‘The Righteous Gemstones’ is black comedy series that revolves around the eponymous family, who runs a chain of megachurches out of their main sanctuary, named Gemstone Salvation Center, in North Charleston, South Carolina. The Gemstone Ministries is headed by the recently widowed patriarch of the family — Dr. Eli Gemstone (John Goodman). The respected lead pastor’s three children, Jesse (Danny McBride), Judy (Edi Patterson), and Kelvin (Adam DeVine), vie for his attention and approval, as well as more responsibilities in the church.
It is a mordant satire, not necessarily on faith or even Christianity, but on the industry that has grown around it. The Gemstones represent the worst of organized religions with their greed, hunger for power, and rampant hypocrisy. But that doesn’t mean that they are without any redeeming qualities. No matter how much they bicker, the Gemstones are ultimately a family, and they come through for each other. If this complex depiction of Christianity intermingling with capitalism has made you wonder whether ‘The Righteous Gemstones’ is inspired by a story of an actual family, here’s everything you need to know!
Is The Righteous Gemstones a True Story?
No, ‘The Righteous Gemstones’ is not based on a true story. Danny McBride created the series out of a script that he himself wrote. However, the show has many elements of reality embedded in it. Megachurches do exist in real life, and as the series depicts, they are exempt from paying certain taxes in the US. Eli and his late wife Aimee-Leigh (Jennifer Nettles) started as televangelists, a phrase that refers to ministers who use radio and television to spread Christianity.
Speaking at the summer edition of the TCA press tour in 2019, McBride stated that with ‘The Righteous Gemstones,’ they wanted to do something different from traditional Hollywood fare, targeting hypocrites with their satire and not religion itself. “The goal of it is not to be a takedown of anything,” McBride explained. “It’s setting a story in a world that I haven’t seen. When Hollywood decides to take on religion, I think they make the deadly mistake of lampooning people for their beliefs, which is not something I’m interested in doing.”
The creator continued, “I would not go and pass judgement on other people. For us it’s about lampooning a hypocrite, lampooning somebody who presents themselves one way and is not that way.” McBride further added that their attempt to satirize the hypocrite is not just relevant to the realm of religion and televangelism but encompasses the world at large. He used social media as an example, where, according to him, people present themselves in a completely different manner from how they are in real life.
In an interview, McBride spoke about his experience with religion as a child. He was brought up in a Baptist home. When his parents’ divorce happened, he was in sixth grade. His father subsequently departed, leaving his mother with all the responsibilities of raising their two children. According to McBride, their church wasn’t of much help. Fellow members of the congregation were judgemental towards his mother for being a divorcee, despite the church’s teachings directly contradicting that behavior. He didn’t have a word for it as a child, but as an adult, he knows that it’s hypocrisy.
The talented actor-writer stated that he hadn’t been to a church since he was a child and had his “own relationship with God.” However, he said that he was thankful for the lessons in ethics that the church imparted to him. McBride also spoke about his experience of living in Charleston, South Carolina, and how it served as the foundation for the concept of the show. “It really wasn’t until I moved to Charleston, South Carolina about two years ago and started seeing all the churches and it brought me back to my childhood,” he recalled in an interview with GQ magazine.
Adding to it, McBride further clarified, “It got me curious about, what is church like now? How is it different from when I was a kid and I went? 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.”
While creating various characters, McBride infused them with aspects of his own personality and those around him. For instance, his real-life mother used to do puppet ministry, just like Aimee-Leigh in the show. He also wanted to make a show in which his aunt, who is a minister in Atlanta, Georgia, “could watch and find humor.” However, he admitted to the Chicago Tribune, “I don’t think she’ll appreciate the language or the drug use.”
The ‘Tropic Thunder’ actor maintained that while some of the things depicted in the series are inspired by what they found during their research, most of it is from the imagination of him and his collaborators. “Ultimately, these characters and stuff are completely from our own, my own imagination,” he said in a different interview. “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.” Clearly, ‘The Righteous Gemstones’ is not based on a true story, but it’s perfectly understandable if a viewer thinks it is.
Read More: Where Is The Righteous Gemstones Filmed?