The Righteous Gemstones is extremely dedicated to being a family show, and equally dedicated to being the least family-friendly show on television. Usually, this means heaps of colorful cussin’ seasoned with a bit of comedic nudity, or an ongoing plot where the Gemstone youth ministry forms a task force called the Smut Busters to raid porn shops and clear out their inventory (trying to put them out of business by giving them lots of business).
Creator Danny McBride is about as serious about crafting a dick joke as Tom Cruise is at jumping out of airplanes in Mission: Impossible. To extend the Mission: Impossible metaphor further, the Burj Khalifa of The Righteous Gemstones season 3 is an extended full-frontal fight scene with a pissed-off naked man.
In the current season, The Righteous Gemstones is finally giving BJ Barnes (Tim Baltz), the timid husband of Judy Gemstone (Edi Patterson), his time to shine. He’s asserting himself more and relishing his new job as a tour guide at the Gemstones’ megachurch campus, and trying to sort out his crumbling marriage to Judy. Judy, meanwhile, is having an affair with Stephen (Stephen Schneider), a musician on her gospel music tour that she regularly makes out with.
According to Baltz and Patterson, this is the emotional core that The Righteous Gemstones always takes seriously, and the reason why you can build to a brawl between BJ and a naked Stephen and have it both be funny and resonant.
“There’s a lot of emotional turmoil for our two characters,” says Baltz. “And I think BJ has always looked at Judy and understood her flaws or imperfections and loves her despite that, and this pushes it to a point that really tests that love and that commitment, and forces both of them to look at the relationship and understand who they are, you know? And like any couple that goes through that, ask themselves in a very real, kind of naked way: What do we need to do to come back from this?”
“It was ultimately really important and awesome to me that it’s never ever that Judy doesn’t love BJ,” adds Patterson, who also writes on the show. “She’s just screwed up.”
This culminates in this week’s confrontation, where BJ, after some coaching and loaner brass knuckles from Jesse (McBride), goes to Stephen’s house to kick his ass. But in classic Gemstones fashion, a moment of toxic catharsis turns into a parade of humiliation, as BJ walks in to find Stephen buck-ass naked in bed, furiously masturbating. Stephen then beats the shit out of him.
The fight is both full-blown raunch, making sure that Stephen’s genitals are in frame whenever possible, but also a well-choreographed brawl that Baltz really had to hype himself up for.
“That flight scene was the last two days of work for me this season, so we’re kind of building up to it the entire time,” Baltz says. “I was training, I’d be talking to the director and the stunt coordinator. So I felt really prepared going into it and thankful that it was the last thing, but it’s no less intense.”
Baltz and Schneider were supported by a stunt team, and Baltz — a comic actor who had never really done a fight scene before — was assured that his stuntman would do the hardest stuff.
“But you have to take a lot of those blows as well!” Baltz says. “And they prepare you for it. But you know, everyone’s got a plan until they get hit in the mouth — and I for sure got hit in the mouth.”
And most fortunately for him, he wasn’t the naked one in the fight.
“I wish it had been a little warmer out,” Baltz says. “Not just for me, but for Stephen, too.”