'On Becoming a God' and 'Righteous Gemstones': Review

The over-the-top monologue, of course, looks nothing like the America his FAM followers actually live in: Krystal, for instance, is punished for trying to sell FAM products her own way (through an exercise class at the waterpark where she works). The geyser of opportunity, it seems, comes with a set of rules and restrictions.

Episode by episode, On Becoming a God has been skewering the concept of the American dream, observing it as a con the haves orchestrate to prey on the have-nots. But in this midseason entry, the show drives the knife in deeper: Krystal may be trying to rise through the ranks in order to earn bonuses, and get out of debt, but she realizes that there’s no way to do so without lying about her success and taking advantage of others—in other words, doing exactly what Garbeau does. In that regard, the series has reached its timely thesis: To pursue the American dream is, too often, to corrupt it, eventually tarnishing the idea of success itself.

Krystal, after all, had been the paragon of anti-Garbeau-ism since the day her late husband bought his tapes home—yet by Episode 5, she’s expounding the virtues of the “system.” And though she tells herself she’s unmoved by FAM (she’s just trying to rise through the ranks, earn bonuses, and get out of debt), she’s become a poster child for the scheme, extraordinarily good at executing FAM’s ideas. She’s a self-starter: She recruits her neighbor when she realizes he’s at a vulnerable moment in his life. She’s her own boss: She overpowers Cody (Théodore Pellerin), her recruiter (or “upline”), and manipulates him into seeing her as a love interest. She’s a winner: At Garbeau’s McMansion, “Paradise Cay,” she orders Cody to propose to her onstage, a grotesque display of affection she concocts to impress Garbeau.

The latter stunt doesn’t work, and this only frustrates Krystal further. She began the series hoping to make enough money to raise her daughter. But midway through the season, she’s dreaming of never being poor again and going to greater lengths to attain her goal. Worse, her pursuits are taking her away from home; she spends most of her time in Paradise Cay determined to meet Garbeau. It’s as if her original intentions have been overshadowed by her new ambitions.

On Becoming a God isn’t the only comedy tackling this hypocrisy. The Righteous Gemstones, HBO’s provocative comedy about a televangelist family in the South, also complicates the American dream in its latest installment. Told mostly through flashbacks set in 1989, its fifth episode finds a young Eli (John Goodman), the Gemstone family patriarch, and his wife Aimee-Leigh (Jennifer Nettles, of the country music duo Sugarland) strolling across a picturesque plot of land in which they’re hoping to put down roots. The couple joke they’ll build houses for each of their children so they can keep them close forever. Then Eli proposes, “Maybe we’ll build our own amusement park with our own roller coasters.”

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