A father, a son and business of religion

Times Staff Writer

The god in "One Punk Under God," an arty docu-reality series debuting tonight on Sundance, is either God the Father or Jim Bakker, the father.

The lowercase dad proves harder to reach; you have to go through his assistant, Armando. The punk is Jay Bakker, son of Jim and Tammy Faye, having turned 30 and, as the show opens, living in Atlanta, where he walks among a coffeehouse niche of the tattooed and pierced, trying to get his own liberal-humanist ministry, called Revolution, off the ground.

Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, the producers of "One Punk Under God," are something like official biographers of this indelible clan; they have an inherent understanding of our fascination with the Bakkers' status as the First Family of Disgraced Televangelism.

Their highly entertaining 2000 film "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" caught up with Tammy Faye Bakker Messner in a gated community in Palm Springs as she waited for another husband to be released from prison and pruned her perma-lashes. The film, narrated beautifully by RuPaul, was like a cineaste's cheeky take on an "E! True Hollywood Story": Puppets provided meta-commentary and the real Tammy Faye emerged as still wacky but also touching and sympathetic -- part tragic icon, part Liza.

The tone of "One Punk Under God" is considerably different, because it's bathed in Jay's post-rebellion slacker ennui and has the soundtrack to go with it.

The son, with his postmodern dream of marrying a punk aesthetic to a Christian ministry, is somewhere between sympathetic and entitled -- a Southern, Bible-thumping version of a Tori Spelling.

The child of show business parents, Jay seems to have inherited Tammy Faye's sweetness and Jim's jaw line, but neither parent's gift for shameless exhibitionism.

It's a blessing, you think, even if Jay can't quite get his head around it. Beneath the look -- a tapestry of tattoos on each arm, a hoop in his lower lip, a Castro-as-young-revolutionary thing going with the horn-rimmed glasses and hat -- is a recovering wastrel, abashed and open-hearted, the self-absorbed part of him kept in check by his patient wife, Amanda, and Stu, a surrogate dad who runs the Spray Glo Auto Body shop.

The series is partly about Jay's efforts to keep Revolution afloat, and partly an excuse for Bailey and Barbato to go catch up with the people who continue to fascinate them -- I'll cop to it too -- Jim and Tammy Faye.

Jim Bakker is in a part of America that will have him -- the dinner-theater country of Branson, Mo., where he co-hosts "The Jim Bakker Show" with wife Lori.

Tammy Faye's in North Carolina, reduced from her former essence by cancer. Jay and Tammy's scenes together come off as sad and awkward.

But at least Tammy's available; Jay can get to his father only by booking himself on his TV show. The comic ruination of Jim Bakker had its zenith in Heritage U.S.A., the PTL theme park. It's a wasteland in transition now, symbolizing cartoon corruption, although Jay, bounding around the property, seems not so much bitter as wistful.

"My 11th birthday was somewhere over here," he says, pointing in the direction of some trees.

"One Punk Under God" has this somewhat poignant, mournful tone, and for this it's worth watching. If Revolution seems fated never to graduate beyond a kind of audiovisual club, it's as much a result of Jay's failings as an outsized salesman-preacher as his acceptance of the gay and transgender communities.

From the pulpit of the cabaret club in Atlanta that doubles as his church, his sermons come off as stumbling and real. And here is the show's weirdly affecting hope: Jay Bakker's failings as a chip off the old block also make him a human being.




'One Punk Under God'

Where: Sundance Channel

When: 9 tonight

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World