Comedies about televangelists often seem like shooting fish in a barrel. The subject is so fraught with excess that parody seems impossible. The new satire “The Righteous Gemstones” (10 p.m. Sunday, HBO, TV-MA) is a bit different. It’s driven as much by anger as humor, depicting a family of religious charlatans as little better than organized crime conspirators.
“Gemstones” careens from a failed missionary exhibition in China to the family compound, where patriarch Eli (John Goodman) mourns his late wife and co-founder of the megachurch organization. Danny McBride plays his eldest son, Jesse, who receives a blackmail threat along with a tape of him and his entourage at a cocaine-fueled orgy.
Like most of McBride’s roles (“Eastbound & Down” and “Vice Principals”), Jesse is a violent, foul-mouthed pistol, given to abusing his younger siblings Kelvin (Adam DeVine) and Judy (Edi Patterson). Cassidy Freeman is outstanding as Jesse’s beautiful and seemingly serene wife, Amber, a woman clearly smarter than she lets on.
“Gemstones” gets better as it progresses and calms down a bit. Flashbacks reveal the backstory of Eli’s wife and her Osmonds-like musical career with her younger brother Baby Billy (Walton Goggins), whose efforts to ingratiate himself with Eli’s gravy train are desperate and pathetic.
A subplot about Judy’s efforts to gain respect on the level of her hapless brothers is also sadly amusing. Odd narrative threads about a satanic underground in a nearby town go nowhere.
Goodman is, as expected, wonderful as the cold-blooded operator. He employs scriptural double-talk while gobbling up congregations and donors and destroying every well-established church that gets in his way.
Although “Gemstones” was created by McBride, it’s actually better when his caustic character is not in the picture.
• “The Movies” (9 p.m. Sunday, CNN) concludes with a quick survey of the films of 1930 through the 1950s, a time of heavy censorship, absurd sublimation and coded messages. An era long considered a “golden age” of studio supremacy and control over talent and content withered when faced with competition from television and antitrust rulings.
In the 1950s, studios countered “the boob tube” with widescreen spectacles while, at the same time, television nurtured a new generation of writers and directors like Paddy Chayefsky, Sidney Lumet, John Frankenheimer, Neil Simon and Rod Serling.
Veteran director Alfred Hitchcock was best at bridging the divide, offering widescreen gems like “North by Northwest,” while at the same time entertaining TV viewers with the anthology “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” He’d later use the low-budget, black-and-white television approach to create the more intimate horror of his 1960 hit “Psycho.”
Some of the most respected films of the 1950s (“12 Angry Men,” “Marty” and “Days of Wine and Roses”) were television dramas before they hit the big screen.
In many ways, this 1950s contrast mirrors our current era, where comic book spectacles drive movie box office while streaming services appeal to grown-up viewers.
• The cast and creators of a beloved series answer questions from fans on “Downton Abbey Live!” (9 p.m. Sunday, PBS, TV-G). A movie spinoff of the series hits theaters next month.
• Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, Syfy brings us “Zombie Tidal Wave” (9 p.m. Saturday, TV-14). Starring “Sharknado” star Ian Ziering, it’s part of a weekend festival of ridiculous movies sporting plenty of oceanic gore.
Syfy’s Saturday schedule includes “Dam Sharks!” (9 a.m., TV-14); “Atomic Shark” (10:56 a.m., TV-14); “Zombie Shark” (12:57 p.m., TV-14); “Megalodon” (2:58 p.m., TV-14); “Sharknado” (5 p.m., TV-14) and “Sharknado 2: The Second One” (7 p.m., TV-14). Not to be outdone, AMC airs “Jaws” (6:30 p.m., TV-14) and “Jaws 2” (9:30 p.m., TV-PG).
Ziering (“BH90210”) makes the absolute most of his limited acting skills in “Zombie Tidal Wave,” a film set at a posh beach resort in Thailand that is curiously short on Thai residents. But for the ocean (and tidal wave bearing vicious undead hordes) it could have been shot in New Hampshire!
“Zombie” packs a lot of bloodshed and mayhem, but lacks the cameo-a-second pop culture referencing of the “Sharknado” franchise. It’s closer to the cheap old Syfy movies that inspired “Sharknado” in the first place. Where have you gone “Mansquito”?
• Little League World Series action (8 p.m., ESPN2).
• Celebrities re-enact beloved sitcoms on the Jimmy Kimmel production “Live in Front of a Studio Audience, Norman Lear’s ‘All in the Family’ and ‘The Jeffersons’” (8 p.m., ABC, R, TV-14). A special “All About ‘All in the Family’ and ‘The Jeffersons’” (9:30 p.m.) follows.
• Now disabled, Annie seems lost in the family mansion in the 2019 shocker “V.C. Andrews’ Gates of Paradise” (8 p.m., Lifetime, TV-14).
• A slick city real estate broker schemes to buy a family ranch only to fall for the farmer’s daughter in the 2019 distraction “A Summer Romance” (9 p.m., Hallmark, TV-G).
• Former first lady Michelle Obama and Lin-Manuel Miranda appear on a prime-time helping of “Jimmy Kimmel Live” (10 p.m., ABC, R, TV-14).
• Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (7 p.m., CBS): a cyber tool used to catch criminals with the potential to stifle political dissent; the Pacific Ocean’s plastics crisis.
• The Vikings host the Seahawks in preseason NFL football (8 p.m., Fox).
• Heat and hunger drive a great migration on “Serengeti” (8 p.m., Discovery, TV-PG).
• “I Am Patrick Swayze” (9 p.m., Paramount, TV-14) profiles the likable romantic lead and action star.
• A trip to an abandoned mall proves deadly on “Fear the Walking Dead” (9 p.m., AMC, TV-MA).
• Due diligence on “Succession” (9 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).
• Decourcy considers his options on the season finale of “City on a Hill” (9 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).
• “The Weekly” (10 p.m., FX, TV-14) recalls how the government dropped the ball in its efforts to control the flood of opioids back in 2007.
• Many were upset when a dubbed Audrey Hepburn was cast in the 1964 adaptation of “My Fair Lady” (5 p.m. Sunday, TCM, TV-G) instead of Broadway star Julie Andrews. So outraged that Andrews won the Oscar that year for “Mary Poppins.”
Terror threats on “NCIS: Los Angeles” (8 p.m., CBS, R, TV-14) ... “America’s Got Talent” (8 p.m., NBC, R, TV-PG) ... “So You Think You Can Dance” (8 p.m., Fox, R, TV-14) ... Jamie Foxx hosts “Beat Shazam” (9 p.m., Fox, R, TV-PG) ... Two hours of “48 Hours” (9 p.m., CBS, R) ... “Dateline” (10 p.m., NBC, R).
Julie Chen Moonves hosts “Big Brother” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) ... Auditions continue on three hours of “America’s Got Talent” (7 p.m., NBC, R, TV-PG) ... “Celebrity Family Feud” (8 p.m., ABC, TV-14) ... Illusionists audition on “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” (8 p.m., CW, R, TV-PG).
On two helpings of “Instinct” (CBS, TV-14), death takes a cruise (9 p.m.), hops and suds and murder (10 p.m.) ... “The $100,000 Pyramid” (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14) ... Dean Cain hosts two helpings of “Masters of Illusion” (9 p.m., R, CW, TV-PG) ... Comedians compete on “Bring the Funny” (10 p.m., NBC, R, TV-14) ... “To Tell the Truth” (10 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).