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The Righteous Gemstones Season One Episode 4 Review: “Wicked Lips” Finishes On a High Note

The terrific third act of “Wicked Lips” begins to realize The Righteous Gemstones’ abundant potential.

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The Righteous Gemstones Wicked Lips

“Wicked Lips” is akin to an amuse bouche of The Righteous Gemstones‘ deeper-seeded ideas and explorations; though one might expect that to occur in the first few episodes, there’s a lot more meat on the bones here than say, last week’s entertaining-but-gaudy “They Are Weak, He Is Strong”. More importantly, it accomplishes this by focusing on some of the show’s more shapeless characters, giving strong definition to characters like Amber and Kelvin in a rather impressive third act.

The harder “Wicked Lips” tugs at the most damning ironies contained inside its protagonists, the more tantalizing the climatic potential of these stories becomes.

There’s still a bit of tonal chicanery for The Righteous Gemstones to figure out, but “Wicked Lips” is a step in the right direction, the episode recalculating its own formula on the fly. What begins as severely dated comedy (cyber goth dancing!) eventually gives way to something much more ominous, as Danny McBride and his writing team begin to pull on the many, many loose threads left in the wake of the Gemstone empire. Baby Billy’s desperation to be integrated back into the business, Gideon and Scotty’s burgeoning plan to rip off the family, Chad’s inability to delete his emails… these stories all begin to percolate during “Wicked Lips,” a build up of anxiety personified by Keefe’s extremely uncomfortable attempts to avoid the trappings of his former life.

The Righteous Gemstones Wicked Lips

Quietly, the theme of “Wicked Lips” becomes about salvation, and what motivates and defines it for those in the gravitational pull of the Gemstone empire. Like anything else in capitalism, salvation is a commodity to be bought, traded and sold, one that can be shaped into anything, from vengeance to desperation, all the way to outright authoritarianism, seen best when Kelvin invades a young woman’s room, all because her rich parents think she’s being tempted by Satan and her shitty boyfriend.

Most importantly, “Wicked Lips” asks the question of what we are willing to sacrifice to “save” ourselves, and how easily that can be taken advantage of. Kelvin doesn’t want to help Dot for her own good; he’s doing it to prove a point to his father, just as Gideon is silently trying to do to his family (by robbing them blind). The Righteous Gemstones is a world full of people who are far less than pure of heart; seeing that manifest in a multitude of different ways, particularly those outside the bounds of “evangelists being rich sure is weird!,” is fascinating, especially when it builds out a bit of depth for some of its weaker characters, like Kelvin and Amber.

It all builds to a rather terrific final sequence, when Jesse nearly kills his son trying to exact his revenge on the ominous red van that tried to black mail him – excuse me, “doing a car prank”. In an episode whose visual influences range from Goodfellas to Step Up (seriously; Kelvin’s gymnastics sequence just needed a Gabrielle Union cameo), it is the car chase at the end that shines brightest. Watching Jesse chase Scotty’s van down a dark, empty road serves an exciting visual metaphor the scene builds on with each shot, from the bright lights of Jesse’s SUV lighting up the inside of the van, to the milk-white pistol Jesse draws once the van violently crashes in the middle of the road.

The Righteous Gemstones Wicked Lips

Jesse doesn’t need to actually hit the van for it to flip; after all, Psalms teaches the followers of Christianity that the wicked will undo themselves, their wicked and twisted ways eventually becoming their undoing. Though it fits the moment for Gideon and Scotty, it’s really an ominous sign for Jesse and every other member of the Gemstone family; the faster they go and the harder they chase their Godless indulgences, the more dangerous their tunnel vision of temptation will lead them to an inevitable downfall.

“Wicked Lips” leans hard into that, whether it’s Keefe resisting the Satanist temptations of his old life, or Jesse trying to hide the fallout from the activities his world would define as Satanist; the juxtaposition is rich, and although it does take “Wicked Lips” some time to push those parallels together in a meaningful way, it is magical to watch it unfold across the last eight minutes of the episode.

Though next week’s flashback episode is titled “Interlude,” the final act of “Wicked Lips” really feels like the turning point for its first season, slowly bringing some of the season’s bigger ideas and turns to the surface. It is most certainly a half hour of percolating material; nothing is particularly explosive, but the harder “Wicked Lips” tugs at the most damning ironies contained inside its protagonists, the more tantalizing the climatic potential of these stories becomes.

Other thoughts/observations:

  • The Righteous Gemstones was renewed for a second season today, ensuring that the unholy misadventures of the Gemstone family will live into 2020.
  • I know the costuming of this show is meant to be overwrought and stage-y, but it still feels like Kelvin’s outfits and hairdo are out of sync with the show’s actual tone. In a way, it’s too much of a caricature.
  • It serves its narrative purpose well, but Dot suddenly deciding to join youth group seems… an unearned moment? I’m willing to give The Righteous Gemstones the benefit of the doubt, for the time being.
  • “I got the power of God in me, son…. and I will fuck you up.”
  • Billy’s unguarded enthusiasm to do anything that involves him making money is the kind of naked desperation McBride always spins comedy gold out of. I can’t wait to see this show unwind Billy’s strange cardboard persona as the season continues.
  • One simply can’t deny the wet drops emoji is not a cum reference; what else could you actually use it for???
  • Though it seems hard to believe the money laundering going on at the Gemstone church – trust me, people give away crazy amounts of money to these people. I mean, Jim Bakker went to fuckin’ prison, and that dude’s still got a career.

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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Wrestling

Greatest Royal Rumble Matches: Triple H and Cactus Jack Street Fight

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Royal Rumble 2000 Triple H Street and Cactus Jack Street Fight

Royal Rumble 2000

WWE Championship: Triple H vs. Cactus Jack

The thirteenth annual Royal Rumble gave us one of the best matches in WWE history.

The event took place on January 23, 2000, at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It was the start of a new decade and the WWE was gearing up to build their next great champ. And this was the match that gave one participant the push he needed to become a heavyweight legend over the next decade and arguably the greatest heel for the entire Attitude Era.

Of course, I’m referring to the Street Fight match between Triple H and Cactus Jack for the WWF WWE Championship.

It was the match the helped Triple H earn everyone’s respect; in fact, in retrospect, it’s clear the whole match was designed as one giant promo in order to give Triple H a believable physical prowess as an ongoing champion contender. And for WWE fans who weren’t familiar with Mick Foley’s earlier hardcore wrestling, the match pretty much certified the man was indeed, truly insane.

Yes, Mankind and Undertaker had already wrestled their legendary Hell in the Cell match two years prior at King of the Ring— and yes, we had already seen plenty of street fights in the WWE— but the WWE Championship match at the 2000 Royal Rumble was a brutal, violent, and extremely bloody affair. By WWE standards, it pushed the boundaries, delivering a level of violence that casual WWE fans weren’t accustomed to seeing.

It was also a match that told an excellent story and had a remarkable buildup leading into the event.

Greatest Royal Rumble Matches: Triple H Street and Cactus Jack

By the summer of ’99, Triple H was finally getting the main event push he deserved thanks to the McMahon-Helmsley Faction, a partnership that benefited from that fact that at the time, Stephanie McMahon had almost full control over the WWE. Great power means great responsibility but for Stephanie McMahon, it meant scheduling unreasonable matches for the wrestlers who were deemed a major threat to her husband. The superstar most affected was none other than, Mick Foley.

Triple H and Mick Foley put on a series of exciting matches in the first year of the new millennium and with this rivalry, came some of the best writing in the history of the WWE. The compelling storyline featured legendary promos, unforgettable drama, and unusual matches designed to wear down Triple H’s main competition. One such match was the “Pink Slip on a Pole Match” between The Rock and Mankind, with the loser forced to leave the WWE. Mankind lost, and thus was fired unceremoniously, only to return two weeks later when the Rock and the rest of the WWE superstars threatened to walk out unless Mick Foley was reinstated. That night, Foley requested a Street Fight for the WWF WWE Championship at Royal Rumble— and on a January 13 episode of SmackDown!, Foley shocked the world when he returned to the ring in his Cactus Jack persona! It wasn’t Mankind set to fight Triple H at the Royal Rumble— instead, it would be the hardcore legend.

WWE Championship: Triple H vs. Cactus Jack

With Mick Foley entering his final year as a full-time professional wrestler, fans were expecting big things from the legend, and the 2000 Royal Rumble Championship match did not disappoint. There have been plenty of Street Fights in World Wrestling Entertainment history, but one would be hard-pressed to find one better than this classic. It was the fifth match of the night— in one of the best Royal Rumble pay-per-view events to date— and by far the most memorable match on the card.  

Royal Rumble Matches: Triple H Street and Cactus Jack Street Fight

Cactus Jack gained the early advantage after repeated punches but it didn’t take long before both men took to the outside the ring using everything in their reach including the ring bell, the stairs, a couple of trash cans and more. The match featured multiple chair shots to the head along with the destruction of both announce tables and at one point, the two men even took the fight into the crowd. But the real turn of the match came earlier when Cactus brought out a 2×4 wrapped in barbed wire, and slammed it across the skull of Triple H, busting his forehead wide open. It was brutal. It was bloody, and for some fans, it was hard to watch.

Royal Rumble Matches: Triple H Street and Cactus Jack Street Fight

Reminiscent of prior a Royal Rumble, Triple H managed to handcuff Cactus Jack and continue to use the steel chair as a weapon, taking advantage of a man who could barely defend himself. Eventually, The Rock made a brief cameo, striking Triple H across the head with a chair, and allowing a police officer enough time to remove Jack’s handcuffs so he could continue to fight. Soon after, Cactus Jack was ready to seal the match but made the mistake of pouring hundreds of thumbtacks onto the ring. In a quick turn of events, Triple H fought back to take control of the match and hit his Pedigree finisher on his opponent, slamming the challenger face-first onto a large pile of thumbtacks and in the process and sealing the victory. The finish was gut-wrenching and graphic but well-scripted given the level of hatred and disdain the Superstars had for each other. Both men took a beating, but in the end, it was Triple H who escaped the victor.

Royal Rumble Matches: Triple H Street and Cactus Jack Street Fight

The brutality of the match is a reminder of the differences between the current WWE and the Attitude Era. Nowadays, the WWE doesn’t allow blood in their matches, never mind the use of barbwire and thumbtacks as weapons to use against your opponents. It was a match of its time; a match that stands the test of time— and one of the greatest matches in Royal Rumble history, fueled by the emotion of the competitors, and an epic storyline that would prove Triple H a legitimate headliner.

On a night filled with memorable moments such as the Tables Match between the Hardy Boyz and the Dudely Boyz, not to mention The Rock’s unforgettable Royal Rumble win, Triple H and Mick Foley ended up stealing the show— but it was far from the latest chapter in their rivalry. With the stage set for another iconic battle, the Hardcore Legend and Triple H would step inside a Hell in the Cell for yet, another epic encounter.

  • Ricky D
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Wrestling

Greatest Royal Rumble Matches: Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit

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Royal Rumble 2003

WWE Championship: Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit

WWE’s annual Royal Rumble pay-per-view is famous for its over-the-top main event, but there have also been many legendary single and tag team matches over the years that wound up overshadowing the titular 30-man brawl. One such match came during the Ruthless Aggression Era when two of the greatest wrestlers in the history of professional wrestling, squared off in what would be a technical showcase between two mat technicians. Of course, I’m referring to the 2003 Royal Rumble WWE Championship match between Kurt Angle and the Rabid Wolverine, Chris Benoit.

The match between Benoit and Angle isn’t just one of the greatest matches in WWE history— it is hands-down, the best match of 2003— a non-stop classic that doesn’t get the full recognition it deserves.

This match took place on January 19, at the Fleet Center in Boston. It was the sixteenth annual Royal Rumble and it unfolded during the pinnacle of the first WWE brand split. Monday Night Raw placed a heavy emphasis on soap opera drama while Smackdown focused more on technical wrestling. And if this wasn’t evident at the time, it became crystal clear during the 2003 Royal Rumble pay per view. In short, there was a huge difference in quality between the Angle/Benoit match which headlined the Smackdown brand and the primary match for Raw which saw Triple H and Scott Steiner fight for the World Heavyweight Championship. It was no contest. The Smackdown brand came out on top thanks to the sheer talent of Benoit and Angle; two world-class competitors in their prime and arguably at the time, two of the best wrestlers on the planet.

WWE Championship: Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit

For roughly twenty minutes the Canadian Wolverine and the U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist went to war in a non-stop physical encounter which simmered with an amazing series of transitions from the Ankle lock to the Crippler Crossface. Needless to say, both men pulled off every single one of their special movies, multiple times throughout the match. Benoit attempted a diving headbutt on Angle, only Angle avoided the move and attempted an Angle Slam on Benoit which Benoit countered. Later when Benoit applied the sharpshooter on Angle, Angle in dramatic fashion, slowly made his way to the edge of the ring and touched the ropes to break the submission. Their chemistry was off the charts and the action in the ring kept the audience at the edge of their seats, as did the incredibly convincing near-falls which were executed to perfection. At one point, both men laid on the mat unable to get to their feet which almost resulted in a double count-out. It as a back and forth battle that had spectators believing anyone could win at any given moment.

WWE had built Benoit up as a babyface, and despite being the underdog— with the crowd behind the Canadian wolverine, many believed he would finally hold the belt over his shoulders. By the time Benoit executed a diving headbutt, nobody in the arena was left sitting on their chairs. In the end, however, Benoit applied yet another Crippler Crossface on Angle, only to have Angle counter it into a modified ankle lock, forcing Benoit to submit to the hold. It was a clean finish that featured a rare submission from the famously resilient Benoit.

Angle vs. Benoit at the 2003 Royal Rumble

The match exceeded any expectations and in the end, both men received a standing ovation. And while Benoit didn’t win, he walked away as the man who stole the show. Thankfully, it wasn’t the end for him but only the beginning. Over the course of the next year, he would rise in the ranks of the WWE roster and in 2004, he would win the WWE Championship at WrestleMania XX against Shawn Michaels and Triple H in a triple threat match.

As Kurt Angle said when asked about his career-defining match: If you want to learn and understand the art of pro wrestling, you need to watch the 2003 Royal Rumble World Championship match.

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Up next….. Royal Rumble in January 2019. 16 years ago I had the privilege of defending my WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble. This is how the match was explained verbally to those who haven’t watched it. “Professional wrestling in its purest form is as beautiful as ballet, as elegant as a ballroom dance and as captivating as a theater. By purest form I mean technical wrestling, which in today’s world is almost non-existent. The fiery chain wrestling, involving great chemistry, in-ring psychology and dream like story telling is something that happens when all the stars align.” This match was one of my best performances of my career. If you haven’t seen it, give it a look. #itstrue #wwe #championship #royalrumble

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Angle vs. Benoit can be viewed as the single greatest non-Rumble match in the history of the pay per view. Watching it again after all these years proved to be just as thrilling— even if I already knew the outcome.

  • Ricky D
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TV

“Crisis on Infinite Earths” Concludes By Going Big… and Going Home

Crisis ends, and DC’s television universe looks towards a bright future.

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Crisis on Infinite Earths

(click here for my review of Parts I through III)

After three hours of thrilling cameos, bold narrative design, and clumsy dramatic crescendos, “Crisis on Infinite Earths” returned to air its final two episodes, concluding what’s been arguably the most ambitious experiment on a broadcast network post-LOST. Its final two parts – aired as the ante penultimate episode of Arrow, with Part V serving as the Legends of Tomorrow season premiere – are much like the three that aired in December; equally ridiculous and resonant, able to transcend an undercooked central premise with a combination of heart and humor unlike anything else in the superhero genre.

Equally ridiculous and resonant, Crisis on Infinite Earths transcends an undercooked central premise with a combination of heart and humor unlike anything else in the superhero genre.

“Part V” particularly benefits from being able to serve two critical roles: it serves as both a testament to the core characters of the DC-CW universe and their continued legacy on the network, as well as a poignant reflection on the impending departure of Green Arrow. And despite the obvious similarities, it would be a little simplistic to call Crisis on Infinite Earths the Endgame of the DC Universe: through characters like Sara Lance, Black Lightning, and The Flash, Crisis – and Part V in particular – is a reminder that even 500+ episodes into its universe, there’s still a bright future ahead for its super powered paragons.

Crisis on Infinite Earths

That being said, let’s be honest: “Part IV” is a hot goddamn mess, rush through a web of silly plot twists and unnecessarily drawn-out scenes, that builds to one of the most laughably incoherent action climaxes of recent memory. Watching the heroes fight anti-matter ghosts was bad in “Part I” – by the time we get to the end of “Part IV,” and Ollie the Spectre is trading energy beams with the Anti-Monitor while everyone else stands around punching the air, the conceit of the whole endeavor almost falls flat on its face.

The only reason it doesn’t is because of what comes before it; though it is understandable to criticize “Part IV” for the strange collection of brief flashbacks into Oliver’s past (experienced by our paragons as they exist within the Speed Force), there’s a certain balance between chaos and clarity that’s found in the random assortment of moments The Flash, Supergirl, and company experience. The Speed Force is an unruly, uncontrollable force, and “Part IV” establishes the difficulty of their ability to even exist in such a state: given that, it makes sense that much of what we experience in the Speed Force is unsatisfying, or feels like it is missing out on key moments.

Crisis on Infinite Earths

There’s no doubting how clumsy everything around it is: from the Monitor’s origin story, to the inexplicable beard Ray Choi grows, much of “Part IV” feels like filler material, hamster wheeling its way to its final two minutes, where the paragons…. look up a CGI hill, and think really hard about what they’re the paragon of? While the notions behind the final moments of “Part IV” are certainly noble – the idea that the super friends’ greatest powers are not their physical attributes – the execution is sloppy at best, and teeters towards being utterly ludicrous in its most critical moments.

But when the Anti-Monitor’s siege is (temporarily) defeated, Crisis on Infinite Earths drops the entertaining, if superficial conceit of unpredictable cameos and absolutely insane world building and turns towards deifying Green Arrow. And though it falls utterly flat in landing its emotional beats in “Part IV” (admittedly, it’s hard to take anything seriously after the Climactic Collection of Stares), once Crisis leaves Arrow to move to Legends of Tomorrow, all the pieces begin coming together, to deliver a rather touching homage to the long shadow cast by Stephen Amell’s impending departure.

By centering on The Flash and Sara, two characters who spend most of the episode refusing to believe Oliver doesn’t exist in this new universe (where every character in the DCTV universe has been integrated into one world), “Part V” is able to grasp an emotional thoroughline “Part IV” is way too busy to find. Especially with Sara Lance; as she reflects on her journey from philandering sister, to dead assassin, to captain of a MF’in time ship, Crisis finds resonance in Oliver’s departure, and how that has a rippling effect on every hero left behind.

Crisis on Infinite Earths

Even more interesting is how the subtext of Sara’s reflections give voice to the anxiety of uncharted seas lying ahead for the minds behind the DC television universe: without their original protagonist, their dramatic bedrock of nearly a decade, there is a changing of the guard happening on both sides of the camera. Positing Sara as the de facto protagonist moving forward is a logical move: her journey to becoming a true leader on Legends of Tomorrow might be the single most satisfying arc of this entire dramatic experiment, something “Part V” openly acknowledges as it begins to fill in the landscape of its new shared universe.

By the time “Part V” ends (which, let’s be honest, it takes a long time to get to), there’s a Hall of Justice, a Super Friends table, a brand new conflict for Supergirl to face, and plenty of intriguing new threads for its new and returning series to explore in the coming months and years. The impact of Crisis will ripple through the DC televerse for years to come, and that’s an exciting creative kick start for some of its long running series: though sometimes Crisis certainly feels more interesting to dissect than it is to actually experience, the impact of its conclusion offers infinite potential to rejuvenate series like The Flash, and a fresh slate for shows like Black Lightning, the new Lois and Clark series, and the upcoming Stargirl to begin building a new, more refined foundation on.

Though the minute-to-minute quality of Crisis on Infinite Earths is wildly uneven – and ultimately, it comes up dramatically short in its climactic moments – it is undeniably one of the most exciting television events in recent memory, a crossover that should be lauded for its sheer ambition, and heartfelt delivery. Though the Arrowverse will be losing its bedrock when Arrow departs the air at the end of January, “Part V” proves the new, post-Crisis universe is clearly in good hands heading into the new decade.

Other thoughts/observations:

It is not surprising the two MVP’s of the entire crossover are both Legends of Tomorrow regulars: Brandon Routh pulling dual roles before his own swan song from the universe (“Wait… there was a Super-me?”) and Caity Lotz absolutely fucking chewing scenery in the final half of “Part V”.

Best moment of the crossover? I mean, it’s gotta be the scene with Ezra Miller and Grant Gustin, right? Extremely impressed how they kept that cameo under wraps. The Doom Patrol dance is probably a close second, though.

Swamp Thing cameo!

The sidelining of Constantine in the final two parts is a bummer, though I guess having a dude who can access the world of the dead might make the whole eulogizing Green Arrow thing weird.

Gotta say it: it sucks there was no Felicity in “Part IV” or “Part V”.

Mick Rory the author continues to be the greatest subplot of the DC universe.

Unfortunately, Batwoman sticks out as the weakest part of the new Super Friends lineup. I want to like Ruby Rose in the role, but it’s just not working for me, at least so far.

Beepo!

It is no surprise the best episode of the five-part series is the Legends of Tomorrow season premiere.

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