In ‘The Righteous Gemstones,’ Fashion Sells the Jokes ‘Even More’

Clothes and comedy have a complicated relationship. Showrunners often want their comedies to have a bold and memorable look, but there comes a point when the zaniest fashion choices threaten to upstage even the most well-written jokes or exacting performances. That’s never a concern for Christina Flannery, the costume designer for HBO’s series “The Righteous Gemstones.”

Created by Danny McBride, who also stars in the series, the show follows the Gemstone family, a rich group of narcissists all swept up in the family business of televangelism. It’s a bit like “Succession” if the Roy family had a rhinestone budget and worked in mega churches. “[The actors] take the clothes and bring it to another level,” Flannery said. One example is a lacy pink dress with a huge flower on its shoulder that Tiffany (Valyn Hall) wears in the third episode of Season 3.

“It kept getting into her face constantly,” Flannery said. “It was amazing and maybe it sold the joke more.”

The Righteous Gemstones
“The Righteous Gemstones” Season 3 (Photo Credit: HBO)

Even more extreme is the outfit Baby Billy (Walton Goggins) wears when we first meet him in this latest season. The poolside singer for a Christian-themed timeshare resort first turns around to face the camera sporting a pastel blue suit with a matching oyster shell attached to his back. The idea for Goggins to wear an oyster shell wasn’t originally in the script. Flannery pitched it to McBride when she replaced costume designer Sarah Trost for Season 3. She conceived the look as Liberace meets Wayne Newton.

“It just kept getting bigger and bigger,” she said. “I was nervous that it was too much. I sent it to (Danny), and he thought it was hilarious. We redid the scene a little to encompass Baby Billy’s show and give it more airtime.”

According to Flannery, Goggins also loved the costume, despite its eight-pound weight. “He was dying, he loved it so much,” she said.

After the oyster shell idea came to fruition, Flannery felt “pretty open” to pushing the envelope further — and in “The Righteous Gemstones,” there is plenty of room to do so, even within its own set of fashion rules. Given the series’ setting in conservative South Carolina, skirts often land right above the knees, cleavage is largely covered and most of the men wear suits. Flannery tries to dress the Gemstones by balancing what clothes they would have access to in their area with what they understand to be fashionable and “what they could get away with,” she said. “Danny likes the show [to feel] authentic, and the clothes aren’t necessarily right away the joke.”

Because this is a comedy about three spoiled adult children forever trapped in their parents’ shadow, even the most high-end designer garments look gauche. That means Bob Mackie designs that make Judy (Edi Patterson) look like
Dolly Parton and “Reba McEntire from the ’80s,” as Flannery put it; Jesse (McBride) coming off as the cheesiest “Miami mafioso” version of someone who can afford Versace; and Kelvin (Adam Devine) resembling a TikTok pastor,
complete with the deep V-necks and too many beaded necklaces. The disconnect between wealth and taste is intentional.

The Righteous Gemstones
“The Righteous Gemstones” Season 3 (Photo Credit: HBO)

“They try to be cool, and it’s just not landing,” she said. That desperation also appears in the third season’s flashbacks, which show the teenage version of Jesse (J. Gaven Wilde) showing off what Flannery called a “South Pole FUBU look” and a silk suit inspired by Dale Earnhardt and Elvis. As for teenage Judy (Emma Shannon), she strives to have her own Britney Spears moment.

“She’s trying really hard to be a little bit sexy and cool,” Flannery said. It does not work.

Despite all the luxury pieces the show incorporates, Flannery strives to keep her costumes under budget. “I come from a long line of thrifting. I own vintage stores and things like that, so I get a high from finding something at a discounted price,” she said. “[My team] will find some that we absolutely love, and then we’re like, ‘Oh, my god. Let’s find it on Etsy for $500 less.'”

That frugality offsets the more over-the-top items that can’t be returned. “That’s what makes it such a dream job,” Flannery said. “A lot of the time we can be like, ‘OK, this is absolutely repulsive. Let’s get it.'”

This story first appeared in the Comedy Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

A version of this story first ran in the Comedy Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the issue here.

Larry David photographed by Mary Ellen Matthews
Larry David photographed by Mary Ellen Matthews

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