Candid Jury Duty

Ronald Gladden and James MarsdenI can’t stand so-called “reality” shows as they bear about as much relationship to reality as the words that emerge from a typical Republican’s mouth these days.

So when I first heard about the premise for the show Jury Duty, I was extremely dubious. But then I started watching it and I was won over nearly instantly.

The idea was to stage a mock trial where everyone—lawyers, judge, plaintiff, defendant, jurors, etc.—is an actor; everyone, that is, except one person who thinks it’s a real trial. And while most of the trial would be conducted pretty much like a real trial would be, every now and then one of the actors would do something a little bit crazy, the idea being to see how the innocent person might react. Sort of like Candid Camera.

It’s a premise that could easily have gone south in so many ways, but in Ronald Gladden, an easy-going, six foot six, solar panel installer, the producers found the perfect candidate. He reacted to all the madness around him without losing his cool, and in fact over the course of the 17 days of the “trial” he often was a step or two ahead of the “plot” and the producers and actors had to spend the evenings retooling and rewriting and re-rehearsing for the next day’s shooting.

Into all this madness there was one extra wild card. James Marsden played an extremely narcissistic “version” of himself. In fact, because of “Marsden’s” antics to try to get out of jury duty, the “judge” ended up sequestering the jury for the the duration of the trial. And even then, Ronald didn’t lose his cool or rat out “Marsden” to the rest of the “jurors”.

The eight episodes fly by, and if at times it seems that Ronald must be a bit dense not to see through all the madness, one should keep in mind that we’re only seeing the mad bits and not the 30 hours of testimony that the “jurors” needed to sit through to keep up the verisimilitude.

When all is revealed, we find out that the “judge” is a retired lawyer, and the actors playing the lawyers have had bar experience as well. And the friendships that Ronald formed with the actors turned out to be real as after the filming was completed, they’ve remained in touch with each other. James Marsden was just interviewed on Fresh Air and said he’s still in touch with Ronald. 

I think all of us would like to have a Ronald Gladden in our lives.


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