All one has to do is look back over the show's first season to see exactly what he's talking about. Whether it's the juggling act Eli struggles with in running the family business while the grief over the death of his wife, Aimee Leigh (Jennifer Nettles), still weighs heavily on his heart; Kelvin Gemstone's ongoing identity crisis, which culminates in a battle with protege Keefe's (Tony Cavalero) former gang of goth Satanists; Baby Billy's (Walton Goggins) greedy, vindictive mission to steal back the church spotlight in the wake of his sister's death; or Judy Gemstone's psychological trainwreck-of-a-meltdown, variety isn't just the spice of this story's life, it's the glue that brings it all together.
The Righteous Gemstones began its season feeling as if we'd just be getting another HBO series crowded with an ensemble cast of affluent characters doing horrible things. And while that certainly is partly the case here, the show ends up going through its own enlightenment of sorts, as the program's emotional underbelly is slowly revealed for all to see.
"I don't want the show to be kind of known for just one thing," McBride says. "I want the surprise of the tone to be part of what is sort of hard to put your finger on. Every episode, you have no idea what you're going to laugh at, or what's going to happen. Ultimately, at the end of the day, it's not even just about plot twists, but, just like, 'Whoa, I wasn't expecting to get emotion from that character.' Or, 'I wasn't expecting to see myself in this cliched sort of person.' And, I feel like, ultimately, it's because all this stuff is kind of poking the audience to just expand their level of empathy, to look at people around them just a little bit differently."
It's harder than ever to empathize with those whose values and beliefs don't necessarily line up with our own (war criminals not included). "The goal isn't to be a takedown of anything," McBride said at the Television Critics Association Summer Tour. "When Hollywood takes on religion, they make the mistake of lampooning one’s beliefs.
"For us," he continued, "it's about lampooning hypocrites -- people who present themselves in one way, and act differently in another. I don’t think that's something that's relevant [only] to the world of religion and televangelism but the world we live in: People who present themselves one way on social media and present themselves in another way."