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'Jury Duty' May Briefly Restore Your Faith in Humanity

By Dustin Rowles | TV | April 25, 2023 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | April 25, 2023 |


Spoilers for the full season of Jury Duty

In Jury Duty, the reality show producers put on a trial in which every person involved — the judge, the lawyers, the jurors, and even the courtroom observers — is an actor except for Ronald Gladden, the jury foreperson. The jury is sequestered for nearly three weeks, and we get to see how Ronald reacts to the bizarre situations he’s put in each and every day as part of this fake jury.

I enjoyed the first few episodes of Jury Duty as an interesting, light-hearted workplace comedy in which the workplace is a courtroom and James Marsden — playing a douchebag version of himself — steals all his scenes. The characters are eccentric and put Ronald in awkward positions, but importantly, the series never makes Ronald the butt of the jokes. It is not a prank show, exactly. It’s a show that almost feels like it’s trying to test the empathy of Ronald Gladden in a strange and stressful situation.

It turns out, however, that Ronald Gladden is something we rarely see on television these days: An honest-to-God good person. Surrounded by oddballs, he never shuns anyone or makes fun of them behind their backs. He’s welcoming. He is not a saint exactly, but when put in a situation where he is asked to choose between right and wrong when he believes that no one is watching, Gladden consistently makes good decisions, often at his own expense.

Here’s one example: About midway through the series, while the jury is sequestered back in their hotel, James Marsden leaves a turd in the toilet of Ronald’s bathroom so giant that he has to call a plumber. When the plumber arrives, however, Ronald — rather than embarrass Marsden, who has been a goofy but charming asshole more often than not — takes the fall and tells the plumber that he took the dump that stopped up the toilet. It’s a bizarre but very real mitzvah.

Indeed, there’s a lot to learn from the series about the jury system, James Marsden’s acting abilities (give the man an Emmy!), and the ability of a television production to maintain a bit for nearly three weeks, but the thing that sticks out the most is that there are some genuinely good people remaining in the world. Jury Duty starts to flag in later episodes (and especially in episode six, during jury deliberations), but it’s absolutely worth watching until the end if only to see the reveal.

Ronald Gladden discovering that he’s the lone non-actor on a television show for nearly three weeks is one of the most heartwarming moments of television in 2023. He’s dumbfounded, but he does not get mad or upset. He’s good-natured about it (granted, it helps that the production also announced that he would receive $100,000), and all the actors, meanwhile, are happy for him. They may be actors, but they bonded with Ronald for real, as anyone might after spending three weeks with him.

Gladden is like a puppy in that final episode, expressing amused disbelief every other minute, “None of this was real? Did two of the jurors actually hook up? Did an older jury member actually fall asleep repeatedly during the trial? Was that James Marsden’s real turd?” It’s like watching a kid learn that Santa doesn’t exist, but instead of being sad about it, he suddenly appreciates his parents for going to the effort for all those years to keep up the bit.

The whole thing is heartwarming and lovely and, weirdly for a reality series about a fake trial, restorative. It’s fun and probably healthy to watch a reality show every once in a while where a guy wins not for stabbing someone else in the back, but for being a mensch.