The best way to describe Jury Duty, now streaming on Freevee (Amazon’s free, ad-supported network), is a cross between a real-life The Truman Show and American Vandal. It’s a reality series about a jury that is sequestered for three weeks while their trial is being conducted. The catch is that everyone in the series is an actor, except one guy: The jury foreperson, Ronald Gladden, who has no idea he’s living in a courtroom version of The Rehearsal.
It’s a meticulously orchestrated, brilliantly scripted three weeks that would actually be funny — in an American Vandal or Trial and Error kind of way — even without the gimmick, often because the series is so committed to the gimmick that it continues to operate like a scripted comedy even when Gladden is not on camera. Additionally, Jury Duty’s piÃ¨ce de résistance is James Marsden, who plays an obnoxiously arrogant version of himself, a somewhat famous actor not only stuck in jury duty but the reason the jury is sequestered (because he apparently attracts paparazzi).
Marsden is a comedic gem here as a friendly doofus who repeatedly tries to impress a room full of people who do not care about his celebrity, which includes Ronald Gladden, who knows him from the X-Men movies, thinks that Sonic the Hedgehog is shitty, and admits that his favorite Marsden movie is Sex Drive (same!).
Gladden is something of an everyman, an amiable slightly goofy guy that looks like he could work in a Best Buy or in a cubicle at a nondescript paper company. Half the fun in Jury Duty is in his reactions to the absurdity around him, but the series never makes him the butt of the joke. It’s his genuine reactions that make what everyone else is doing work, such as when Marsden challenges him to an arm wrestling contest because a character he’s reading for is into arm wrestling, or when Gladden is repeatedly asked by the judge to ensure that an older lady on the jury stops falling asleep. He’s an aw-shucks kind of guy who rolls with the punches, rarely complains, and interacts with Marsden with a modest amount of reverence, but also with some detachment because he doesn’t know how to feel about the actor, who plays a likable douchebag who is completely full of himself.
The series wouldn’t work without a solid supporting cast of actors, some of whom might look vaguely recognizable, which is probably not unusual in a Los Angeles courtroom. Kirk Fox, for instance, would be recognizable to anyone who watched Reservation Dogs, while Alan Barinholtz — a real-life judge and also the father of Ike and Jon Barinholtz — plays the judge in a trial about a man who urinated on a machine that made t-shirts for a social media influencer.
The series comes from The Office and Little America writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, but even still, the trailer was an object of derision around the office Slack. It doesn’t look like it could possibly work, and I’ll admit I only watched because of James Marsden and morbid curiosity. It’s a tremendously nice surprise, funny as hell, and may go a long way to putting Freevee on the map.