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The Righteous Gemstones-tim baltz-edi patterson.jpg

‘The Righteous Gemstones’ Elevates Raunch to an Art Form

By Kaleena Rivera | TV | August 1, 2023 |

By Kaleena Rivera | TV | August 1, 2023 |


The Righteous Gemstones-tim baltz-edi patterson.jpg

(spoilers for season three of The Righteous Gemstones)

Raunch is surprisingly difficult to do well. Though it’s typically viewed as the preferred humor of kids, specifically boys, it’s a subgenre that’s often dismissed offhand despite its cyclical nature, reemerging every decade or so like a media cicada. It’s unsurprising when one looks over the course of history; the purveyors of modern-day puritanism—who’ve most recently directed their ire at what amounts to roughly a minute and a half of the sprawling three hours of Oppenheimer— would probably be shocked to learn about the assortment of defecating monks and scrawled depictions of orgies found throughout medieval texts. Proof that we’ve come a long way as a species abounds, from Virgil penning “thus one journeys to the stars” (“sic itur ad astra”) around 30 BC to Yuri Gagarin’s historic 1961 space launch, but one thing is eternal: butts, penises, and sex overall, will always be funny.

However, just because something has an inherent quality doesn’t mean one merely has to wield it for its effects to be felt; many a lover have been left thoroughly unsatisfied by a well-endowed man because he never bothered to learn the actual skills involved in the art of sexual pleasure, after all. Humor operates the same way. A penis or a butt by itself doesn’t offer much on its own aside from maybe brief bemusement (or used in the wrong context, alarm). Like every great artist, Danny McBride is a master of his chosen medium, brandishing dicks like de Kooning with a paint brush. In its first season, The Righteous Gemstones came out the gate with penises galore, as well as plenty of raunch of the verbal variety, mostly delivered by way of the brilliant Edi Patterson as Judy Gemstone, whose greatest hits include (but are by no means limited to), “Guess I’ll just get someone from the crowd to finger me,” and “I like it when Jesse gets in trouble, it makes my bird twitch,” in gut-busting contrast to the Gemstone family’s seeming piety.

The usage of phalluses and sexual buffoonery only seemed to increase in season two, including a substantial B plot dedicated to Kelvin’s (Adam DeVine) homoerotic cult. But it’s season three, which just came to a close last Sunday, that’s left an indelible mark on me. For many viewers, the season’s raucous highlight was the now-much discussed Naked Fight, in which BJ (Tim Baltz) seeks vengeance against Judy’s guitarist, Stephen (Stephen Schneider), the man who cuckolded him (the absence of coitus is a mere formality when it comes to the filthiness of Judy and Stephen’s “no-sex affair”). The awkward shock of Stephen’s out-of-focus masturbation to the dulcet tones of Kenny Rogers was already enough to get a guffaw out of me, but somewhere in between a completely nude Stephen soaring in the air like an enraged flying squirrel, and a supine BJ grasping Stephen’s oh-so vulnerable testicles out on the front lawn (with multiple bystanders in view), my comfortable seated position on my couch had given way to me half-collapsed on the rug.

As hilarious as that scene was, however, I genuinely feel like McBride and company waited until the final episodes for some of the season’s best sex-related antics, such as Keef’s (Tony Cavalero) drawn-out yet somehow strangely innocent massaging of Kelvin’s butt in a continuation of their unspoken sexual tension. Then there’s BJ and Judy’s reconciliation, brought about by her abduction and near-death experience. The true strength in The Righteous Gemstones lies in the fact that amidst all of the outrageous laughs is a genuine family drama that’s filled with heart. Seeing the couple sharing a bath together, speaking warmly and lovingly to one another after several seasons of their marriage being primarily a joke (mainly at BJ’s expense, bless Baltz’s heart) marked a truly sweet milestone in their plotline … which is then capped off by BJ helicoptering his penis in a bit of madcap foreplay that makes perfect sense in the private language of a long-term relationship.

But there is one moment in particular that is so utterly ludicrous, so absolutely nonsensical, that the mere thought of it is enough to send me into a fit of laughter. It’s at the top of the finale, when Baby Billy (living legend Walton Goggins) is telling the Gemstone children about his previous acquaintance with rich donor Dusty Daniels (Shea Whigham) at a New Year’s Eve party 24 years earlier. When an uproarious party celebrating Y2K not coming to pass descended into an orgy, we’re treated to a lingering shot of Baby Billy and Dusty laying side-by-side, hooting their mutual orgasms in one another’s faces as they maintain unwavering eye contact.

I think I nearly blacked out. Between the combination of ‘whose idea was this?!’ to me imagining the multiple (undoubtedly laughter-filled) takes that Goggins and Whigham had to do, it’s quite possibly the funniest thing I’ve ever seen on tv. This isn’t the sort of thing any average showrunner can do; this takes vision. It’s the knowledge that sex can be many things, and one of the things that most people can agree upon is that it’s kind of ridiculous, whether you’re the one actually engaging in the act or, in my case, a viewer whose familiarity with this show still didn’t allow me to fully prepare for this absolutely bananas moment.

Happily, a fourth season has already been greenlit, and I don’t think any of us can begin to imagine where McBride plans on taking this wild comedy next. He’s mentioned on various occasions that he intends on keeping The Righteous Gemstones going for a number of seasons. My guess is that the train will keep rolling so long as the whole cast is on board, to which I can only say thank heavens for that.

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, The Righteous Gemstones wouldn’t exist.

Kaleena Rivera is the TV Editor for Pajiba. When she isn’t going ‘aw’ over the fact that Baltz invited an understandably nervous Schneider to dinner before Naked Fight, she can be found on Bluesky or Twitter.