Jury Duty series called an infinitely repeatable concept by creators

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Spoilers for Jury Duty
A few weeks ago, the show Jury Duty with James Marsen was trending on Twitter, which is where I learned about it. It’s a mockumentary series on Freevee, a channel on Amazon Prime with commercials, featuring a mock trial and focusing on the sequestered jury. Despite the disclaimer at the beginning of the show that one of the stars was not an actor, I thought there was no way that could be true. We’ve seen plenty of shows with fake disclaimers at the beginning (Fargo, basically every reality show) and I assumed that was the case here and it was just another series like The Office. In fact there was one non-actor on the jury, the very likable foreman, Ronald Gladden.

Gladden was chosen from a pool of over 200 applicants, solicited via a Craigslist ad, and assumed he was being filmed for a documentary about the jury deliberation process. Instead Gladden was surrounded by actors and scripted scenarios, all set up to test his moral compass and decision-making. He proved himself to be a decent person who tried hard to relate to the other jurors. He was kind, understanding and non-judgmental at just about every turn. At the end, when Gladden was told that his experience of 17 days was a set up to test him, and he passed with flying colors, I felt so sorry for him. The show was delightful, entertaining and absurd, but it felt so manipulative and just wrong. It’s been described as The Truman Show meets Punk’d but The Truman Show was fiction and the Punk’d pranks are on celebrities and typically last a few hours. This was a guy who agreed to participate in a documentary and was manipulated. The show became a runaway hit though and producers say they’re going to do it again of course. Variety talked to creators David Bernad and Todd Schulman and here’s part of that interview, with more at the source.

If there’s a second season, have you guys toyed around with a different premise, something that isn’t a jury?
Bernad: ​​Very loosely, yes. One of the initial premises of the show was it is a jury trial, but we sold it as every day you’re on trial, every day you’re confronted with situations and opportunities to make a decision. The show’s very specifically built where every episode someone brings a premise to Ronald and it’s Ronald deciding how he’s going to interact. All those [bits] were for the idea, “Can you then give [Ronald] the confidence to then be the hero in Episode 7?” I think we can take that same theme and premise and apply it to other areas outside of a jury trial.

Schulman: One of the reasons maybe the show has resonated with people is it’s all too rare to see being a good person celebrated. I think that’s an infinitely repeatable core concept, that core element of the show we can do again potentially in other worlds. I do think there are opportunities, but we haven’t gotten too deep into that yet.

[From Variety]

The non-scripted parts were how kindly Gladden treated his hotel neighbor, Todd (David Brown), giving him a makeover and showing him the movie Bug’s Life as a way to relate to his quirky body modification inventions. They also talked about how carefully they vetted applicants to choose Gladden. The show was designed to set him up as the hero, and it worked. The writing was brilliant, the actors were phenomenal and I have a lot of respect for James Marsden, who played a parody of himself. I hope the cast gets more opportunities, particularly Lonnie (Ishmel Sahid) and Officer Nikki (Rashida Olayiwola). You could have told me either one of them was the non-actor and I would have believed it.

However at the end of this series, when they pulled back the curtain, I was like “holy sh-t this sets a terrible precedent.” This seems like the inevitable next stage in the reality television universe, especially given the writer’s strike #WGAstrong. So now we’re going to get shows where a single non-actor is punked for weeks? I’m sure this could have been made without setting up this man to question his whole reality. We’re going to get more series from this duo, which seems OK on the surface, but there will be copycats who don’t strive to pick the right candidates, who don’t try to portray them as heroes and who treat them horribly in order to get content. We’ve already seen it on reality shows where people know what they’re participating in. This is dark, it’s wrong, and I hate to see it.

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