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Jury Duty -- Fake Real Jury Duty

Jury being sworn in

Jury duty is an integral part of the legal system. It is a civic responsibility that allows ordinary citizens to participate in the administration of justice. And it is a very serious, solemn undertaking. Except – of course – when it isn’t.

On April 7, 2023, the first episode of Jury Duty dropped on Amazon Freevee. It is mockumentary-style reality sitcom. Yes, it really is all those things. This show truly is unique. It involves a jury trial – jury selection, presentation of evidence, and deliberations – where everyone is an actor except one juror, who thinks the entire thing is real. The show focuses on this person, Ronald Gladden, a contractor from San Diego. Over eight episodes (17 real days of shooting), the audience gets to see how Ronald deals with life as a (fake) juror, as he is tested by all kinds of implausible obstacles.

Some of the show is scripted, but since one person doesn’t even know there’s show, much less a script, the actors must rely heavily on improvisation. Ronald believes his jury duty is quite real but is also part of a documentary, which is why he is asked at various points to describe to a cameraperson what is happening in the trial. This technique is similar to that used in sitcoms such as The Office. But hidden cameras abound here, too, and Ronald is entirely unaware of them.

In real jury duty, jurors receive a summons in the mail commanding them to report to the courthouse for jury duty. Often, people are surprised and bothered to receive such a summons. Afterall, jury duty can be a significant disruption to their daily lives. Other people receive a summons and are excited to participate in an important part of our justice system. In Jury Duty, Ronald Gladden applied through Craigslist (along with thousands of others) to participate. As a trial lawyer, I have seen many jurors who – by the end of a case – were super glad they were chosen, but never have I seen folks line up by the thousands (or hundreds, or even tens) to spend two weeks in jury duty!

Many of the things that happen during the Jury Duty fake trial are truly hysterical. The trick for producers and actors was to make things outlandish and funny without making them so outlandish that Ronald would realize the whole thing had to be a put on. The show is held together in many ways by the actor James Marsden, who plays an alternate version of himself that narcissistically (and unsuccessfully) tries to use his fame to be excused from his civic duty.

After jury selection, the fake jury hears a fake civil lawsuit with fake attorneys, and a fake judge and bailiff. The jury is sequestered in a hotel throughout the proceedings and required to give up their cell phones. The sequestration, which virtually never happens in a civil lawsuit, allows the show to capture the jurors interacting outside the courtroom and is the basis for some of the funniest scenes in the show. Semi-spoiler alert: what Marsden did to Ronald’s hotel room is both awful and hilarious!

Predictably, Ronald is appointed foreperson of the jury and made to keep the jury in line.  For example, he must keep fellow juror, Barbara, awake during tedious courtroom testimony. While a sleeping juror is funny on television, I have seen it happen (while my opponent was putting on his case, not me), and it is not all that funny in real life! Same with the bungling defense attorney; I’ve seen barely competent lawyers in the courtroom, and it is sad, not funny. Still, watching the defense attorney in Jury Duty had me rolling on the floor laughing. Incidentally, so did the one R-rated scene in the series, but I’ll leave that to you to “soak” up without further commentary or explanation.

There are many, many ways in which Jury Duty is unrealistic. Things happen that would never happen in a real trial (“chairpants” comes to mind immediately). Still, the heart of the Jury Duty experience reflects how real jury duty works: a group of people from all walks of life (sometimes even celebrities) are selected to judge a dispute and are expected to work together to resolve that dispute to the best of their ability. Real people are given the chance to be heroes of a sort, to come together to do justice. In the case of Jury Duty, Ronald is clearly a hero. He does his level best to keep the group together, to accept his fellow jurors for who they are (and they are quite a bunch), and to do the right thing.

Because it was all along a phony case, real justice may not have been rendered in Jury Duty, but when it comes to mockumentary reality sitcoms, the show unmistakably delivers. To learn more about Jury Duty and what a real trial consists of, contact us online.