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The Righteous Gemstones Season One Episode 5 Review: “Interlude” Is an Early Series Highlight

The Righteous Gemstones flashes back and delivers its best episode yet.

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The Righteous Gemstones Interlude

One of Peak TV’s most pervasive trends is an addiction to the flashback episode – what was once a silly device to fill episode requirements on long-running comedies became essential backbones to modern dramas. Propelled by shows like LOST and Orange is the New Black, which utilized frequent, lengthy flashbacks to build out its array of characters, the last few years have seen an uptick of these “retro” episodes – from Arrow to Westworld and even Carnival Row, modern shows have a penchant for self-indulgent episodes full of wigs and retro fashion. And while “Interlude,” The Righteous Gemstones‘ best episode yet, initially feels like another one of these unnecessary digressions, by the time it reaches the stunning conclusion of its 40-minute running time, it firmly establishes itself as one of the best episodes constructed in this very specific, suddenly popular mold.

As “Interlude” slowly lays out the many personalities and loyalties in Aimee Leigh’s life, The Righteous Gemstones begins to build out some of the more meaningful, contemplative ideas teased in its earlier episodes.

Where most flashback episodes fall apart is their sense of self-importance; what “Interlude” understands is that it is possible to recreate a moment in the past without having to build some sense of mystery around it. “Wicked Lips” already gave us the foundation of the central conflict between Eli and Baby Billy, which means “Interlude” exists simply to give context and texture to stories and people we already understand. Billy’s opportunistic ways, Eli’s disgruntled sense of self, Judy’s strange, unappreciated uniqueness… all of these elements are well defined in the first four episodes of the series, and “Interlude” smartly doesn’t try to play coy with these long-festering conflicts.

The Righteous Gemstones Interlude

Centered around Aimee Leigh discovering she’s pregnant with Kelvin, “Interlude” is a careful observation of the ripple effect the news sends through the family. In doing so, The Righteous Gemstones goes through a radical emotional shift; rather than just being a black comedy about a falling evangelist empire, “Interlude” reveals a deeper, more complex emotional core to the young comedy – so much so, it almost feels like a different series, the humor of “Interlude” often taking a much subtler route than the abrasively juvenile style of the opening episodes.

But as Eli said, change takes time to understand; as “Interlude” slowly lays out the many personalities and loyalties in Aimee Leigh’s life, The Righteous Gemstones begins to build out some of the more meaningful, contemplative ideas teased in its earlier episodes. And it does so across a broad spectrum of characters; Billy’s desperation to stay relevant, Eli’s slow transformation into the imposing figure he’d become, and Jesse’s misbehavin‘ ways are all given voice in “Interlude,” injecting Gemstones with some much-needed emotional depth, which helps deepen the many Biblical parallels Danny McBride and his creative team are beginning to flesh out.

The Righteous Gemstones Interlude

But where “Interlude” surprises the most is with the two OG Gemstone women; both Aimee Leigh and young Judy spring to life as characters in this episode, offering intriguing perspectives on the two “true” Gemstone women. It’s a tough act to nail; Aimee Leigh is essentially the God of the Gemstone kingdom, her absence the foreboding catalyst for the downfall of the evangelical empire -you only get one shot at a first introduction for such an important character, and “Interlude” absolutely hammers it out of the park, as dynamic a combination of writing and performance by (the eternally incredibly talented) Jennifer Nettles.

“Interlude” offers a look at so many different shades of Aimee Leigh; as the family matriarch, the famous face of the burgeoning Gemstone empire, a sister, and a woman in her 40’s facing a difficult, unexpected pregnancy. In an episode with a lot already on its plate, the most impressive part of “Interlude” is how her character is brought to life; it’s hard to make a woman who manipulates poor people with cheap platitudes and displaced righteousness, but goddamnit, “Interlude” does it with nuanced grace, a highly unexpected (but entirely welcome) turn that nonetheless helps the many plot threads of the series find their harmony.

I mentioned Judy as another highlight; perhaps this one is more personal, as a one-time contender for “child in the family with the weirdest habits,” but where “Interlude” does so well is informing Judy’s character in the present. As the Gemstone family plans the future of their family business, she’s left to sit on the stairs alone, or be admonished for her stranger habits and indulgences; of course, this leads her to lash out, in the form of being an absolute bitch to her guests, during an elaborate birthday party thrown by her parents (perhaps as some sort of compensation for how intentionally excluded she is from the normal rhythms of the family).

The Righteous Gemstones Interlude

That party is the absolute highlight of the episode, the “pushing all the chips to the center of the table” moment for The Righteous Gemstones. While watching Judy piss and moan about the gifts she’s being given, Eli is admonished by his father for the people they’re turning into, tarnishing the humble legacy of their family name with extravagant gifts and exploitative practices. They talk about what Eli’s birthday used to look like (he’d usually get chores off for the day), leaving Eli to contemplate the generational chasm that inevitably forms in families, and how hard it can be to stay eternally loyal to the amorphous, irrational idea of what a family “should” be.

In typical Gemstones fashion, this leads to a drunk Jesse (thanks, Uncle Baby Billy!) getting shitfaced, puking on the hamburger grill while yelling at Eli about pissing on the face of his unborn sibling. But those moments of humor only act to illuminate the deeper conflicts The Righteous Gemstones is beginning to surface, ideas about legacy and loyalty that should illuminate characters like Kelvin, Judy, and Billy as Gemstones moves back into the present, and the temptations of power and money only continue to tear the inter generational bonds apart.

A TV critic since the pre-Peak TV days of 2011, Randy is a critic and editor formerly of Sound on Sight, Processed Media, TVOvermind, Pop Optiq, and many, many others.

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‘Sesame Street’ at 50: A one-of-a-Kind Tradition

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Sesame Street, as of this weekend, has been on the air for 50 years. Like no other work of popular culture, with the possible exception of Pixar Animation Studios, the show has cracked the very difficult task of appealing to the sensibilities of both adults and children, with the same bit of entertainment. 

Between the Sesame Street 50th anniversary – occasioned this weekend with a somewhat underwhelming TV special– and the arrival of the new biopic of Mr. Rogers, this is a big month for nostalgia about beloved, long-running children’s entertainment of the past. 

An educational show that’s also entertaining, having created indelible characters human and Muppet alike, Sesame Street occupies a place unlike anything else America has ever produced. 

Many people experience Sesame Street exactly twice: When they first watch it as children, and then again, decades later when they watch it with their own children. This is due largely to the show’s style, underlying values and general sensibility being so timeless, but also because the show re-uses old material so often. It doesn’t hurt that, in the modern era, many of the best Sesame Street moments live on YouTube. 

At its best, the series’ scenes have the timing of the very best comedy sketches, such as “mystery box” bit with Kermit the Frog and Cookie Monster: 

And of course, there’s also stuff to make you cry. Most notably, of course, the Mr. Hooper scene: 

And the famous Snuffy reveal from 1985: 

The 50th anniversary, of course, means that Sesame Street began in 1969, and yes, this show that nearly universally found its way into the homes all over the world was very much a creation of the counterculture- one of its most enduring, in fact.

Street Gang, Michael Davis’ 2008 book, is the definitive history of the show, depicting how Jim Henson, Joan Ganz Cooney and the rest of the original crew developed and sustained the show. There was also the 2015 documentary I Am Big Bird, in which Spinney told the stories of his years in the Big Bird suit, his sometimes contentious relationship with Henson, and the episode in which he was considered for a spot on the doomed Challenger space shuttle. 

And while Sesame Street has been much parodied, no one has ever done it better than the Broadway musical Avenue Q, which debuted in 2003. Featuring Muppet-like puppets and a Sesame Street-like setting, the show may have been uncommonly raunchy, but its underlying values of acceptance and friendship ultimately weren’t that different from those of its inspiration. 

'Sesame Street' at 50

While Sesame Street has endured for a half-century, its future is somewhat in flux. In 2016, the show’s first-run episodes moved from their longtime home of PBS to the premium channel HBO, although PBS still shows the second run, arriving there nine months after the first. 

This led to some hand-wringing back when it was first announced, although it’s pretty clear the show’s main target audience of preschoolers doesn’t know from first-run and second-run episodes,  the series always includes lots of vintage material even in its “new” episodes. Also, the new Sesame Street material that goes viral – most notably, its frequent kid-friendly TV parodies- always go up on YouTube immediately, along with so much of the classic stuff. And the HBO deal gave Children’s Television Workshop a cash infusion that allowed them to produce more episodes per season. 

Next year, another change is planned, per an announcement last month: The first-run Sesame Street episodes will debut not on HBO proper but rather on HBO Max, AT&T and Warner Media’s new streaming service that will launch next May. For those who care about seeing first-run episodes, this puts the new shows not only on a streaming service, but the most expensive one. 

'Sesame Street' at 50

On the bright side, the HBO Max deal includes streaming access to the entire 50 years of Sesame Street’s back catalog. Plus, the service is planning spin-offs of Sesame Street including, per The Verge, “a live-action late-night parody hosted by Elmo.”

However it’s consumed in the future, Sesame Street occupies a place that’s all by itself in the history of children’s entertainment, one enjoyed now by three generations of children, along with their parents.

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Sesame Street Celebrates 50 Years with an Underwhelming Special

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Sesame Street 50 Year Anniversary

Sesame Street turns 50 years old this week, and for the occasion the show’s current home, HBO, showed a special Saturday night, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the show’s human and puppet casts of the past and present. 

The anniversary show, while it contains some decent nostalgia moments, feels somewhat underwhelming. It was barely promoted, feels thrown together and doesn’t really have the ambitious scale that’s worthy of the magnitude of the show’s half-century anniversary. 

The gimmick of the anniversary special, which runs just under 50 minutes, is that Gordon-Levitt, a longtime fan, is visiting Sesame Street, and really wants to get his picture taken with the characters, under the Sesame Street sign. The sign, however, has gone missing, and Elmo and friends must distract him to keep him from discovering that it’s gone. They all reach the honorable but not-so-earth-shattering conclusion that Sesame Street is less a physical place than a state of mind. 

sesame-street-50th-anniversary-special

Throughout, we get some surprise appearances by Sesame Street‘s human characters of old such as Luis (Emilio Delgado), Gordon (Roscoe Orman) and Maria (Sonia Manzano), and also long-absent muppets like Guy Smiley and even Kermit the Frog, who was a mainstay of Sesame Street‘s early days but has mostly been absent from the show since the 1980s. 

Kermit duets his signature Sesame Street tune “Bein’ Green'” with Elvis Costello, one of several musical numbers in the special. Norah Jones shows up to sing a song, and is visited by the talking letter “Y,” a callback to the time she remixed her song “Don’t Know Why” as “Don’t Know Y,” and there’s also a montage of famous Sesame Street songs. Patti LaBelle also shows up, as do Nile Rodgers and Meghan Trainor, and the show’s longtime mainstay Itzhak Perlman plays his violin on the show again as well. 

Non-musical cameos include Sterling K. Brown (from This is Us) eating cookies with Cookie Monster, as well as an appearance by Whoopi Goldberg. 

One of the more underwhelming aspects of the special is the relative lack of classic footage. The 50th anniversary could have occasioned an hour-long clip show, featuring some of the show’s most significant moments, celebrity cameos, and other Sesame Street touchstones, in a way that tells the story of the history of the show. 

Instead, we get Joseph Gordon-Levitt spliced into footage of classic Sesame Street moments, such as the Mr. Snuffleupagus reveal from 1985 and Grover’s “This is near/this is far” routine. 

The show chooses not to address the incongruity of young-seeming characters like Elmo and Big Bird not actually being 50 years old. And while it’s understood that the characters’ voices aren’t going to say consistent as different performers cycled through the roles, whoever is currently voicing Big Bird sounds nothing whatsoever like the recently retired Carroll Spinney. 

SesameStreet-50-Years

Those who are longtime Sesame Street devotees, whatever their age, will likely find some elements to enjoy in the new anniversary spell. But the special doesn’t feel anything close to definitive. 

The special will head to PBS on the 17th, the same day the show debuts its 50th season. 

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AEW Dynamite is one of the most Exciting Shows on Television

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AEW Dynamite Wrestling

What is AEW?

If I told you one of the most exciting television programs of the year is a wrestling show, you might think I’m lying. The truth is, AEW Dynamite is just that— a bloody, brutal and exciting two hours of television with scene after scene of balls-to-the-wall action. No frills and all thrills, AEW (All Elite Wrestling) is more than just another wrestling league, and for the first time in a long time, WWE finally has some competition.

To say AEW’s Wednesday night program titled Dynamite is just another wrestling show doesn’t do the program justice; it’s so much more than that. The high flying action and breakneck fight sequences featured on Dynamite move at such a ferocious pace, you’ll swear the action was sped up. The punches, kicks, suplexes, body slams, dropkicks, and high flying moonsaults are so fast and well-executed, you won’t want to blink. The fact of the matter is, AEW features some of the best wrestlers and wrestling the world has ever seen and even if you’re not a wrestling fan, you’ll get a kick out of watching the action unfold on the screen.

DX Invades WCW Nitro

Monday Night Wars

Some of you have likely never heard of AEW but you’ve most likely heard of the WWE. Ever since its CEO Vince McMahon purchased WCW in 2001 (which included its video library, some wrestler contracts, and selected intellectual property) the WWE (formerly WWF) has dominated the professional wrestling landscape no thanks to ending the run of Monday Nitro, WCW’s flagship program and rival to WWF’s Monday Night Raw that aired at the same time on the same night.

For the unfamiliar, for nearly two years between 1996 and 1998, World Championship Wrestling was at the top of their game thanks to many of McMahon’s biggest stars such as Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and Macho Man Randy Savage jumping ship to WCW. During that time WCW produced some of the most exciting matches and best wrestling storylines including what is arguably the biggest storyline in wrestling history, an angle known as the New World Order. If you were a wrestling fan at the time, the Monday Night Wars was most certainly must-see TV.

The Monday Night Wars was about more than just ratings— it was part of a larger overall personal and professional battle between WWF owner Vince McMahon and WCW-owner Ted Turner. The rivalry between the companies escalated throughout the 1990s to include the use of cutthroat tactics and the revolt of several high-profile employees of both companies. Hogan and company joined WCW while stars like Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Chris Jericho, and Eddie Guerrero headed to WWE. During that time, the suspense was heating up week after week with fans eagerly guessing what shocking revelation would unfold next. I fondly remember my friends and I gathered in front of the television every Monday night, flipping back and forth between channels to see which show had the best storylines and who had the best wrestling matches. It was the time when the Montreal “Screwjob” sent Brett the Hitman Hart to WCW and Stone Cold Steve Austin was driving a Coors Light truck into arenas and drenching his rivals with beer. And who doesn’t remember when D-Generation X invaded Nitro? If one were to write a list of the 50 greatest moments in the history of professional wrestling, chances are most of what you’d find on that list would have taken place during the WCW/WWE feud.

It’s no secret that when it comes to the world of professional wrestling, most wrestling fans derive as much pleasure watching people talk about wrestling as they do watching wrestling itself, analyzing the industry gossip and news about creative differences, hirings, firings, and the real-life rivalries and tragedies. For decades, pro wrestling has had its share of drama, both inside and outside of the ring but never to the degree of what transpired during the Monday Night Wars era. And at times, following the drama that unfolded behind the scenes felt necessary since both Nitro and Monday Night Raw would often cross-reference each other.

Unfortunately, that all ended on Monday, March 26, 2001, when Vince McMahon entered the Nitro arena and announced he was now the owner of WCW. To add salt to the wound, McMahon simulcast his announcement both in Cleveland, where Raw was occurring and during the WCW telecast in Panama City, Florida. To put into perspective just how huge of a deal this was, it would be the equivalent of Iron Man appearing in the next Avengers movie, turning to the camera, breaking the fourth wall and announcing that Marvel now owns all D.C. property. It was a huge deal and the world of professional wrestling has never been the same since.

sammy guevara

Wednesday Night Wars

The downfall of WCW is a long, complicated tale, written about ad nauseam and often told one-sidedly in various WWE documentaries released over the years but if you’re wondering how it connects to AEW, the answer is simple…

When AEW Dynamite premiered last month on TNT, it marked the first time in 18 years there was a legit competitor to McMahon’s empire. Not only is AEW going head-to-head with the wrestling behemoth’s live NXT show on Wednesday nights, but the upstart pro wrestling company’s weekly show Dynamite has beaten WWE’s NXT each and every week in the ratings, averaging well over a million viewers with a fanbase growing by the day. And with both shows airing at the same time on the same day, fans have dubbed this new wave of competition, the Wednesday Night Wars — a return to the aforementioned Monday Night Wars when WWE feuded with WCW for ratings and global supremacy. And much like the good ‘old days, the rivalry is heating up with wrestlers from both companies repeatedly taking jabs at each other during interviews and calling each other out on social media. With AEW gaining momentum, the landscape of professional wrestling is certainly chainging and some would argue for the better.

Funded by the billionaire businessman Tony Khan, All Elite Wrestling was launched last fall with the help of executive vice president Cody Rhodes, his wife, and chief brand officer Brandi and co-EVPs the Young Bucks, a.k.a. the greatest tag team in the world. On New Year’s Day, they officially announced their formation and ever since the AEW has been defying expectations. After making history in 2018 by becoming the first independent wrestling show to sell over 10,000 tickets in North America, the pre-sale tickets for the Las Vegas’ Double or Nothing pay-per-view sold out in record time. The success didn’t end there with every future show being a commercial success and the company gaining widespread media attention across the globe. As it stands, AEW has so done what no other wrestling promotion has been able to do in decades thanks to the all-star roster, enthusiastic fanbase and incredibly entertaining style of wrestling that most people aren’t used to seeing.

AEW

Why is AEW Such a Success?

There’s a long list of reasons as to why AEW is one of the best shows on television and at the top of that list of reasons is the league’s dedication and passion to the art of wrestling. The action in AEW is so relentless, I sometimes wonder if the wrestlers asked for stunt doubles. Week after week the incredibly talented roster of athletes perform dazzling stunts that sometimes have me rewind my PVR to see it done again. Only six episodes in, the newfound professional wrestling promotion has not disappointed viewers with their adrenaline-fuelled spectacle of flying fists, whirling kicks and daredevil antics that have left fans shouting for more. Thanks to the combination of experienced professionals and various fighting styles, every episode of Dynamite has found new ways to energize the crowd.

If you’re a fan of the high-flying precision of Mexico’s Lucha libre style of wrestling, you’re going to love AEW. If you prefer the anything-goes attitude of the American backyard wrestling scene, you’ll be happy to learn AEW has that too. If like me, you’re interested in seeing more of Japan’s hard-hitting strong style (Puroresu), it’s worth noting it’s also fearued in AEW. And if you’re a casual wrestling fan who grew up watching the likes of the Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels or The Rock, Dwayne Johnson, you should know that AEW also has the spectacle and showmanship of the WWE.

Watch Kenny Omega and Jon Moxley go at it with barbed wire weapons and I promise you’ll be gripping on to the armrests of your chair. Watch any of the jaw-dropping tag team matches and you’ll be inviting your friends over for the next pay-per-view event. Overall, the wrestling of AEW has lived up to the hype and even includes the sort of hardcore matches you would see back in the days on ECW. Hell, even its Tuesday YouTube show AEW Dark has consistently produced at least one match that rivals anything WWE does—see the Joey Janela vs. Kenny Omega unsanctioned match as just one example.

Double or Nothing
Dustin Rhodes vs. his brother Cody at Double or Nothing

Over the years, WWE has done everything in their power to scrub the word “wrestling” from their glossary. Prior to WrestleMania 36, the company went so far as to request that local officials refer to their talent as WWE Superstars and NOT as professional wrestlers— and their company as WWE and not World Wrestling Entertainment. They even asked that the press use the term Sports Entertainment to describe the brand and went so far as insisting on using the word “title” and not “belt” or a “strap.” As David Shoemaker once wrote, “I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that they’re pulling the wrestling out of the product so cavalierly. It’s like Coca-Cola changing its name to “Coke” and messing with the recipe.”

Unlike the WWE which puts wrestling on the backseat and produces shows that consist mostly of just men and women yelling at each other, AEW actually puts the wrestling front and center. The league even brought back the time limit knowing that even if it isn’t the most satisfactory way to end a match, it does still create the feel of real competition. And unlike the WWE in where it doesn’t matter who wins or loses; All Elite has made it a point to specify that wins and losses matter and that the ranking of their talent roster will help determine who will get a title shot. The wins-losses-draws are even listed next to the names of each wrestler as they make their entrances and if every win and loss matters, that means every match matters, keeping fans in suspense each and every week. AEW isn’t just trying to be different, it wants to be better and in doing so, feels closer to a professional sport than any other form of pro wrestling.

cody-dustin-rhodes-hug

AEW Signals Professional Wrestling is Alive and Well

The glory of Monday Night Wars may be long and gone but Wednesday Night Wars is just getting started. It’s an amazing time to be a wrestling fan as AEW looks to bring back many of the fans who stopped watching wrestling over the past 18 years. If you are one of those fans, I strongly encourage you to check out AEW. Make no mistake about it, AEW is changing the landscape of the wrestling world and Wednesday Night Dynamite is an electrifyingly kinetic and insanely frenetic spectacle stacked with a level of athleticism at which the WWE stars of yesteryear would marvel. It sure did leave me feeling black-and-blue and breathless.

As I said, there are plenty of reasons to take interest in AEW; the star-studded roster itself is worthy of its own article— but all in all, it’s the wrestling that takes center stage and makes a show like Dynamite the rawest and most intense wrestling spectacle we’ve seen on broadcast television in years. AEW is an unstoppable wrecking ball and signals professional wrestling is alive and well.

  • Ricky D
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