I’ve watched a lot of reality television over the years. So much so that some would argue my brain has slowly begun smoothing out into a grooveless orb. But along with my newly egg-like brain, there is an upside. I feel extremely qualified to make a huge claim: Jury Duty is the best reality show of all time.
Let me explain.
For the last few years, I’ve worked in media spaces where it’s been my entire job to watch, write and discuss reality television. These days as PEDESTRIAN.TV’s resident entertainment reporter, I’ve expanded my horizons a lil’ bit. But my reality TV-loving ass has a lot of thoughts and feelings – especially after watching Amazon Prime’s latest reality offering Jury Duty.
What is Jury Duty about?
Jury Duty is an eight-episode mockumentary series that follows the event of a civil court case in the United States. The cameras follow along as the jury for the case is selected, and they must listen to the evidence and come to a unanimous decision at the end of the trial. Along the way, the camera crew is permitted to interview the various jury members and courtroom staff.
But, of course, there’s a catch.
The court case is completely made up, the courtroom is a set littered with hidden cameras and everyone is an actor.
Well, everyone except a solar contractor from San Diego named Ronald Gladden.
Ronald is just some guy who applied to an ad on Craigslist to appear in a documentary about the process of being a juror. He was selected from thousands of applicants and now, he was the center of this very niche, unusual universe.
And the best bit is Ronald is completely unaware that everything around him is manufactured purely for his reaction. As far as he’s concerned, he is obligated to help decide the fate of a person facing the wrath of the law.
Everyone around Ronald is in on the joke, working off a vague script in the ultimate test of improv endurance known to man.
While many of the jury members and court officials are lesser-known actors, one of the jurors is Hairspray and Sonic The Hedgehog star James Marsden, who plays a wanker-esque caricature of himself.
So why is it so bloody good?
My friend, I’m so glad you asked.
Jury Duty takes a different approach to reality television than other modern reality shows. Instead of manipulating existing filmed footage of a group of people, or a situation, in the editing room, Jury Duty manipulates the situation in real time around Ronald. While it’s not the first show to come up with the concept, it’s certainly a fresh take.
You see, Ronald is put in all sorts of compromising, hilarious and uncomfortable situations and the cast is prepped on different ways to act depending on his reaction. The result gives us real, unfiltered responses from this random dude who is taking everything that is happening around him, no matter how bonkers, at face value.
The result is naturally and effortlessly hilarious, and kind of an impressive feat in the modern-day reality television landscape.Reality television started as unscripted programming that only needed to be edited to fit their time slot but over the years, the real world became kind of boring for audiences. And as the offering of reality shows on streaming services expanded, and our reality television literacy improved, the genre was forced to become smarter, trickier, and sneakier.
im still losing it over these part in jury duty i don’t know how they didn’t break during this scene like i would be in the floor laughing hysterically pic.twitter.com/BnQKoS1nlU
— a (@nancydunnes) April 23, 2023
We’ve become so used to these storylines and join in with the discourse slamming the people who decide to go on them for their shitty behaviour. Because more often than not, that’s what we see play out.
But instead of trying to find a villain, Jury Duty set out to find a hero.
“When we saw Ronald’s tape, we couldn’t believe it. He’s such a nice guy. He’s funny, he’s charming, he’s witty,” co-creator Lee Eisenberg explained to Vulture.
“That’s what we had hoped for. He exceeded our expectations in every single moment of the show.”
The showrunner of the series, Cody Heller, told Variety that there was an incredible amount of emphasis on making sure the experience wasn’t “something that traumatises or embarrasses or shames” Ronald.The thing is, at face value, the premise of Jury Duty seems like it could be a bit unethical. After all, Ronald is completely gaslit into believing that this complete fabrication is real. Although the entire premise of the show is basically one huge prank, no one is the butt of the joke. And due to Ronald’s exceptional character, not even the strange, quirky jurors he’s surrounded by become laughingstocks. Instead, they’re embraced and celebrated.
When I watched the show, there were so many moments that had me laughing out loud or sitting on my couch with a dumbass grin on my face. After the jig was up and the production team revealed the truth to Ronald, I was straight-up sobbing over how wonderful it was to see Ronald’s good character and kindness celebrated on screen.
What’s Ronald’s take on this whole thing?
Ronald told Variety that although he was deceived, he was never angry or upset about it.
“There was never a moment when I was truthfully angry about it, no, because on the day of the reveal, it was so much to process, like I couldn’t be mad about it,” he said.
“Truthfully, the only reason I would have been mad was if I found out those relationships I had forged with people were completely forced. Like if they were like, “Hey, you know, this is all a joke. See you later,” and I never heard from again, yes, I would have been mad about that.”
And thankfully for Ronald, he’s maintained contact with his cast mates since the show finished filming.
Following the series release, Ronald has become an absolute sensation. His DMs are filled with thirsty messages, and his follower count has climbed from a couple of hundo to over 120,000. On TikTok, he’s been labelled as the “perfect example of the female gaze.”
Now, Ronald is enjoying being a popular public figure.
@amazonfreevee It’s tea time with Ronald 👀☕️ #RonaldGladden#JuryDutyonFreevee#JuryDuty ♬ original sound – Amazon Freevee
Is there going to be Jury Duty Season Two?
After the surprise success of the first season, Heller revealed that she already has some ideas of how to approach another season of the show.
“Obviously, it would have to be a whole different universe,” Heller said to Variety.
“You couldn’t just do Jury Duty again, because then people would be like, ‘Wait a second.’ But I do think that it’s possible. I do think there’s a million different worlds that this kind of thing could exist in.”
Ultimately, I feel like the series brought back tangible emotion to reality television. Despite the absurd nature of the show, I felt like I really could connect with Ronald and empathise with what he was going through. I don’t remember the last time I felt that way about MAFS.
So, after finishing the series, I formally change my favourite reality show from Below Deck and all of its compelling iterations to Jury Duty.