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john doyle

"God, please don't let my daughter become a porn star."

The speaker is not just moaning in a general way. He is actually addressing God directly. Head in hands, he is asking for divine intervention. He's a preacher and the pastor of the City of Refuge Pentecostal Church in Joliet, Ill. The preacher is asking for God's help because his teenage daughter has declared that she wouldn't mind being a porn star. She has also said that if the money for her education isn't available, she might pay her way though college as a stripper, but her dad doesn't know that yet.

Teenage girls. Twentysomething young women. If you watch TV, the commercials will give you the impression that the biggest issue facing them is the possibility of "frizz" in their hair and the search for salon-strength solutions to this abomination.

But look at comedy, drama and reality shows and there is a proliferation of programs devoted to the genuine dilemmas, desires and obsessions of both adolescent and twentysomething women. Lena Dunham's Girls is the most famous and serious of the genre, and, of course, it's fiction – both comedy and drama – that some of its audience mistakes for reality TV. Dunham's creation is, in part, rooted in the sensation of a hidden world being opened up for viewers. The same applies to both the most banal and lurid versions of the genre.

Preachers' Daughters (Lifetime Canada, 10 p.m.) is the latest entry and it's lurid, but in a way that actually illustrates something about the U.S culture, certainly that portion of it devoted to old-fashioned Christian ideals. It examines three preachers' daughters – those emblematic figures – as they face their parents' expectations, their faith's orthodoxies and the natural pressure to evolve and grow.

The three are Kolby Koloff, 16, daughter of a preacher who previously had a career as WWE wrestler: Nikita Koloff, a.k.a. The Russian Nightmare. Kolby wants to start dating and is curious about sex. Dad is nice, but wary of her seeing boys. Her mom is also a preacher and gives warning lectures about sex to teenagers. In Tuesday's opener, mom says, "My girls … better not be doing any of that stuff!"

There is also Olivia Perry, 18, a teenage mom and daughter of pastor Mark Perry in Oceano, Calif. Olivia was a wild child. She admits to "drinking, sleeping around and driving while on acid." There's a scene in which she tells a secret to her two sisters about her daughter, Eden – "You know how Eden's father is Sean? Well, there's actually a chance that the father is this guy named Jay." Viewers await the delivery of this news to her preacher dad.

Finally, there's Taylor Coleman, the one who is thinking about being a porn star. It is her African-American family that is the most gripping in this series, this mess of adolescent longings, delusions and parental despair. Dad Ken thinks of her as a little angel, but Taylor is formidably rebellious and spends a lot of time with guys who mumble explicit flirtations to her. Taylor is also aware that when her sister, Kendra, became pregnant at the age of 20, Ken kicked her out of the house.

What is this thing? Salacious and silly at times, it's also a fascinating riff on an iconic figure in U.S. popular culture, a figure much storied, especially in song. The preachers' daughters we meet in the series are, in all cases, close to the folkloric females who represent a very American kind of perverse desirability: Moulded by their fathers to be virtuous, they arouse a special kind of lust in other men. Everyone from old bluesmen to Bruce Springsteen has written about such young women.

There is also the illustration of the gulf between Christian teachings, even when promulgated in the home, and the temptations that bedevil youth. The preacher dads are anti-this and anti-that, but their children are wont to embrace what dad wants denied. There's a crude encapsulation of cultural tension in the United States right now, right there.

Mostly, though, it embraces and illuminates the truth of those emblematic tensions that appear in so many songs, stories and movies. While preacher dad is praying, "God, please don't let my daughter become a porn star," daughter is in her room in a bikini, admiring herself in the mirror. And saying, "I'm cute, I'm cute!"

Sex, sin, lust and the preachers' daughters – this will all end in tears.