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TELEVISION REVIEW

Going into the belly of Evangelical America

January 24, 2007|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

Lots of people between New York and Los Angeles really like God, Alexandra Pelosi discovers in the one-hour documentary "Friends of God: A Road Trip With Alexandra Pelosi," premiering Thursday on HBO.

Pelosi, daughter of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, made the 2002 doc "Journeys With George" that told us two things: Primaries are a slog for the press corps inside what's known as "the bubble" of election campaigns, and George W. Bush really likes Cheetos.

Bush came off as an entitled, genial candidate in "Journeys"; the film is not about his politics, it's about his ability to relate to Pelosi, a scruffy NBC news producer in purple who's fallen in love with the reporter she calls "Newsweek Man."

As a member of the traveling press, Pelosi repeatedly hits the candidate with something odd -- empathy -- and Bush repeatedly appears stumped.

"Journeys" is the most intimate record of Bush I've seen; it's free of politics because it's pre-his politics; time and events, arguably, have made it a remarkable, even surreal, document.

But in "Friends of God" Pelosi takes her "Real World" self and noncombative questions into Evangelical America and fails to achieve any intimacy whatsoever. The film is a Rough Guide of Holy Roller-ville, Pelosi the Blue State girl hitting the road with implied Trader Joe's snacks to have look-but-don't-touch encounters with Christian wrestlers, Christian car enthusiasts, Christian theme park operators, Christian home-schoolers.

What she observes -- that there are millions of evangelicals out there, sectarian culture warriors, young and old, folded into pop culture and with political might -- never rises to anything more than the preordained tour into the Land of Difference that Pelosi herself is on.

At its worst, it all comes off as a social worker's patronizing home visit, as when Pelosi drops in on a brood of Christian home-schoolers in Pikeville, Tenn., and seems to want to spirit away the mother of 10, maybe take her back to New York City to teach her how to blog.

Though Pelosi does, once again, get a "get" just by having a knack for being there. In this case it's the Rev. Ted Haggard, disgraced ex-leader of the New Life Church and National Assn. of Evangelicals, who resigned over "sexually immoral conduct" shortly after Pelosi finished her documentary.

See Pastor Ted in better times say: "You know, all the surveys say that evangelicals have the best sex life of any other group." See Pastor Ted ask a congregant about his wife: "Out of 100 times, what percentage does she climax?"

"We gotta join this church!" Pelosi enthuses, off-camera.

Poor Pastor Ted; Pelosi's so unabashed, and he's so toast.

paul.brownfield@latimes.com

*

`Friends of God: A Road Trip With Alexandra Pelosi'

Where: HBO

When: 9 to 10 p.m. Thursday

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