‘Jury Duty’ series called an ‘infinitely repeatable’ concept by creators

Spoilers for Jury Duty
A few weeks ago, the show Jury Duty with James Marsen was trending on Twitter, which is where I learned about it. It’s a mockumentary series on Freevee, a channel on Amazon Prime with commercials, featuring a mock trial and focusing on the sequestered jury. Despite the disclaimer at the beginning of the show that one of the stars was not an actor, I thought there was no way that could be true. We’ve seen plenty of shows with fake disclaimers at the beginning (Fargo, basically every reality show) and I assumed that was the case here and it was just another series like The Office. In fact there was one non-actor on the jury, the very likable foreman, Ronald Gladden.

Gladden was chosen from a pool of over 200 applicants, solicited via a Craigslist ad, and assumed he was being filmed for a documentary about the jury deliberation process. Instead Gladden was surrounded by actors and scripted scenarios, all set up to test his moral compass and decision-making. He proved himself to be a decent person who tried hard to relate to the other jurors. He was kind, understanding and non-judgmental at just about every turn. At the end, when Gladden was told that his experience of 17 days was a set up to test him, and he passed with flying colors, I felt so sorry for him. The show was delightful, entertaining and absurd, but it felt so manipulative and just wrong. It’s been described as The Truman Show meets Punk’d but The Truman Show was fiction and the Punk’d pranks are on celebrities and typically last a few hours. This was a guy who agreed to participate in a documentary and was manipulated. The show became a runaway hit though and producers say they’re going to do it again of course. Variety talked to creators David Bernad and Todd Schulman and here’s part of that interview, with more at the source.

If there’s a second season, have you guys toyed around with a different premise, something that isn’t a jury?
Bernad: ​​Very loosely, yes. One of the initial premises of the show was it is a jury trial, but we sold it as every day you’re on trial, every day you’re confronted with situations and opportunities to make a decision. The show’s very specifically built where every episode someone brings a premise to Ronald and it’s Ronald deciding how he’s going to interact. All those [bits] were for the idea, “Can you then give [Ronald] the confidence to then be the hero in Episode 7?” I think we can take that same theme and premise and apply it to other areas outside of a jury trial.

Schulman: One of the reasons maybe the show has resonated with people is it’s all too rare to see being a good person celebrated. I think that’s an infinitely repeatable core concept, that core element of the show we can do again potentially in other worlds. I do think there are opportunities, but we haven’t gotten too deep into that yet.

[From Variety]

The non-scripted parts were how kindly Gladden treated his hotel neighbor, Todd (David Brown), giving him a makeover and showing him the movie Bug’s Life as a way to relate to his quirky body modification inventions. They also talked about how carefully they vetted applicants to choose Gladden. The show was designed to set him up as the hero, and it worked. The writing was brilliant, the actors were phenomenal and I have a lot of respect for James Marsden, who played a parody of himself. I hope the cast gets more opportunities, particularly Lonnie (Ishmel Sahid) and Officer Nikki (Rashida Olayiwola). You could have told me either one of them was the non-actor and I would have believed it.

However at the end of this series, when they pulled back the curtain, I was like “holy sh-t this sets a terrible precedent.” This seems like the inevitable next stage in the reality television universe, especially given the writer’s strike #WGAstrong. So now we’re going to get shows where a single non-actor is punked for weeks? I’m sure this could have been made without setting up this man to question his whole reality. We’re going to get more series from this duo, which seems OK on the surface, but there will be copycats who don’t strive to pick the right candidates, who don’t try to portray them as heroes and who treat them horribly in order to get content. We’ve already seen it on reality shows where people know what they’re participating in. This is dark, it’s wrong, and I hate to see it.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

13 Responses to “‘Jury Duty’ series called an ‘infinitely repeatable’ concept by creators”

Comments are Closed

We close comments on older posts to fight comment spam.

  1. Lens says:

    I saw several of these episodes (didn’t make it all the way through) and agree completely with your analysis. I admit to laughing, the actors were funny as were some of the set up scenes, but I was all too uncomfortable with how insane it was and how the real guy was being duped. Like how could he not know? He was just so trusting of it all and the other people. He kinda didn’t react like anyone else in his shoes (I mean I) would. And since now it’s been done it would be hard to re-create unless they put on a more realistic scenario, which admittedly wouldn’t be as funny-absurd so what’s the point?

  2. AB says:

    Loved this show, it was hilarious and absurd and fascinating when they did the reveal episode. I made my husband start watching after the first couple episodes because he has a very similar sort of personality to Ronald, like I can see my husband reacting the same way to all the craziness happening around him. Just kind and open and non-judgemental. I tease my husband sometimes for his Pollyanna-ness but it’s not a terrible way to be.

  3. Colleen says:

    We finished the show this weekend. I loved it so much. They got so lucky with Ronald being such a good sport and overall human being. The actor who played Noah is on Sex Lives of College Girls but I don’t think I’d seen anyone else (other than Marsden) before.

    I’m so glad they also gave him $100K for his 17 days of insanity, but I agree that this could set a terrible precedent. Some things really are just left best as a one-and-done social experiment.

  4. Lucy2 says:

    I really enjoyed the show, but mostly because he was such a sweet, kind, and calm guy. I feel like most other people would have become angry, especially being sequestered away like that, and set up as some reality tv experiment.
    I think it should be a one and done series, and they should all just be thrilled they picked the right guy.
    I feel like if they try again they will knowingly pick someone who won’t be so nice, just for the media attention comparing them

  5. Mel says:

    I need to watch this. I heard about it from listening to James Marsden on the KEEP IT podcast and I encourage everyone to listen to it because he was very thorough in his explanation about the process. Specifically, how they really did not want to make Gladden the butt of the joke.
    It’s very insightful and he shows enormous appreciation and respect for Gladden.

  6. Doodle says:

    I haven’t watched it but the premise sounds like The Joe Schmoe Show from ages ago. The lead from that sounded really bitter afterwards, and I suspect that’s how people will feel coming out of experiences like this regardless of whether they are made out to be the hero or not. Being duped is being duped. Don’t play with people’s realities should not be something that needs to be stated.

  7. OperaCake says:

    I enjoyed this show so much! Like you, I didn’t actually believe one of them was being “punkd” initially, but two episodes in, I googled to find out, and that really changed my experience for the rest of the series. It was INSANE!
    Your last paragraph is scary, though. I hope ill-intentioned people won’t try this.

  8. Miranda says:

    There was a show on TNT or something like it called Joe Shmoe that was the same premise and did well. It was one normal guy in a bachelor type situation. He’s talked in interviews about how it kind of caused him to doubt everyone in his life afterward.

  9. Rnot says:

    $100,000 seems low to lose your anonymity forever. There have been interviews where he talks about Googling the (fake) production company and concluding that no one he knew would ever see this “documentary.” For all their big talk about wanting to protect his mental health, I’m still seeing parallels to Susan Boyle. Parts of it were funny to watch but I think people are going to look back years from now and condemn the gaslighting.

  10. Nicegirl says:


  11. ally says:

    I LOVED this show. And I love that the father of Ike and Jon Barinholtz, a former lawyer and actor, played the Judge!

  12. Princess Caroline says:

    They would be fools to try and replicate this…they found an absolute winner with Ronald. That kind of luck won’t happen again