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‘Jury Duty’: The fabricated documentary that forged authentic friendships, real laughs

Amazon Freevee’s hit show hinges on creative concept, pleases with entertaining comedic bits

<p>Much of the show’s success is owed to the good attitude of Ronald Gladden, who made great efforts to befriend the fake personas.</p><p>Courtesy of Amazon Studios</p>

Much of the show’s success is owed to the good attitude of Ronald Gladden, who made great efforts to befriend the fake personas.

Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Trevor Morris is being sued by fashion label Cinnamon and Sparrow after allegedly arriving intoxicated to his job at its manufacturing plant and destroying an entire batch of products. According to the company’s owner Jacquiline Hilgrove, his mistake cost the company thousands of dollars in sales and jeopardized Hilgrove’s own mental well-being. In his defense, Morris argues that he was not under the influence of alcohol but instead intoxicated by the barrels of poisonous chemicals kept in the company’s factory. Now, it is up to the jury to decide whether he is liable for the damage. 

There is just one catch: The entire case is fake.

When Ronald Gladden answered a Craigslist post seeking volunteers for jury duty as part of a documentary about the judicial process, he did not realize he was signing up to be an oblivious participant in a comedy television series. Created by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, “Jury Duty” follows Gladden through this staged court case. The rest of the jury, the judge, the lawyers and even the people Gladden interacts with at restaurants are all actors.

After juror and actor James Marsden — playing a more arrogant version of himself in the show — calls the paparazzi on himself in an attempt to get out of jury selection, the judge decides to sequester the entire group. These close quarters allow Gladden to grow closer to his peers while they set out to create the most bizarre 17 days of deliberation possible.  


The show’s mockumentary-style humor is reminiscent of “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” but the series approaches this humor in a more wholesome way. Whereas the comedy in modern shows is often crass and comes at the expense of others, “Jury Duty” proves that it is far more enjoyable to laugh with someone, rather than at them. The premise of the show could have easily allowed Gladden to be manipulated into being the butt of the joke, but the cast and crew were thoughtful to keep the experience as enjoyable as possible for him.

The writing in “Jury Duty” contains the perfect level of understated humor. In order to avoid raising Gladden’s suspicions, the show’s bits have to be wild enough to be funny but subtle enough to avoid seeming too outlandish. Audiences are able to experience the show’s humor through a dual lens: either choosing to believe that every scene is fictional or witnessing its events through Gladden’s ignorant eyes. This extra perspective adds a unique layer of humor to the show. 

One of the most interesting elements of “Jury Duty” is how it makes use of its frequently unpredictable nature, relying on the actors’ improvisational talents. The actors had to remain in character for over two weeks straight, and they had no way of knowing how Gladden would respond to any given situation. Part of the entertainment of the show becomes watching how each actor creatively adapts to Gladden.

The characters themselves are so perfectly crafted and portrayed that it is almost disappointing they are not real people. Gladden makes a heartwarming effort to become friends with each of the fictional personalities — helping the overbearing Marsden practice his lines for an audition and watching movies with an eccentric man obsessed with cybernetics. 

“Jury Duty” would not have been successful without Ronald Gladden. His easygoing, friendly demeanor is truly what brings so many feel-good laughs to the comedy. Gladden’s exemplary reactions to every scenario he is tested with force viewers to confront their own conscience: Would they be as kind if they were in his place?

The entirety of the show is shrouded in an uncanny mist. As much as Gladden was a good sport when he learned the truth about the show, one can only imagine how disorienting it would be to find out the last two weeks of your life were essentially fake. Still, “Jury Duty” is a delightful depiction of unexpected friendship and wholesome joy. It also serves as a reminder to always be compassionate because you never know who is watching — it could be the whole world.


Daphne Dluzniewski

Daphne is an Arts & Culture writer from Austin, Texas. She is planning on studying International and Public Affairs. Her passions include cats, running and Phoebe Bridgers.

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