The Righteous Gemstones balances comedy and crime like no other show on TV. So how do they do it?
It seems like all the best shows have been on HBO lately.
They ruled the airwaves with Game of Thrones and new hits like Barry and Succession have everyone talking. Now, The Righteous Gemstones has been renewed for a second season, and I thought it was high time we praised it on this website.
I am a huge fan of the show, which balances comedy, drama, and crime incredibly well. While not being for everyone, the show finds its footing being willing to do things other half-hours do not.
Let's look at three ways Gemstones succeeds in balancing different tones and genres. So let's get baptized.
How 'The Righteous Gemstones' Balances Dark Comedy and Crime
The Righteous Gemstones is about a family of pastors who run a megachurch. Like any family, they have their rivalries with each other and with everyone on the outside. Still, what brings them together is love and respect for their father.
The family is run by a "holy trinity" of a father and two sons, while their daughter is left by the wayside, like the other women of the church. While all this sounds dramatic, the show thrives when it's making us laugh at the hijinks and escapades of these people. But it's also not afraid to get serious, to kill, injure, and maim.
So how does it balance these aspects for great entertainment?
1. Create characters with complex emotions
Gemstones takes its time developing and and enriching each of its characters. As we mentioned in the opener, Jesse, Eli, and Kelvin Gemstone headline a family on the brink. They lost their matriarch, Kelvin is aimless, someone is blackmailing Jesse, and Eli sees his church crumbling.
Oh, and then there's Judy, who wants to matter so much but can't get over the fact that she's a woman -- and no one in the Gemstone family respects women. Since the show balances both comedy and crime, it needs all its characters to be able to do both. That means building in real wants and desires that can be funny, but still relatable.
Once you have grounded desires, you can build comedy from there by making people fail. Failure leads to them wanting something they can't have.
And in this show, it leads to crime.
We'll be on board for the darker aspects because we understand the motivations you already provided!
2. Ground your jokes in truth
If you want to balance comedy and drama, you need to tell the truth. Sure, we can laugh at goofy antics and insane behavior, but as I mentioned in the first bullet, we want to know the truth behind those actions.
Take this below scene from when Kelvin and Jesse go back to Jesse's house. It should be a tense moment, but the tension is undercut by something I bet we can all relate to: wearing dirty shoes in the house.
The truth of the scene is that appearances are everything for these people. Jesse is trying to save his appearance by stopping his blackmail. And his wife wants the same thing but via clean floors.
This truth helps us get laughs but also the tension and suspicion we plant here to payoff later in the season.
3. Always be willing to "go there"
The last thing Gemstones can teach us is being willing to go to the places that most people won't. Think about the scene when Eli chases off his assailants by making them strip naked and run through a mall. Or the blackmail standoff where Jesse runs over a human. Or even the dark satanic backstory for Kelvin's best friend and confidant.
When you tackle your own writing don't be afraid to show the audience the darker side of comedy. If you nail the first two bullets, you can really play in this arena. Sure, it might require a lot of rewriting and reworking, but just the willingness to tackle the uncouth and creepy can help your writing stand out from the pack.
What are your favorite parts of Gemstones?
Let us know in the comments!
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