In a stark departure from the fake tans and gelled hair of Jersey Shore, new reality show Jersey Strong features gritty drama from two unconventional Newark households. The 10-episode series premieres September 14 on the new Pivot network on DirectTV and Dish.
At the core of the drama is Jayda Jacques, a reformed gang member in a star-crossed relationship with rival gang member Creep Evans, with whom she is raising her two children—one from a previous relationship. Jacques reaches out to at-risk youth by visiting schools to speak against gang membership and teen pregnancy; she dreams of creating a nonprofit mentorship center for young women in Newark.
Jacques’s attorney, Brooke Barnett, champions the city’s underserved, seeking justice with a ferocity Jacques describes as “a pitbull in a skirt.” She runs her eponymous firm with business and life partner Maggie Voelkel. Together they are raising Voelkel’s two teenage children.
Viewers were introduced to the two couples in the Peabody Award-winning series Brick City, which depicted Newark’s revival under Mayor Cory Booker. The themes in Brick City—teen pregnancy, urban education, gangs—surface in Jersey Strong, but Marc Levin, producer of both series, says the new show presents a more personal perspective, with Jacques striving to emphasize education for her kids and Barnett struggling with nontraditional parenthood.
“These two unique women both emerged as very strong characters in the two seasons of Brick City,” says Levin. “You’re dealing with two superstars.”