The Trials of Ted Haggard -- TV Review

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What a profoundly sad, often invasive but ultimately fascinating documentary portrait this is of the fallen pastor of Colorado's New Life Church. "The Trials of Ted Haggard" further demonstrates the grassroots talents of one Alexandra Pelosi, daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and crafter of the Emmy-winning film "Journeys with George" in 2000, who includes here footage of a far more triumphant Haggard shot for a previous doc entitled "Friends of God" in 2005.

When the sex scandal that drove Haggard from his own church erupted in 2006, he was exiled from the state of Colorado and forced to scramble with his wife and children through a series of houses offered by sympathetic friends in Arizona as well as cheap motels. Pelosi wound up chronicling this fall from grace almost by accident, stitching it together along with the prior material for this harrowing 45-minute overview that proves in most ways wholly sympathetic to Haggard's plight.

It's almost not possible for a portrayal to be any more raw and painful than this in depicting a man's utter humbling and humiliation. The truth is that while Haggard sullied himself in admitting to buying crystal meth from a male hustler and possibly doing more, the unmistakable message in "The Trials of Ted Haggard" is that this punishment hardly fits the severity of the crime. Pelosi captures her subject hitting bottom in his struggle to make a living and rise from the emotional/spiritual abyss. He sells insurance door-to-door. He goes on a job interview -- purportedly his first ever -- and muses that he hopes "they don't Google me." The video camera in this case isn't so much a confessional as a window into a man's soul and it's not easy to watch. There is also a subtext of religious hypocrisy in his church casting him out and banishing him to a murky life of "spiritual restoration."

Yet even as we warm to Haggard's exhaustive efforts to restore his reputation and carve out a new life, fresh charges were being leveled this week by a former male parishioner alleging Haggard performed a sex act in front of him while still with the church. More than perhaps anything, what this disturbingly revealing collection of musings fairly screams is that God and everyone else should allow him to be, and finally admit to himself, that which he really is.

Airdate: 8-8:45 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 29 (HBO)
Production: HBO
Executive producer: Sheila Nevins
Supervising producer: Lisa Heller
Producer-director-camera: Alexandra Pelosi
Producer-camera: Michiel Vos
Editors: Ken Eluto, Paula Heredia
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