Jury Duty offers a unique take on reality television


Screenshot from ‘Jury Duty’ | Freevee

Samantha Sollitto

Amazon Freevee’s new show “Jury Duty ” is “The Truman Show ” meets “Punk’d” and “SNL.” It’s a unique combination of fiction, reality television and improvisation that allows for funny moments.

Ronald Gladden, the so-called “hero” of the eight episode series, applies to play a jury member in a documentary based on a civil court case. For three weeks, he sequesters with his fellow jury members and forms bonds and friendships while the case is being deliberated.

However, Gladden doesn’t know that these friendships are not entirely based in truth — every other person on the show is an actor working to make Gladden believe this is a real case.

While “Jury Duty” was completely planned out, it was difficult for showrunners to write and conduct scenes as if it were a scripted show. While the scenes are preplanned, the show’s direction would ultimately depend on Gladden’s reactions to the scenarios.

Director Jake Szymanski noted the difficulties of planning out a scene in an interview with Primetimer.“… On a basic level, you can plan a scene out, but you can’t write it,” Szymanski said. “Because you never know exactly what Ronald is going to do.”

The show’s beauty and intricacy come from this aspect of unpredictability. The actors were  constantly on their toes and prepared to improvise if Gladden said something that didn’t coincide with what they planned.

Gladden was presented with challenges in each episode from his fellow jury members, whether it be their sex lives or career goals. He was then also appointed “foreperson of the jury” where he maintained this leadership or “hero” position the producers had put him in.

The actors’ chemistry with Gladden truly shined whenever they interacted. They effortlessly bounced off one another to create deadpan humor and intriguing yet realistic storylines to avoid blowing their cover.

James Marsden, who played himself, stood out because of the way he played the pretentious Hollywood celebrity but also made an effort to not turn Gladden away from him.

What truly makes the show worthwhile is the genuine friendship and love that all these actors felt toward Gladden. Although these relationships were rooted in a lie, their feelings and actions towards Gladden were inherently truthful. At the end, the actors revealed to Gladden that the acting strictly pertained to the show and not the bonds they formed with him throughout.

In a world full of reboots and spin-offs, “Jury Duty” is a breath of fresh air for the television industry. The idea is unique and interesting enough to keep audiences engaged.

With an ambitious show such as this one, it’s hard to predict the type of person being  cast. Luckily, Gladden turned out to be great with everyone and willing to help where he was needed.

“Tweaks will need to happen because the process of finding these wonderful real people involves a little bit of subterfuge and hyping up tracks and sort of pretending you’re something that you’re not,” producer Nicholas Hatton said in an interview with Deadline. “So you have to use a slightly different process every time and we have to keep that very, very secret.”

It seems that a show of this caliber might be confined to a “one hit wonder.” Repeating an entire season where one person does not know this is a completely fictional setting when the entire world already knows it , will be difficult but not entirely impossible.