Serving on jury duty is one of the most grueling obligations known to man. Nobody ever wants to do it. Whenever somebody gets a summons, they go to insane lengths to get out of it. How do you turn one of the most mundane experiences into entertainment? In Amazon Freevee’s reality mockumentary series “Jury Duty,” co-creators Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (the writers behind "Good Boys") attempt to do just that with a simplistic premise akin to the prank shows of yore like “Punk’d” and “Nathan for You” but with a surprisingly charming twist.
LA-based everyman Ronald Gladden shows up to Huntington Park Superior Court to do his civic duty as a potential juror. He meets some eccentric strangers, all waiting to be selected to serve in a trial, including actor James Marsden who hams it up by portraying an egotistical version of himself. Gladden is aware of the cameras around him, assuming he is participating in a documentary series for public television. Unbeknownst to Gladden, everyone surrounding him, including the judge, bailiff, lawyers, and fellow jurors, are all professional actors. Even the case trial itself is fake. Gladden is sequestered to a hotel with his fellow jurors, without any connection to the outside world for three weeks. He's also given the responsibility of the foreperson for the jury. As expected, wackiness ensues as Gladden realizes this is not just your ordinary case trial.
The comedy stems almost entirely from Gladden’s natural reactions as the trial and tasks throughout the sequester become increasingly outlandish. Gladden puts himself out there within the three-week trial process, befriending his fellow jurors no matter their idiosyncrasies. The larger the responsibilities Gladden has as the trial furthers, the more he gets to know the jurors around him, befriending them and aiding them in various tasks out of the kindness of his heart. He helps James Marsden run lines for an audition, bonds with an introverted gadget fan and helps him break out of his shell, and acts as a wingman to a virgin with girlfriend problems wanting to hook up with a fellow juror who has a thing for him.
Every plot point during the trial, including physical comedy beats, propped-up paparazzi, video evidence mishaps, and awry field trips, is meticulously planned. As a camera control team helmed by director Jake Szymanski (“Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates”) hides in a room nearby, the crew finds a nice balance between throwing Gladden off his game and never positioning him as the butt of the joke. No mean-spirited malice is ever directed towards him by anyone, as he often laughs at the mild silliness thrown in his direction. The further the trial strings along, the less the style embodies the constructs of a prank show, and the more it becomes like an NBC workplace sitcom about eccentric jurors. Gladden might as well be the John Krasinski or Adam Scott type, the straight-man point of reference who tries to do the best in every silly situation he finds himself in.
Gladden's genuine reactions are funny, expressing his silly side in the process. The best moments occur whenever he interacts with James Marsden and his showboating Primadonna persona. Marsden, being the only notable face, has Gladden a bit starstruck at first. The two list all the movies Marsden starred in, but Ron admits he didn’t see “Sonic the Hedgehog” because he heard “it sucked.” The laughs hit even harder as Gladden reveals a certain late 2000s raunchy comedy as his favorite Marsden movie, making it a running gag that always calls for a laugh whenever mentioned. Marsden is the show's MVP, and he takes the comedy higher with his consistently obnoxious behavior and comic timing. He doesn’t share the same improv experience as his co-stars so it’s impressive how he always keeps it professional and commits to his diva demeanor with comical results.
The show's unique structure serves as a strong improv showcase for the lesser-known talent onscreen, with Alan Barinholtz, Rashida “Sheedz” Olayiwola, David Brown, Kirk Fox, Mekki Leeper, Edy Modica, Maria Russell, and Ishmel Sahid as notable standouts. “Jury Duty” sometimes has the same chill, relaxing vibe as the video game “Animal Crossing.” Gladden is the Villager and must aid all the quirky, colorful strangers he interacts with on their island and better his relationship and friendship with them, despite that island being within the halls of a courtroom.
“Jury Duty” keeps its laughs and premise at a moderate level, treading lightly in its absurdism. It doesn’t necessarily keep audiences hooked for laughter, and outrageous workplace shenanigans are kept at a minimum. But it's not the right length despite its low-key charms, like so much TV lately. The novelty of the premise starts to run its course at the halfway mark, with even Marsden’s wackiness losing its flair. However, what it lacks in laughs, "Jury Duty" makes up for in charm, and its beating heart makes this comedy series stand out.
The last prank on the audience by "Jury Duty" is how it wrings our emotions more than belly laughs. It's a solid workplace comedy that tells a resonant story of community, delightfully unpacking how it’s not just about serving in this world but who you’re serving with.
Whole season was screened for review. "Jury Duty" premieres on Freevee on April 7th.