Earlier this month, a show quietly debuted on Amazon Prime’s Freevee channel called Jury Duty. The final episodes dropped last Friday, and over the three weeks Jury Duty aired, it introduced us to Ronald Gladden, aka America’s Sweetheart.
Jury Duty is a high-concept comedy series from Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg—writers on The Office—that follows a jury through a small claims court case for several weeks. The hitch: everyone is an actor except one guy. This sounds mean, I know, but I swear it is not. Jury Duty walks a tightrope of keeping one cast member in the dark about the faux reality of the court case, and everyone involved in it, while never not even once making Ronald, who seems like a genuinely sweet guy, the butt of the joke. If anything, when the show deems him a “hero”, it feels fitting, as Ronald shows himself to be almost inhumanly patient, understanding, and kind to the bunch of raging weirdoes sequestered with him for the trial.
The show is up front about its concept, we know going in Ronald has no idea the whole thing is fake. Much of the humor derives from watching Ronald put up with his frankly bizarre fellow jurors as they adjudicate the stupidest case in legal history. There is no way to communicate how dumb yet hilarious the trial at the heart of Jury Duty is except to show you one of the witnesses interpreting a crossbones emoji as “bones with other bones”.
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There are eight episodes, and every single episode has multiple laugh-out-loud moments like this, but what really makes Jury Duty is Ronald Gladden. He is SO nice, I am frankly terrified we’re all about to be Milkshake Ducked. The producers and casting directors must have worked hard to find the one guy in America who could go through Jury Duty and not lose his temper, nor become judgmental or mean-spirited about the artisanally crafted nutjobs assigned to the jury with him. Take, for instance, Todd (David Brown), a socially awkward misfit who is into cybernetics and utilizes awkward augmentations like “chants”, a homemade pair of pants with crutches sewn to the ass to act as a built-in chair.
Todd is intended to be maximally off-putting and an easy target for scorn and derision. But Ronald only ever listens with patience when Todd explains his various accoutrement, and he even invites Todd into his hotel room to watch A Bug’s Life, to show Todd that people who think ahead of the curve often find themselves outsiders only to become the hero later. The producers later make it clear they expected Ronald to tease Todd or have some kind of negative, even mean, reaction to him, but were consistently blown away by how kind he is, not just to Todd, but to all the jurors, no matter how oddly, or even destructively, they behave.
And there is no juror more destructive than James Marsden, playing “James Marsden”. He’s clearly having a grand time playing the Hollywood Asshole version of himself, but he, too, gets caught in Ronald’s nice net, when Ronald makes a point of watching his films and commenting on them the next day. There are some great written bits for Marsden, such as a top-notch Hollywood Chris joke and a toilet gag I cannot imagine anyone else going along with, but he is never more entertaining than when torturing poor Ronald with his self-involved celebrity routine, only for Ronald to patiently accept his latest tantrum and commiserate with James over job woes and casting anxiety.
The joy of Jury Duty is threefold. It’s partly the comedy, which is VERY good. Many of the fake jurors are real life comedians—frankly, standups Kirk Fox, who has been on virtually every television comedy of the last fifteen years, and Mekki Leeper are borderline too recognizable for this, Ronald must not watch TV—and their delivery of various and sundry insane lines is hilarious. But it’s also Ronald himself, and his never-ending kindness. You can tell everyone really enjoyed him, and the show makes a point of assuring us that they have all stayed in touch since filming. And it’s the Big Reveal, with an entire episode devoted to breaking down how the production worked, which is truly amazing. For instance, the actors playing the judge and two lawyers are real-life attorneys who left law to pursue acting, giving a sense of authenticity to the courtroom proceedings (the judge is Alan Barinholtz, father of Ike). Evan Williams, who plays the defense attorney, also worked as a writer, bringing his experience to both sides of the camera.
You just have to watch Jury Duty for yourself to experience the breadth of both the comedy and Ronald’s sweetness. It’s a pure joy to watch, and with just eight half-hour episodes, it’s a breezy binge. There are so many great moments, this show deserves to have a million compilation posts of everyone celebrating their favorite bits. I haven’t even mentioned Lonnie! Or Vanessa, my true crime queen! Or Ron! Literally every character is the best character, this show is beautifully conceived and executed in every regard. But most especially in the way that it truly celebrates Ronald, who rises to the challenge of serving jury duty with a bunch of weirdoes and one asshole celebrity with grace and good humor. Ronald isn’t the hero we deserve, he’s the hero we need right now.
Jury Duty is now streaming on Prime Freevee.
Attached- James Marsden at the New York Premiere of HBO’s White House Plumbers last week.
(UPDATE: So it turns out this is only available in the US right now. We'll update you if that changes. Sorry for the tease if you're north of the border!)