Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

One Punk Under God

With his diminutive frame, grad-school glasses, scruffy beard, and thrift-store-chic wardrobe, Jay Bakker looks uncannily like a cross between his father (disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker) and cult comedian David Cross. Even more surprisingly, Bakker acts like a cross between the two as well: He's part dry-witted, leftist punk-rock hipster, and part tremblingly sincere man of God. Even with all his tattoos and piercings, Bakker cuts a docile, unthreatening figure, more lamb than lion. He's also bright, likeable, emotionally transparent, and filled with internal and external conflicts, all qualities that make him a natural for the personality-driven world of reality television.


The Sundance Channel's six-part documentary series—or really, reality television for people who care about books and interesting films—One Punk Under God chronicles a particularly dramatic period in the younger Bakker's life and ministry. In Punk, Jay tries to establish a more open and supportive relationship with the father he idolizes, even as he abhors the slick, materialistic brand of Christianity he represents. He also copes with his mother's cancer, deals with the blowback from taking a strong pro-gay-marriage stance, and contemplates leaving his hometown ministry so his wife can attend grad school in New York.

Stylistically, Punk is boilerplate reality TV, with music cues that hammer home emotions, and editing that mechanically ratchets up suspense. But what one follower indelibly, affectionately describes as Jay's "haphazardly human" quality shines through. It's utterly disarming to watch a religious leader wrestle so nakedly with his ambivalence over what path to follow. Jay is simultaneously a shepherd to his oddball flock, and a lost little boy seeking his father's love and approval. The conflict between Jay's punk-rock ethos and his call to the ministry gives the series a bracing tension. One of its most heart-wrenching moments finds Jim embracing his son on-camera during the taping of The New Jim Bakker Show in a way he probably wouldn't have unless cameras were rolling. Jay's dad seems intent on saving everything for television. His son, thankfully, isn't anywhere near as co-dependent in his relationship with TV cameras, but his life nevertheless makes for great melodrama.

Key features: Engaging outtakes and an amusing (though brief) Bakker family photo slideshow.