Danny McBride takes us inside the writer’s room of The Righteous Gemstones

November 9, 2019 Danny Munso

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The Righteous Gemstones
By Danny Munso

Unlike most TV writers’ rooms that are located on the lots of various film studios in L.A., Danny McBride runs his out of Rough House Pictures, the Charleston, South Carolina-based company he started with fellow EP Jody Hill and frequent collaborator David Gordon Green. After HBO greenlit the rest of the series, McBride gathered his scribes to plot out the remaining eight episodes for the first season. Typically, they’ll break the entire first season all at once before each is assigned to do a quick draft on a particular episode. “During that process I work on every draft, and I’ll move through them one at a time, so for instance after we did the pilot I would knock out episode two and then move to the draft for episode three, and each time I’m doing adjustments,” McBride says. “As soon as you get into each episode, you realize, This character needs to be set up or paid off better, so we’ll make adjustments to the story in real time in the room.” He also encourages the writers to do fast initial drafts and not take more than a week with each story. For McBride, getting the mechanics and arc of the story right is the first priority for each script. “I don’t want people to spend a lot of time on them because a lot of it won’t even end up staying in the show. The drafts are really just to test out stories and test out if we’re spending the real estate the right way. Then I’ll move through and start filling them out and making sure the continuity is tracking.”

McBride isn’t overly concerned about dialogue at this stage because he’s confident in his own abilities in that vein and those of the writing staff, which include Vice Principals vets John Carcieri and Jeff Fradley and even actress Edi Patterson herself to find the character’s voices at any given time. “The dialogue we can rip through,” he says. “Me and these guys and Edi can make the dialogue our own in 100 different ways. Those drafts are all about testing the parameters of the story and making sure we’re on the path to something that’s going to pay off. I love trying to create story and figuring out all that stuff, but that’s definitely the part that gets you seeing cross-eyed by the end of the day. It’s the stuff you get bogged down in.” The truly unique writing process directly led to the best episode of the season, the 1980s-set flashback, “Interlude,” which is directed by Green, appears smack in the middle of the season and focuses on the Gemstone children’s mother, Aimee-Leigh (Jennifer Nettles), who is deceased in the show’s present day but is in her prime in this particular episode.

The episode was never a part of the grand plan for the season but sprouted organically from a conversation between McBride, Carcieri and Fradley. “That was an episode where we just joked around in the room early on of, ‘Oh, it would be great to see them back then,’ but we never really figured out how to do it,” McBride says. “We didn’t want to do just random flashbacks over the course of the season either. So we just finished episode four, and the idea of doing a whole flashback episode came up.” The trio broke the story in just four hours, creating an outline and penning the entire episode in a single day, and amazingly, it stuck. “What we wrote that day ended up being exactly what we shot. We never changed anything, and that’s never happened in anything I’ve written. We take four, sometimes six weeks to write scripts, and for that to happen in a few hours is crazy. We hadn’t experienced anything like it, but we knew these characters so well and knew what we wanted to do with that time period. It was fun to not have any constraints and not have to carry on with the linear structure of the story. It was a fun refresher to write in the middle of the whole thing.”

The episode also made pop-culture waves because of “Misbehavin’,” a song performed by Nettles and Walton Goggins, who portrays the Gemstones’ Uncle Baby Billy, Aimee-Leigh’s black sheep of a brother who is always at odds with Eli. Aimee-Leigh and Baby Billy were a Donny and Marie¬–like brother-and-sister singing duo who broke up after Aimee-Leigh married Eli. A now adult Aimee-Leigh and Baby Billy perform the song on one of the Gemstones’ broadcasts, and the catchy, hilarious tune takes off, trending on Twitter that evening and becoming one of the hallmarks of the show’s season. Later, Baby Billy performs the song with Judy after trying to groom her as Aimee-Leigh’s successor. “We knew going into that episode that those two characters had worked on a song together, but we never really thought about what the song was going to be or that we would ever need to come up with anything,” McBride says. “But as we wrote that episode, it became apparent they should perform the song.” One day in the writers’ room, Patterson asked McBride what he thought the song should sound like, and he spouted the first line: “Mama told me not to/I did anyway/Misbehavin’.” And within 20 minutes, the two had penned the majority of the lyrics. McBride recorded Patterson singing the melody into his phone and sent it to series composer Joseph Stephens, who had finished the lyrics and put music to it by the next morning. “We all fell in love with it,” McBride adds. “There’s something so sentimental and sweet about it that this song is at the core of Aimee-Leigh and Baby Billy’s relationship. It seemed very fitting.”

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