Jury Duty Is Terrific TV. It Shouldn’t Get Another Season.
The magic of the show is that it doesn’t yet have a formula.
From the ads I saw, Jury Duty looked like the last TV show I’d want to add to my watchlist. “12 jurors. 11 actors,” read the shrug of a tagline. The majority of the faces on the billboards looked bored or befuddled. And besides, Freevee, Amazon’s ad-supported streaming service, was not one of my go-to platforms. I was certain the show would be a forgettable one.
How wrong I was. Jury Duty—a series starring mostly unknown performers, tucked away on a largely unknown streamer—is incredible reality television, a boundary-pushing hidden-camera program. Set inside a fake courtroom, the show follows Ronald, a guy who believes he’s participating in a documentary about jury duty but who is actually surrounded by actors roping him into progressively weirder scenarios. James Marsden plays a dirtbag version of himself who asks Ronald to help him run over-the-top lines for an audition. A socially awkward juror named Todd (played by David Brown) becomes Ronald’s hotel-room neighbor when the jury is sequestered. The meek Noah (Mekki Leeper) recruits Ronald as a wingman to woo a fellow juror, Jeannie (Edy Modica). “[The producers] said, ‘We want to create a hero’s journey for this man,’” Marsden explained in an interview. They’d test his resilience to all the absurdity, “and then we’ll go, ‘Hey, that was all fake!’ … Hopefully he doesn’t have a mental breakdown.” Luckily for everyone, Ronald didn’t. Instead, the result is part The Truman Show, part The Rehearsal, part The Office, part Punk’d—and all delightful.
Jury Duty has become a word-of-mouth hit, and Ronald a bona fide star. According to a JustWatch report, the show was the most popular streaming series the week of its finale in April, nabbing more viewers than Netflix’s Beef and The Diplomat. Ronald, meanwhile, just appeared in an ad with Ryan Reynolds. Given the show’s triumphs, the producers have teased the possibility of a second season; they told Variety that the best aspects of their concept are “infinitely repeatable.” But as true as that may be—other hoax-driven series in the past, such as Spike’s The Joe Schmo Show, ran for multiple seasons—creating more Jury Duty would be a shame.
After all, much of the show’s success depended on Ronald’s wonderfully chummy chemistry with the cast—a phenomenon that, the season finale revealed, took even the producers by surprise. Ronald often made the manufactured wackiness even more entertaining by simply taking every situation in stride. Yes, he was aware that he was being filmed, but only in the courthouse and while taping “interviews” for the fake documentary. The hidden cameras picked up some of the show’s best moments—organic, unscripted scenes that hinged on Ronald’s courteousness in spite of his confusion. He was accepting of Todd’s penchant for building unnecessary inventions, for example, even though Todd was obviously intended as an annoying presence. (His gadgets, such as a prosthetic ear that doubles as a Bluetooth device, tended to disrupt court proceedings.) Ronald invited Todd to watch A Bug’s Life with him, striking up a friendship rather than anything antagonistic. Again and again, the show tried to provoke Ronald, and again and again, Ronald remained unbothered: He gamely covered for Marsden when the actor “clogged” Ronald’s toilet. He helped Noah gain enough confidence to hook up with Jeannie. He even took the disjointed trial—which involved an extremely glitchy animated reenactment video that caused some cast members to break character on camera—totally seriously.
The “infinitely repeatable” setup of Jury Duty is simple: Dupe a normal person into reacting to abnormal scenarios for entertainment. But Ronald’s reactions—more tickled than spooked by the antics around him—transformed the show, giving it a sweeter tone. The cast responded to his kindness by forging genuine friendships with him and softening some narrative twists, commiserating with him about the surrounding oddness rather than trying to fool him further. Without Ronald, Jury Duty would have been just another prank show. With him, it became a hangout series that considered how people can connect in spite of their circumstances.
That’s not to say that Jury Duty’s planned comedic beats fell flat. The trial itself is packed with gags, including testimony from an influencer/DJ/actor/model/sometime-lash-technician (played by Lisa Gilroy) that’s one of the funniest performances I’ve seen on TV this year. But the bulk of the show’s charm comes from how it began mirroring Ronald’s equally bemused attitude toward the day-to-day proceedings, capturing how humorous even the most mundane elements of jury duty can be. I laughed out loud when one juror, the soft-spoken Ken (Ron Song), delivered an overcomplicated analogy to explain the case’s latest developments, while in the background, a bored Marsden could be seen attempting to entertain himself by spinning a sign.
Making more Jury Duty would risk losing that appeal. Second seasons tend to require higher stakes to keep audiences interested, and this series is not built for big swings, especially if it wants to avoid turning its subject into the butt of the joke. Jury Duty’s novelty also helped keep Ronald in the dark. Throughout the season, Ronald voiced how he felt like he was witnessing reality TV, but he never followed that thought through because, well, Jury Duty hadn’t aired yet. He also had no idea he’d be awarded $100,000 at the end of the series for his trouble—a prize that feels earned but that would make casting someone without an ulterior motive for another season harder to do. I’m already terrified that Ronald is going to Milkshake Duck. I’d be skeptical, even more than I already was, of any future protagonist’s true intentions.
Jury Duty worked, in other words, because it didn’t follow a preestablished formula, leaving it free to evolve with its unwitting subject. Maybe the production can finesse its casting strategy to generate similar results, but the longer a show like this runs, the more muddled its message becomes. Right now the series proves that anybody can be a hero. Overextending that idea could easily turn it into something saccharine, something predictable. Such order is certainly necessary in a courtroom—just not a fake one.