Life & Culture

Jury Duty review: The verdict’s in for this sweet piece of genius

Ground-breaking, utterly cynical and knowing courtroom drama with a delicious twist


Jury Duty
Amazon Prime | ★★★★★

Sometimes, when I’m not reviewing TV shows for the JC, I do something a bit weird. I watch telly for pleasure.

And sometimes, just sometimes, when I’m watching TV like a human, I get very excited. I press pause, google the title, in this case Jury Duty on Amazon Prime, and pray. Up pop the results. “Created by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky.” Bingo, we have Jews. This week’s review sorted.

While some might point to the stereotype of our people’s ubiquitousness within the American entertainment industry as a reason why I needn’t actually pray that hard, for this show, the odds were even more favourable.

Jury Duty speaks to the best of Jewish cultural traditions. It takes what came before, the known, the tired; in TV terms, formats like the hidden camera show, the reality show, the sitcom, even the sitcom as a reality show.

Indeed these two men wrote for the granddaddy of that particular genre, The Office. Then everything’s chucked into a metatextual analysis deconstructionist cauldron, and stirred.

The result is something ground-breaking, utterly cynical and knowing, yet somehow moral and even sweet. Ronald Gladden, a solar panel fitter, answered an ad on Craigslist to take part in the first-ever documentary given full access to the jury process. He just didn’t know the entire thing was fake.

The trial, the judge, the fellow jurors, even the court staff. Everybody’s an actor. In fact the only other person who’s technically themselves, James Marsden, is also an actor.

A word about James Marsden. Because his involvement is genius. It’s one thing coming up with a high concept for a TV show or film, I bet many appropriately originate from people smoking weed with their friends and going “Hey wouldn’t it be cool if….”

But the true artistry is taking that clever nub of an idea, and fleshing it out in refreshing ways. So the inclusion of Marsden, a Hollywood actor (X-Men, Sonic) to play a subtly vain egoistical sendup of themselves, if not all actors, is hilarious and very arch.

Totally committed, Marsden’s hurt expressions as his celebrity is punctured is a show in itself.

Yet this is only one element, of a variety of off-beat characters and plot developments that teeter just on this side of believable, before falling off a cliff. Like a frog in a warming pan,

Ronald takes it all in his stride, glancing about in innocence and incredulity, as the temperature increases so gradually he doesn’t notice he’s been cooked.

Virgin jurors, an old lady constantly falling asleep, someone into cybernetic augmentation! Tiny oddly misshapen seeds are laid, and then through the eight episodes, blossom into utterly mad trees where you have no idea where the story’s going to branch.

The only sad thing is, due to the success of the show, I can’t see how they’d ever find someone unsuspecting enough to get away with doing this kind of brilliance again. Get ready then, to enjoy a true original.

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