In the first season of MTV’s reality show, “World of Jenks” host and NYU Tisch alumnus Andrew Jenks devoted each hour-long episode to one of 12 interesting individuals. For the show’s second season, Jenks instead opts for a longer narrative arc to better cover its fascinating subjects. Over the course of a year, the host will follow three unique young adults, giving an in-depth look into each of their complicated, profound and uplifting lives.
The diverse group includes Chad, an autistic man from season one; Kaylin, an aspiring fashion designer who has overcome cancer twice at only 23 years old; and D-Real, a young father from Oakland, Calif., who is striving to curb the violence in his city through the influence of dance.
When Jenks returns to document Chad’s journey, the reunion is very inspiring. The two fall into an easy rapport — he teases Chad for his fear of heights, and it’s clear that he never treats Chad as disabled. Still, Jenks takes on the role of mentor, hoping to help ease Chad into adulthood.
Kaylin, who moves to New York from San Francisco in the first episode, is a trendy, wonderfully resilient and positive cancer survivor and designer. Her blog, Cancer is Hilarious, which originally drew Jenks’ attention, is replete with an array of witty, upbeat cancer-related puns (she calls her shaved hairstyle a “chemo-hawk”) and poetic insights (“The ground I cling to is far more fragile then myself”).
D-Real is a former gang member and drug dealer. He now has an infant son and runs a successful dance program for adolescents. Covered in intimidating tattoos, he seems to have become desensitized to the violence surrounding him. He says that nearly every day, he or someone he knows has a funeral to attend.
These three young adults are facing extraordinary circumstances, but Jenks manages to make them relatable to even the most privileged viewers. He never talks as if he’s looking from the outside in — his style of storytelling allows the audience to feel like they are experiencing the subjects’ lives.
Before you dismiss “World of Je-nks” as a typical MTV reality show, it’s important to take note of Je-nks’ unique method of embedded journalism. Unlike the subjects of MTV’s “True Life,” these individuals are telling their stories through the host. While the show does indulge in a pop rock soundtrack that indicates when something truly inspirational has happened, the emotions and vulnerabilities are nonetheless unfiltered.
Jenks and his subjects share a symbiotic relationship — his role as documentarian becomes interactive above all else. When he helps Chad compose a graduation speech, he reflects on his own experiences with public speaking. He talks about girls with Chad, takes Kaylin to a bar after she arrives in New York City for the first time and offers D-Real a shoulder to cry on when they visit a memorial of Oakland murder victims.
Unlike “Jersey Shore” or “Buckwild,” “World of Jenks” is an audience-inclusive show. Everything is portrayed in such a raw manner that it’s impossible to not become personally attached at some point. When Kaylin breaks down over her fear of getting cancer again and cries onscreen for the first time, the anxiety translates, and we all feel it.
Valerie Nelson is a contributing writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.