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Archive for Thursday, January 29, 2009

‘Trials’ presents surprising portrait

January 29, 2009

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“The Trials of Ted Haggard” (7 p.m., HBO) will surprise you. Filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi has a way of asking viewers to look at her subjects in a different light. Her intimate 2002 documentary “Journeys with George” offered an irreverent look at the 2000 campaign of then Gov. George W. Bush. Pelosi has gone on to make “Friends of God,” a film about religion and politics, and she is preparing a documentary about contemporary conservatives.

During the making of “Friends,” she struck up a relationship with minister Ted Haggard, then leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, an organization that claimed up to 30 million members. He was among the most influential religious figures in America, and, by extension, a force to be reckoned with in Republican politics.

Much has changed since then. After Haggard admitted to a liaison with a masseur and to buying drugs, he was expelled from his Colorado congregation under a harsh severance agreement with the New Life Church that banished him from the pulpit and from his home state of Colorado.

“Trials” follows Haggard and his family as they rebuild their lives in Arizona, decamping from one loaned home to another, then moving into a succession of ever-cheaper hotels and motels as Haggard looks for steady work and faces a daily diet of humiliation.

Combining Pelosi’s home-movie approach with news footage and videos of Haggard’s old sermons, “Trials” offers an empathetic portrait of a man whose worst nightmares have been realized. As in her earlier movies, Pelosi plays the role of a pesky interrogator, slipping in brutally direct questions with almost childlike frankness.

Now 52, the boyish Haggard still flashes a megawatt smile in almost every interview. But none of this disguises his anguish and shame.

“Trials” is the best of Pelosi’s short films, a movie that doesn’t so much judge Haggard as contemplate the very nature of exile. It leaves you wishing Pelosi and her camera were around to provoke and prod Richard Nixon in the late 1970s or interrogate Napoleon during his forced retirement.

Tonight’s other highlights

• Prentice and Reid are seized by a cult on “Criminal Minds” (7 p.m., CBS).

• Joy is placed in quarantine on “My Name Is Earl” (7 p.m., NBC).

• Auditions continue on “American Idol” (7 p.m., Fox).

• Betty tries to make things right with Gio on “Ugly Betty” (7 p.m., ABC).

• An undercover agent is slain brutally on “CSI” (8 p.m., CBS).

• An ethics lesson becomes tricky on “The Office” (8 p.m., NBC).

• Gordon Ramsay hosts 13 aspiring chefs on a new season of “Hell’s Kitchen” (8 p.m., Fox.

• Jerry O’Connell hosts “Super Bowl Bash” (8 p.m., VH1), featuring NFL stars and performances by Rihanna, Fall Out Boy and Lifehouse.

• A different side of Liz emerges at her high-school reunion on “30 Rock” (8:30 p.m., NBC).

• Two hearts prove too much of a medical miracle on “Eleventh Hour” (9 p.m., CBS).

• Banfield recalls her traumatic encounter with Dr. Greene (Anthony Edwards) on “ER” (9 p.m., NBC).

• Addison’s brother becomes a medical rival on “Private Practice” (9 p.m., ABC).

• A high-school football star becomes a target on “Burn Notice” (9 p.m., USA).

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