Danny McBride and the “Righteous Gemstones” writers’ room began shaping Season 2 of the HBO megachurch comedy in the fall of 2019. They started shooting in March 2020, but after two days, the COVID-19 pandemic halted production. What started as a weeks-long delay soon turned into almost a year, and McBride — stuck in lockdown — couldn’t help himself but tweak what he had. And so he rewrote the entire season.
“I ended up pulling out whole storylines and characters that didn’t make it into the season,” McBride tells Variety‘s Awards Circuit podcast. “There are things I’ll probably push maybe into [the third] season, but with a little bit of perspective and a little bit of […] rest in between seasons, it just helped me sort of solidify what I really wanted to do with this season.”
McBride says one of the plot lines that changed the most post-rewrite was Eli Gemstone’s (John Goodman) story with Junior (Eric Roberts), which was cleaned up and simplified. But even after his rewrite, McBride says the scripts for “The Righteous Gemstones” are never set in stone. “We constantly are challenging [the scripts],” he says. “We’re constantly pivoting when things show up on set that are unexpected.”
While “Gemstones” boasts a powerhouse comedic ensemble whose resumes include Second City and the Groundlings, McBride admits there isn’t much improvisation on the set. Still, “sometimes we get to set and do what was written like once or twice… and then it would just devolve into us riffing and trying to make each other laugh,” he says.
“The Righteous Gemstones” stars McBride as Jesse Gemstone, the eldest son of the titular megachurch family. The series, which was recently renewed for Season 3, also stars Goodman, Adam DeVine, Edi Patterson, Cassidy Freeman and Tim Baltz.
On paper, deep-pocketed pastors are not necessarily the most relatable protagonists. But McBride emphasizes that “even if you might not be as depraved as the Gemstones, the idea of struggling to be the best version of yourself is something that I do feel is universal.”
As co-creator and star of HBO comedies “Eastbound & Down” and “Vice Principals,” McBride is no stranger to bringing comedic character-based ideas to life. But with extravagant sets and outlandish storylines, the world-building of “The Righteous Gemstones” is a whole new ball game.
“This show is a lot of fun because [the Gemstones] have such obscene wealth that they can sort of do whatever the hell they want with it,” McBride says. “And so the idea of buying amusement parks and flying to China to do baptisms in wave pools… as a writer there’s like nothing off the table.”
While McBride credits HBO for trusting him and the team to make “creatively sound decisions,” and supporting “Gemstones” with the necessary resources, it’s no easy feat to “pull off an ending in Alaska in the middle of the summer” in Charleston, S.C., where the series shoots.
“Every time that you are presented with some sort of limitation is an opportunity for people to step up creatively,” McBride says. “And that part of it is a lot of fun.”
Teasing what’s to come, McBride says Season 3 will expand the “strange Gemstone world” and “dive deeper into who this family is and how they got here, meeting some new characters from the past to the present.”
Meanwhile, on the Awards Circuit Roundtable, Variety’s Clayton Davis, Jazz Tangcay, Emily Longeretta and Michael Schneider are back to discuss the state of Emmy FYC, and in particular, the drama race.
Variety’s “Awards Circuit” podcast, produced by Michael Schneider, is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every Thursday and Friday.