similarly composed of unreconcilable elements. Although it's created by McBride solo — regular collaborators Jody Hill and David Gordon Green contribute producing and directing credits — HBO's new comedy The Righteous Gemstones is likely to resonate with the audience that embraced his previous HBO comedies and perplex those requiring more conventionally 'likable' characters. I tend to respond to the McBride comedies in their moments of stealth humanism more than I laugh consistently at the grotesquerie."
Gemstones has more world-building to do and more sustainability to build than his previous series: "Unsurprisingly, the show is at its best when simply explaining how the many-tentacled Gemstone empire works," says Alison Herman. "A thrilling montage in the third episode walks us through the headquarters, outlining the step-by-step process through which a deeply personal activity becomes a commodity. Prayer requests are fulfilled by uniformed functionaries; charitable donations are converted into eye-popping stacks of cash. There’s plenty of irony, and therefore comedy, in the chasm between the Gemstones’ moralistic preaching and their materialistic instincts. But there’s also novelty. Gemstones operates at a much grander scale than Vice Principals’ shabby high school or Eastbound’s minor league baseball diamond. And scale means opportunity."
Righteous Gemstones isn't perfect, but it's a worth addition to McBride’s HBO oeuvre: It's "another messy, honest, exaggerated and realistic look at Southern charlatans desperate for fame, power, and success in a modern South that can too easily fall prey to their schemes," says Garett Martin. "It’s easy to see Jesse Gemstone not just showing up on Jim Bakker’s PTL Club in 1985, exhorting viewers to travel to the Heritage U.S.A. theme park in South Carolina, but brushing shoulders with Bakker today, shoveling freeze-dried corn meal into his mouth out of an oversized plastic bucket and trying to convince the so-called rubes at home that God needs them to order this gruel for their Revelation bunkers."
Why McBride changed his mind after initially writing the Gemstones as antagonists: "I knew I wanted to do something on a minister, and I started writing it and built this megachurch family that was sort of the antagonist and was blackmailing this minister," he says. "And the more I wrote about it, the more it was doing what I kind of didn’t want it to do, which is that it was all about the church, it was all about religion. I started reevaluating the story and I was having the most fun writing the Gemstones and the dynamic amongst them was what I was looking for. So shifting the story and making those guys the main characters instantly turned it into more of a show about a family, which I felt was more relatable and interesting."