A Star is Born on ‘Jury Duty’

The Internet falls hard for Ronald Gladden, the unwitting regular-guy star of Freevee’s improvised legal comedy

When the Internet falls in love, it falls hard. Typically, it’s a Pedro Pascal-type (or the man himself), but sometimes, an everyman swoops in to capture our hearts and imaginations, too. Viewers of Freevee’s series Jury Duty have found a new object of adulation in its unwitting star, Ronald Gladden, and with good reason. Gladden, and the show itself, are pure delights.

Jury Duty follows a lawsuit from jury selection through deliberation, with a camera crew that’s been granted unprecedented access to the entire process—access they’ve only gained because the entire case is fake. Every single person involved in the purported civil lawsuit is an actor except for one man, juror number 6, Ronald Gladden, who believes every moment is totally real. He even believes he’s serving with a disgruntled James Marsden, who is forced to uphold his summons in spite of his fame.

Marsden is so ridiculously good looking, it’s hard to remember he’s also hilarious, but once more, he proves himself more than just a pretty face. Actors love playing caricatures of themselves, and while the performance never reaches the levels of say, John Malkovich stumbling through his own subconscious, or Kate Winslet spewing dirty talk in a nun habit, James Marsden’s take on James Marsden is a hoot. He revels in playing himself as an easily hurt, eager-to-please doofus who’s far more interested in adulation and his next role than the case at hand.

And what a case those serving Jury Duty must endure. The lawsuit involves a Gwyneth Paltrow-ish fashionista plaintiff suffering from depression due to a batch of shirts ruined when the loser of a defendant urinated on them. Her sleek lawyer approaches the case with consummate professionalism, while the defendant’s representation remains sloppily amateur. Through it all, Ronald can’t believe how wacky things get in an actual courtroom.

The jurors absolutely sell their characters and all their quirks. It’s easy to tell Ronald doesn’t keep up on pop culture much, as he fails to recognize Kirk Fox (Sewage Joe from Parks and Recreation) or Mekki Leeper (Eric from The Sex Lives of College Girls), along with the rest of the slightly recognizable cast. The guy barely even clocks James Marsden, until he realizes he’s actually talking to the star of Sex Drive, one of his favorite movies ever.

Even after he acknowledges James Marsden is a celebrity, Ronald continues to treat him with the same even-handed decency he offers to all the other members serving out Jury Duty. And the natural empathy, warmth, and easygoing attitude of Ronald are what makes this show work. Yes, creators Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg of The Office fame know how to make things funny. Absolutely, the improv actors gamely “yes and” for days, with a nimbleness any troupe would envy. But if the producers had found their mark at the jerkstore, this show would have been four miserable hours of punching down.

Turns out, Ronald’s unwillingness to throw any punches at all transforms Jury Duty from a silly experiment into a true hero’s journey. His zen acceptance of his fellow man creates sort of an inverse experience of Nathan Fielder’s uncomfortable pushes against the boundaries of social politeness…but is equally watchable. At times, the proceedings get a little thin, but overall, it goes down as easily as The Great British Bake Off (sans Mexican Week).

Jury Duty is an often hilarious, entirely bingeworthy experiment. And when the innocent Ronald realizes how guilty everyone around him truly is…the verdict is nothing short of glorious.


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Paula Shaffer

Paula Shaffer has worked on shows for a variety of networks including ABC, Hulu, A&E, HGTV, and WeTV. Her family zom-com script, Chompers, was a selected work of the Stowe Story Labs Feature Campus in 2021, and a 2022 semi-finalist in the Emerging Screenwriters contest, which led to placement on the Coverfly Red List.

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