Comic Relief: ‘Jury Duty’ is a show of dreams and nightmares

Scene from "Jury Duty"
James Marsden and Ishmel Sahid are two of the actors starring in Amazon Freevee’s “Jury Duty.” The sitcom was released April 7.  (Amazon Freevee)

There is no worse phrase than “It’s an inside joke.” 

In a way, that’s what the recent Amazon Freevee show “Jury Duty” is, one big inside joke. Twelve jurors are participating in a documentary about jury duty. All of them are actors — except one. 

Unfortunately, it may literally fall into the same category as YouTube hidden camera pranks — the lowest form of media — but it is so much better than that. 

With “Abbott Elementary” season two and “Ted Lasso” season three, 2023 has been a strong year for comedy. “Jury Duty” may be the best of them all. The chaos that ensues in the show is unbelievable — fake paparazzi, soaking and chair pants. The show’s actors are absolute legends; their ability to not break in these situations is commendable. 

The hero and star of the show, the non-actor, is Ronald Gladden.

The show’s scheme is to make him believe the show’s jury is real and test his morality. 

Pretty much every person “on the jury” is a bizarre caricature often pushing the line of realism, and the trial is ridiculous. Gladden is trapped for 17 days with no phone or internet connection. Still, at every turn, Gladden proves to be a sweetheart — watching “A Bug’s Life” with the guy the show set up to weird him out, helping two of the jurors start their romance and even taking the blame for a toilet-clogging poo to save actor James Marsden (an alternate juror) the embarrassment.  

Gladden believed he signed on to a documentary about life on a jury. While some of the wild antics made him suspicious, he did not catch on that the entire life he was living was a fraud. 

Scene from Jury Duty.
Oregon native and San Diego based project manager Ronald Gladden was the center of the comedic social experiment “Jury Duty. (Amazon Freevee)

In the recently released commentary, Gladden said he was “a little disappointed” when he met the actors at the wrap dinner because he had grown fond of their characters. Gladden appears to be a good sport, and the show paints him in an incredible light, calling him a “hero” and, yes, he did get $100,000, so maybe it’s all good. Gladden really was never the butt of the joke. 

Still, when everyone is likening the show to “The Truman Show” (1998), maybe some flags need to be raised. Gladden admitted to being “paranoid” after the show ended, believing he was still being filmed. He has since reacclimated and, according to social media, the cast is still all friends. It’s cute and fun and no one got hurt from the experiment. 

However, that’s just Gladden’s story. 

Nathan Fielder’s “The Rehearsal” premiered last year and proved that Fielder is a mad genius. The premise of the show started as each episode focusing on a different person meticulously rehearsing for life moments that should be uncontrollable in hopes of preparing for when they really happen. It devolves into Fielder hiring multiple child actors to pretend to be his child, living an almost 24/7 alternate life. 

While “Jury Duty” is clearly a lighthearted matter, “The Rehearsal” is more thought-provoking. It often feels exploitative, but that might just be the larger social commentary. 

Fielder cycles through child actors in accordance with child labor laws but pretends they are all his son, “Adam.”  They go about the average day-to-day family activities — playing, going to school, having dinner with his co-parent Angela. Obviously, this is all Fielder’s master rehearsal, but the show makes it seem as though he sometimes gets lost in the fantasy. 

After six brutal episodes, Fielder and the crew are ready to wrap up. Except one of the fake sons, child actor Remy, who refuses to believe Fielder isn’t his actual father. What ensues is a meltdown, with the five year old wanting to stay with his “daddy,” Fielder. 

What follows is an absolute gut-wrenching episode as Fielder attempts to undo the damage, even rehearsing how he will do so. 

How much of “The Rehearsal” is scripted or planned is one of life’s greatest mysteries. Every day I have to gaslight myself into believing that the entirety of the show is fake just to remove the image of Remy sobbing from my mind. 

It’s impossible to confirm anything involving the authenticity of “The Rehearsal” — the Redditors and YouTube video essayists have tried to no avail. 

Still, Remy’s mom said that Remy doesn’t really understand what acting is yet. Maybe that’s just another misdirect or maybe that’s proof of truth. It’s easy to fall into a loop when dissecting “The Rehearsal.” 

Even if Remy is all good, child acting, in general, has long been disputed. Maybe “The Rehearsal” is simply bringing attention to the ethical dilemma. 

With both “Jury Duty” and “The Rehearsal,” it can be scary to see the doors opened to this type of content. Prank shows — and again, the nasty YouTube pranksters — have been around forever, but “Jury Duty” and “The Rehearsal” brought a new vulnerability to the medium. 

Perhaps more TV shows will experiment with blurring the lines of reality, and the long-term effects on whoever is left out of the joke are yet to be discovered. But, at the end of the day, I will be streaming “The Rehearsal” season two as soon as it drops.

Kimberly Aguirre is a rising junior writing about comedy in her column, “Comic Relief.” She is also an associate managing editor at the Daily Trojan.