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‘Jury Duty’ review: Not even James Marsden who plays James Marsden can give this gag comedy much purpose


Who would have thought that The Joe Schmo Show, a series that aired for three seasons on the since-renamed Spike Network spanning between 2003 and 2013, would be the most influential TV format of 2022 and 2023? Except fans of The Joe Schmo ShowI mean.

That series, where a commoner – a ‘Joe Schmo’, if you will – is fooled/cheated/conned/conned into believing he was part of a reality show when he was actually surrounded by a crew of actors, has its powerful DNA in that of Nathan Fielder The rehearsalone of my favorite shows from last year, and Peacock’s Paul T Goldman, a provocatively damaging offering from earlier this winter. Now it’s back in Freevee’s Jury duty.

Jury duty

It comes down to

The verdict: Guilty of poor focus and inconsistent comedic aims.

broadcast date: Friday April 7 (Freevee)
Form: Ronald Gladden, James Marsden, Mekhi Leeper, David Brown, Edy Modica
creators: Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky

Jury duty, which spreads its joke over eight episodes, ultimately has two advantages: The first is that it’s condescending but not disdainful in relation to its Joe Schmo hero, avoiding the downward humiliation that has plagued so many similar shows in this space. The second is that, especially in the final episodes, Jury duty goes to great lengths to illustrate just how complicated it is to make a show of this type, a helpful reminder that even failures are rarely the result of a lack of effort. Jury duty proves that good (in a moral sense) is sometimes the enemy of good (in a qualitative sense).

Created by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, the series’ shape definitely could have been season four The Joe Schmo Show. Producers recruited a common man named Ronald to take part in what he told is a reality series about the inner workings of the justice system and the jury process. Ronald is curious about fulfilling his civic duty, but what he doesn’t know is that every aspect of the trial he’s been brought into is bogus, from the case to the lawyers to the judge to the other members of his jury.

Ronald is surrounded by incendiary characters, including an old woman who keeps falling asleep during testimony, a religiously sheltered nerd and flirt who tries to lose his virginity, a gambling addict interested in a game that doesn’t actually exist, and James Marsden who plays Sonic the Hedgehog And Sex drive star James Marsden.

So the series revolves around Ronald’s experiences starting with voir dire through jury selection through the trial and deliberations and a verdict, as the producers and actors try to insult him with a series of variable absurdities.

With what purpose? Well, that’s unclear. In The Joe Schmo Show, the goal was to see if the common person could figure out what was going on. That way someone would win. In The rehearsal, there was no requirement to win, but the show became increasingly structured around Fielder’s exploration of himself and his insecurities and loneliness in a post-COVID world. In Paul T Goldmanthe series became more and more about using public humiliation as a vehicle for a weird but thoroughly powerless dude to learn how to stop being a nudnik.

Of Jury dutyfor the life of me, I can’t figure out exactly what the “best case scenario” would have looked like, what the takeaway should have been.

The show’s opening title reads, “The next series explores the American legal process as seen through the eyes of a jury,” which is clearly a joke, though it would have actually served a worthy purpose. For perhaps one episode, which focused on deliberations, there’s a short and serious attempt to solve a case – a civil suit involving a possibly drunk employee who might ruin a boss’s fashion business through public defilement – that is not real or interesting and makes no tangible legal sense as it has been edited here. It is neither celebratory to the system nor introspective. I don’t think Ronald could have done anything to steer the show towards content.

It’s easier to see how Ronald could have made the show funny. He could have embraced the staged silliness of the show – behind-the-scenes jury appointments, various things related to Marsden’s celebrity status, clumsy legal hijinks – and been an enthusiastic participant, knowingly or unknowingly. I don’t know what that would have proven, but it would have escalated the comedy. Or he could have recognized the artificiality of the show and bumped into it with a “Will he or won’t he?” comic suspense as we waited for his inevitable discovery.

Instead, Ronald does the absolute worst possible for a show like this: he turns out to be innocently decent. He’s not righteous and courageous and principled, nor is he wrong in a way that would give the show a chance to Paul T Goldmanstyle shameful. He’s just… okay. He is friendly and kind to people, understands their scripted eccentricities, and is generally curious to participate in the process. He’s nice, but to misparaphrase Rudyard Kipling, if all you can do most of the time is smile and nod while those around you lose theirs, then you’re a very boring television character, my son.

Ronald isn’t a black hole at the center of a show that’s supposed to be about his reactions to things, but he really is a beige hole. It is a relief that the jokes here are not at the expense of Ronald. But I really wonder how willing the producers were to attack him if he had displayed traits that warranted ridicule and why they didn’t have a better target to go to. There are jokes to be made about the jury trial that go beyond, “Isn’t it hard to make daily lunch orders?” or “Sometimes reenactment animations are stupid”, but Jury duty don’t know what those jokes are.

This causes the various actors to rather frantically stage a sitcom centered around a guy who’s just content to be there even after 17 days of committing, and it’s a desperation that makes the format make very little sense. The actors do their talking-head segments in character, rather than as actors, and they continue to do comedic bits even when Ronald isn’t present or necessarily paying attention, to the extent that Ronald ends up adding almost nothing to the show at all. It will be a less entertaining version of NBC’s mockumentary Trials & Errorsonly with a main character for whom no one bothered to write material.

To be clear, a few of the bits performed by the skilled cast are definitely funny, especially as they pertain to Marsden, who has always been an exceptional comedic actor and likes to fake his level of stardom and entitlement. But if you didn’t know any better you’d think he was the star of Jury dutywhich he absolutely is not and should not be.

Otherwise, the balance of the show shifts to the actors who are laughing the hardest, because they’re the ones who are pushing hardest to get reactions from Ronald. That, in turn, makes it more difficult to fully understand why Ronald is so inexplicably and unfilmically chill. Still, I got the giggles from Mekhi Leeper, David Brown and Edy Modica.

The flaccid, unfocused nature of comedy Jury duty leave it without purpose, without purpose and, alas, without direction. The series builds to an eighth episode that feels a responsibility to be “conclusive,” but one moment after another is like, “Yeah, that’s not a resolution the show was building to, it’s just an ending.” .” It’s hard to blame the producers for that Jury duty for not being able to save the show from their too nice protagonist and even harder for wanting to blame Ronald for being too nice. Jury duty is a bad show for benign reasons.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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