“Jersey Strong” recap (1.1): Romeo The Crip & Juliet The Blood

The cast of "Jersey Strong"

Jersey Strong is a new reality show on Pivot.tv centering around the lives of two fiercely focused Newark women. Jayda, an eloquent ex-gang banger, works with at-risk young women in need of guidance and raises a family with a husband from a rival gang. Brooke, a brilliant litigator, runs a criminal law firm while being deliriously in love with her partner, Maggie.

Auditorium

The series opens with Jayda lecturing an auditorium of rapt teenage girls. Jayda is a commanding figure and authoritative lecturer, easily switching between tones of warning and camaraderie. After a shitty system childhood, Jayda became a foot solider for the bloods. Now she’s trying to make up for all that by being a speaker and community leader focusing on at-risk young women.

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Jayda’s House

Jayda, Creep, Layla, and Altahmeir sit down for a family dinner. Although Jayda and Creep seem blissfully in love, their relationship has a dramatic backstory. Since Jayda was a blood and Creep was a Crip, the two were supposed to be mortal rivals. “It’s like Romeo and Juliet,” Jayda explains, “When Creep and I started dating, homegirl gets disciplined, crip gets killed. That’s the rule. Well it was the rule. Good thing about making rules is you get to break them.” Layla is Creep and Jayda’s four-year-old daughter, and Altahmeir is Layla’s son from a previous relationship.They are trouble-shooting for a “Blood And Crip All White Affair” that Jayda is planning. I’ll leave that little topic to you because frankly I don’t even know where to start with “Blood And Crip All White Affair” aka “DO NOT WEAR GANG COLORS TO THIS PARTY PLEASE OH GOD PLEASE.”

Altahmeir is an eerily mature little boy who mirrors his mother’s focus on education and discipline. After dinner, he meticulously scrubs his sneakers with a toothbrush in the bathroom. “I choose academics over popularity. The others, the nerds, they’re fun ’cause they chose academics,” Altahmeir informs us solemnly. “I’m trying to get on the principal’s honor code. That’s when you get all A’s.” He wants to be a surgeon because surgeons are like superheroes.

Brooke’s Law Firm

Brooke is an aggressive power lesbian with a heart of gold and accent of deep Jersey. I love witty brunettes who shout constantly, so I lurve Brooke the litigator. Brooke decided to become an attorney after being arrested before Senior Prom with 50 Ritalin. “I believe I give people second chances. I believe all people deserve a second chance.” Kwadir, one of Brooke’s clients, arrives to talk about his upcoming case. A New Jersey cop shot Kwadir through the face, damaging the young man’s sight and momentarily killing Kwadir. Kwadir says he was shot after being called over to a car by name. The cop is claiming Kwadir had a gun, and was going to use the weapon against an officer.

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After current client Kwadir leaves, one of Brooke’s former clients stops by the office. Slick, a pro-fighter, was facing 40 years. Brooke got him acquitted of all charges. The two chat about his upcoming match until Slick moves on and Maggie, Brooke’s sardonic blonde partner, arrives. While Brooke is in the courtroom Maggie helps out with decor, marketing, and day-to-day office affairs. “It feels like Maggie and I have been together my whole life. It feels like nothing existed before her, and nothing will exist after her.” Yep, sounds like a lesbian with a girlfriend to me!

Support Group jerz4-1 Jayda organizes a monthly meet up for local women to get together and support each other. They eat, talk, and work on life-building skills such as resume building or child care. After chatting for bit, Jayda notices something off about Ashley, a young mother of three. Jayda takes Ashley aside and asks her straight up: “You pregnant?” After a moment’s pause, Ashley confirms Jayda’s suspicions. The very pretty and very young woman is pregnant with her fourth child.

Brooke’s Home

Brooke and Maggie set the table for a delicious looking feast of spaghetti. Together the lesbian couple is raising Maggie’s two teenagers. Maggie’s daughter reads her college application essay from a cell phone. Ugh. Essays on cellphones. The essay is about finding out her mother, Maggie, was actually dating her new friend Brooke and how Brooke had become a wonderful role model/idol. It’s a cloyingly sweet moment that does not scream authenticity. Gay or not gay, I have yet to meet a teenager who would sincerely describe their step-mother as a “MOTHER, MENTOR, AND IDOL.” Save that college essay bullshitting for the dean of admissions.

Ms Parker’s House

Jayda visits Ashley’s mother aka Ms. Parker aka “the real deal.” We soon learn just how real Ms. Parker’s Deal is.

Jayda: I was talking to Ashley about the baby and everything.

Ms. Parker: What do you mean, baby?

Jayda: The baby in her belly

Ms Parkers’s expression drops from “polite smile” to “what the hell” in one scary moment.

Ashley (in the background): “Damnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn”

Jayda, who didn’t know that Ashley hadn’t told her mother about being pregnant for the fourth time, looks uncomfortable. Ashley, who is three months pregnant, has decided to keep the baby.  Jayda reminds Ashley that there are other options, and the conversation turns into one of the most honest and authentic conversations on pregnancy and choice that I have ever seen on television.

Jayda: Are you scared of going the other route?

Ashley: That’s something I don’t want to do.

Ms. Parker: Back when I was having kids, I don’t want to say it was ok, but it was different. Because I’m a hustler. Any by any means necessary, besides selling my ass, I took care of my kids. I got seven. By myself. You don’t wanna to do what I did.

Ashley: I know that, I’m going to struggle, I understand that

Jayda: So you don’t mind making your kids struggle too?

Damn. It’s a tough question for Jayda to ask, but it’s a fair question. Especially when asked by someone like Jayda, who grew up in foster homes without the attention or support a kid should have. Jayda, once a neglected child and now a mother of two, knows that motherhood takes money.

Ashley: My kids are not going to struggle

Jayda: Do you know how much it costs to take care of a baby?

Ashley: I don’t care.

Jayda (looking infuriated by Ashley’s apparent apathy): You don’t care how much it costs to take care of a child?!

Ashley: Nobody been through what I’ve been through. I prayed and I got it, when my kids needed food I prayed and I got it.

Not sure why that’s relevant, but I suspect that both Ms. Parker and Jayda know what it is to be a single young mom without stability. As much sympathy I have for Ashley, saying her problems are special problems unlike those of anyone else’s is immature and self-absorbed. The story of unwed young motherhood and survival is a depressingly common one. Prayer, while valuable, is not an infallible means of feeding a family. Jayda wraps up the topic by saying “I’m playing devil’s advocate, that’s what I do,” but I don’t think that was her true motive. I saw real anger in Jayda’s eyes in the face of Ashley’s placid acceptance of what her life was going to be.

Restaurant

Jayda and Brooke meet to discuss their lives. It feels very SATC meets Boston Legal. Although the two are often to busy to spend time together, their bond is still in place. The two met when Brooke defended Jayda from going back to prison, and helped her get out of a life of bloody crime and extended prison stays. What unites Jayda and Brooke now isn’t their own problems, but the hardships facing young women in their local community. Jersey Strong combines entertaining, fierce, and gorgeous female leads with a meaningful storyline, a very strange thing to see on reality television.

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