You’ve got prank’d!
Jury Duty review by Jennifer AJ
This Amazon Freevee comedy was the surprise hit of 2023. A breath of fresh air in the comedy genre, Jury Duty audaciously reinvents the game by combining a mockumentary sitcom formula with a classic candid camera prank show. Audience love was followed by awards recognition when it snagged a Best Comedy nomination at the Emmys. Amid the high-brow comedies it was competing with, Jury Duty certainly stood out with its unique format.
The show follows an unassuming solar contractor named Ronald Gladden as he’s brought into what he thought was a documentary about the Los Angeles jury duty system. For three weeks, the show builds an entire fake trial for Gladden to participate in. The rest of the participants – other juries, judge, court officials – are all professional actors including, most surprisingly, Westworld star James Marsden playing an exaggerated version of himself. Hidden cameras are placed all over the courtroom during the faux jury duty to capture Gladden’s reactions to the increasingly bizarre circumstances the production puts together during the “trial”. The result is one massive elaborate prank that would put Punk’d and Just for Laughs gags to shame.
First off, the sheer insanity in pulling off this production is really impressive. For three weeks, everyone must ensure that Gladden believes he’s in a real scenario, not just in court but also during lunch breaks, recesses, and even jury sequestration. The actors had to constantly adapt to Gladden’s reactions to avoid suspicion, which is hard to do given the chaotic scenario that has been laid out among the characters in the show. Of course, it’s not without a hitch. From time to time, Gladden would express suspicion that he was in a hidden camera show. But with the ingenuity of the concept - a key part of why Jury Duty’s format might not be replicable - it’s easy to see why Gladden simply rolled with it.
The actors carry the show on their backs. In order to keep the ruse going until the end, their performances must tread the fine line between naturalistic and campy. Not easy to do when they had to keep Gladden in the dark while playing really quirky personalities who you usually only see in sitcoms. From an awkward nerd who always puts his foot in his mouth to the nosy lady who dresses funny, the show is chock full of comedic archetypes. Yet, they managed to make these characters feel so authentic. The decision to let the actors bond with Gladden using their real backgrounds certainly is a great one to maintain believability.
To his credit, Gladden is such a warm and lovable presence. Despite his increasing confusion, the guy remains good-natured about everything. If accidental stardom has to happen to someone, he’s literally perfect for it. (And if you’re wondering how Gladden feels about the prank: the whole cast immediately assured him that the connections they’d forged were genuine upon the reveal. Plus, he walked away with a $100,000 cash prize).
Inventive and ambitious, Jury Duty’s feat might be difficult to replicate given the show’s popularity (nor should it), but this proves that old formats can always be repurposed to tell a story in a whole new way.
Published on August 13th, 2023. Written by Jennifer Ariesta for Television Heaven.