For a lot of us who grew up in the eighties, the story of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker was a bit of an eye opener. Their various scandals involving tax evasion and completely decadent spending habits made a lot of people realize that despite the fact that these people supposed to preach the word of God, they too, like the rest of us (probably even more so!), were sinners. Jim went to jail, Tammy Faye divorced him and went on to do her own thing, and then there was their son - Jay Bakker. Jay's an interesting guy. In a way he has followed in his father's footsteps. He is a preacher but he's a very atypical one in that he wants nothing to do with the pomp and circumstance seemingly required by organized religion and instead talks to the common man, the misguided, and rebellious and the angry on their own level. If outward appearances are anything to go on (and they rarely are), Jay's just an average skate punk. Lots of tattoos, some piercings, he enjoys the rock n roll and he smokes too much - but if you listen to his theology it soon becomes readily apparent that this guy means what he says and that more so than most preachers, actually seems to understand the acceptance and understanding that Christ taught.
Essentially, all you need to know to jump into this six episode series is that Jay's church is refreshingly unconventional. He preaches at a bar (literally) and the offices are housed inside an auto repair shop. There's no pretentiousness here, it's very laid back and very accepting - just as it should be. Along the way, we meet a few people who one could probably label the supporting characters in Jay's life - his wife, his mother, his father, and a few of the people who work with him in his ministry. As the series progresses these people all play various roles in Jay's life, some good and some bad, though the focus of the series stays primarily on him and his work.
Here's a quick run down of the events that make up the show:
Episode 1:The premiere episode is interesting in that it show Jay visiting the remains of his father's strange religious theme park. In a sense, we see him trying to come to terms with the bizarre relationship that he and Jim Bakker share and in many ways this sets the stage for the whole series.
Episode 2: Jay visits a very sick Tammy Faye and once he's done with that he brings up the idea of openly accepting homosexual members into his church's parish. This idea doesn't fly so well with everyone.
Episode 3: Jay decides that opening the church to homosexuals is the right thing to do, though oddly enough his open mindedness and acceptance of others causes an important donor to stop funding the church. On top of all this, he goes to visit his dad.
Episode 4: When Jay's wife gets accepted to medical school he has to decide if he wants to move to New York with her or stay in Atlanta and continue working with the church that has become such a huge part of his life.
Episode 5:Jay decides to stick with his wife and starts making the preparations required to relocate to New York City. Before he goes, he address his parish one last time.
Episode 6: Now working and living in Brooklyn, Jay decides to start up a new church with some help. At the same time, his mother's health begins to deteriorate and a rather unsettling pace.
Now, as interesting as Jay Bakker is and as interesting as this series is, it's not perfect. There are some loose ends that are left hanging in terms of what happens to the Atlanta division of the church once Jay leaves and in relation to how the new church in NYC is started. Also, the issues with accepting gays into the church isn't delved into as deeply as it probably could have and in fact at times it almost feels like it's been intentionally glossed over, possibly not to rock the boat with the target audience too much? Jim Bakker has obviously had a huge effect on Jay and it would have been nice to delve deeper into their relationship, of lack thereof, if only to satiate our own curiosity and to learn more about how Jay feels as to living in his father's very large and rather unseemly shadow.
That being said, it may not have been possible to wrap it all up as neatly as maybe we might like. Jay's life and work continues, and it probably will for the foreseeable future. Regardless of how you feel about Christianity, it's interesting to see someone like Jay Bakker, who is a bit of a celebrity just thanks to his birthright, doing something genuine with his faith. Jay's very definitely doing what he thinks he needs to do to make the world a better place and to help people. Theological differences aside, there's something to be said for that. One Punk Under God is an interesting look at how Jay does that and how it affects him and those in his life. As such, it's a fascinating character study more than anything else and it's one that works more as a human interest story than any sort of theological statement. It doesn't matter how you feel about Jay's beliefs, his politics or his lifestyle - he seems to be a very honest and genuine person trying to make a difference which makes for very solid and thought provoking television.
The episodes in this set are presented as they were broadcast in 1.33.1 transfers that preserve the show's original aspect ratio and keep the compositions, some of which are surprisingly artistic for what is essentially a reality show, completely intact. As far as the quality of the video goes, this is a pretty decent looking batch of episodes. Color reproduction is good and while detail varies from scene to scene depending on where things are being shot, for the most part the material comes across quite nicely. There's a bit of shimmer but aside from that, not much to complain about here.
Each of the six episodes in this set are presented in an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track that does a fine job of bringing the material to life. There's not a whole lot of channel separation but you'll notice it here and there when you need to. Dialogue is clean and clear and the score used in the background has got enough punch to matter. A 5.1 mix might have been fun but in reality, it probably wouldn't have added anything - this track works and it works well.
Sadly, this is where the set falls short. While it would have been nice to see a commentary track or some follow up interviews that tie up some of the loose ends from the show, instead we get a trailer, a still gallery, and a handful of deleted scenes that really don't add anything to the episodes they were excised from. Animated menus and chapter stops are also included here.
Despite any substantial extra features, this is a solid set and the content here is what matters. Those who think that there's nothing more to Christianity than what we see on the networks or what we see in the mainstream churches should give this a look - it's a very human and very inspiring look at one man trying to balance his faith, his family and his life, which is something that a lot of us can relate to. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.