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amy-leigh-gemstone.jpg

Aimee-Leigh Is Misbehavin' on 'The Righteous Gemstones'

By Chris Revelle | TV | July 10, 2023 |

By Chris Revelle | TV | July 10, 2023 |


amy-leigh-gemstone.jpg

Rejoice, fellow brethren, for The Righteous Gemstones has returned! The third season of Danny McBride’s inventively raunchy romp is going strong and we have something to take The Idol’s place as Sunday night television. Gibbering pablum about a woman fomenting her own abuse when maybe a creativity workshop would’ve done the trick was fun from a certain morbidly curious angle, but we can banish edgelord Sam Levinson back to the kiddie table because the Gemstone family circus is back in town. A comedy about a family of bloated capitalistic ticks that make a tacky business of Christianity contains more incisive commentary in its very premise than The Idol could conjure in five episodes. It’s great when there’s an actual point to all the ugly behavior and The Righteous Gemstones finds theirs in the central titular family. The Gemstones are a slimy lot of liars, cheats, and hypocrites to a colorful, outlandish degree that it can be hard to believe they came from so pure a presence as their mother Aimee-Leigh.

As played by country star Jennifer Nettles, Aimee-Leigh Gemstone is warmth, generosity, and light. We see her primarily in images or in statuary on the Gemstone compound, but we also get to see her in action. Every season so far has had a mid-season episode titled “Interlude” that not only takes us back to a moment in the family’s past to explore the roots of their dysfunction but allows us to see what the Gemstone matriarch was like when she was alive. With a splendid mane of late-80s curls and big-framed glasses, Nettles plays Aimee-Leigh as a saint among spiritual lepers, guiding, cajoling, and gently chastising her wayward husband and children. The way she’s regarded with such supreme and total deference only emphasizes her difference from her family: they give into base and venal desires, but she remains high-minded and pious. It felt at times a bit much to believe; how was Aimee-Leigh so spotless? How did she avoid descending to the same low games as her kin? Last night’s episode titled “Interlude III” gives us a long-awaited answer: she didn’t avoid it at all.

This episode takes us back to the halcyon days of the late 1990s. “Y2k” is on everyone’s panicked lips and no one knows what’ll happen once the year 2000 rolls in. Will all computers everywhere just give up and die? Will all the systems we take for granted collapse? Will we have to fight rabid dogs in the street for batteries and soap? Hindsight makes it all seem pretty silly, but that fear was real. So real that the Gemstones decide to cash in. Using their televangelist programming, Eli and Aimee-Leigh Gemstone sell doomsday prepper-style survivalist buckets of freeze-dried soup and the like. Lest you think the Gemstones have lost their minds the same way just about everyone did at that time, the show makes it very clear that neither Eli nor Aimee-Leigh believe there’s really a chance of a doomsday for which to buy a survivalist bucket. It feels like a moment of no return watching Aimee-Leigh, a seeming bastion of pure intentions and altruism up to this point, sell those buckets anyway. “If I knew I could care for my family in an uncertain and terrifying time with just a bucket or two, well, I would be running to my pocketbook,” she says in a perfectly styled infomercial. What a wonderfully jarring moment to see the candidate for sainthood Aimee-Leigh engage in the same low-dealing scam artistry as the rest of her family.

This alone would’ve been a striking departure for how Aimee-Leigh is characterized, but The Righteous Gemstones knows just how to twist the knife. Tying this into the season’s central drama involving the estranged Montgomery family, we see how and why the Montgomeries fell on times hard enough to drive May-May to attack Aimee-Leigh with a wrench: the Gemstones sold their buckets of apocalyptic snake oil to them. Peter bought $25,000 worth of bunker fare and left his family destitute. The Montgomeries were just more fools fed into the Gemstone’s Christian grift mill. When Aimee-Leigh pleads with May-May to let her help them, we see a yet-uglier side to Aimee-Leigh. It’s not enough that she participated in fooling members of her own family to make easy money, she also wants to be seen as a savior. Aimee-Leigh wants that money just as much as Eli does, but she engages in a hypocritical pantomime of charity and kindness. This could be an attempt to appear noble or assuage her guilt for fleecing family, but I think it’s a bit of both. Finally, this character gets some darker shading.

As kooky and heightened The Righteous Gemstones is as a show, it’s consistently revolved around familial drama with recognizable conflicts. It’s a show with over-the-top style, but a human heart. As impossibly perfect as Aimee-Leigh has been, she’s a more human character for this development. The show is a bombastic satire of American capitalism and how it intersects with religion, but it’s also about the Gemstones themselves. Their drama drives the show forward, so allowing Aimee-Leigh to get in on the shady action opens up new directions for this show. It takes what could be a wig-and-accent show featuring Kristen Johnston and Steve Zahn goofing it up and turns it into something layered and emotional. The conflict of Gemstone vs Montgomery is a more personal and internal conflict than what the Gemstones have experienced before. Instead of fighting off rivals that threaten their level of success, the Gemstones are fighting their own family and the consequences of their past. Instead of Jesse, Kelvin, or Judy blundering into a mistake, it’s their revered and saintly parents’ mistake that haunts them. Last season grappled with the darker tones of Eli’s past as a wrestler and criminal and in the third season’s, it’s Aimee-Leigh’s turn. It’ll be messy, it’ll be dramatic, and it’ll be bonkers, but it’ll finally let us see Aimee-Leigh get up to some misbehavin’.

Chris Revelle shouts into the media void with his pals on Why Did We Watch This?