Jury Duty: A Reality Comedy You Need to See to Believe
Freevee's Jury Duty presents a farcical trial that one real life schmoe is told to take seriously.
Being funny is a gift, right? People are often innately drawn to those who can make them laugh, or to folks who can pull off an elaborate joke or prank without the party on the receiving end becoming aware of it. But an even bigger sign of someone’s good character is whether they are able to be the butt end of the joke without it ruining their day. We call it being a good sport, but it’s really more than that. The ability to laugh at yourself is an underrated virtue in a world that can be really uptight and serious.
Ronald Gladden is the definition of someone who is able to stay calm and accept the chaos being forced upon him for laughs. He’s the real star of Amazon Freevee’s new comedy series, Jury Duty. The eight-episode affair is a unique look at the hilarity that can ensue out of the mundane. Created by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (The Office), Jury Duty presents Ronald as the only juror on a panel of 12 in Los Angeles, California who is unaware of the true nature of his summons. He thinks the film crew is making an educational look at the nature of jury duty, completely oblivious to the truth about the ordeal: he’s on reality television. The rest of the jurors are all trained actors, most notably James Marsden (of Sonic the Hedgehog fame) playing a version of himself. For over two weeks, Ronald is tested by practical jokes, odd requests, and eccentric behavior patterns exhibited by his co-jurors. Think of it like a real-life version of The Truman Show, but with less existential dread.
The concern with a series like this is how the actors around Ronald are able to keep their cool and improvise depending on how Ronald reacts to the situations put in front of him. Fortunately, Ronald is the ultimate nice guy. Instead of becoming suspicious of what’s occurring or getting frustrated with outrageous events like a massive poop clogging the hotel toilet in his room, Ronald keeps his sanity and even tries to lead the jury to a reasonable and just decision on the court case. He is the reason the series will keep audiences curious and even captivate them. Ronald’s humility and down-to-earth personality is the star of the show.
You can immediately tell both from the documentary-style filmmaking and the sense of humor of the characters in the jury that the people involved behind the camera have roots in the famous NBC sitcom The Office. While no show can replicate the iconic workplace sitcom’s nature, Jury Duty does mimic some of the humorous situations that used to occur in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Uncomfortable sexual humor such as impotence is hilariously touched upon. Social situations like getting drunk in public and handling white supremacists in a bar also are highlight scenes of the series.
A big contrast between Jury Duty and The Office is the sentimentality of the Freevee show. There is a glaring lack of cynicism here that was often so omnipresent in the Steve Carrell show, and this works in Jury Duty’s favor most of the time. It allows it to become an antidote for the negativity that perpetuates our daily lives, but it also sometimes results in a dearth of laughs throughout large chunks of episodes.
The courtroom scenes are often downright sidesplitting. This is largely due to the comedic timing of the courtroom judge and the bailiff, both of whom read and react accordingly to what’s happening around them. When the jurors leave the courtroom to deliberate, hang out after work, or engage in personal affairs, I found myself getting restless and wanting to go back to the trial. I understand these scenes were necessary to build the strong relationships between Ronald and his co-jurors, a foundation that was critical for the reveal at the end of the series. Including so many of these storylines was sometimes to the detriment of the comedic value of the show, though.
The scenes outside of the courtroom do impressively show off the improvisation skills of the cast and crew in Jury Duty. Without the trial to fall back on, the actors are tasked with reading and reacting to Ronald and their surroundings in random ways. The fact that they never break character or lose focus of what the show is trying to accomplish is impressive. This will really help viewers gain an appreciation for bit actors who take small roles in shows such as this one. Marsden is the only notable name in the cast, yet I often felt more entranced in the performances of the less-notable performers.
Ironically, the improvisation makes a show that is supposed to feel like it’s pulling the wool over Ronald’s eyes feel more like a journey to making all new friendships. There may be a script, and Ronald may be the victim of an elaborate facade, but the banter, kindness, and rapport that is created throughout the series between all of the people on screen is 100% authentic. You’ll leave Jury Duty feeling like the world should be viewed half-glass full, but also searching for something more in-line with the comedy tag that is attached to the series synopsis.
The first four episodes of Jury Duty are available to stream on Freevee via Prime Video now.