Path to The Emmys: The Reality Dark Horse of ‘Jury Duty’ 

Posted on: Jul 06, 2023

Actor James Marsden in a nice suit smiling in front of a blue backdrop.Photo courtesy of DFree // Shutterstock

By Mary Scraggs

In the vast sea of entertainment options available today, it’s rare for a show to capture the attention and affection of viewers as quickly and unexpectedly as Amazon Freevee’s new reality show Jury Duty did. Despite its slow start and underwhelming initial hype, this mockumentary-sitcom managed to become a viral hit, garnering millions of streams and generating widespread attention across social media. According to Parrot Analytics, interest in the show remains higher than its initial launch period as people continue to discover it. 

Jury Duty defied expectations, captivated audiences and became a phenomenon, leading many to believe it will be nominated for a couple Emmy awards.

An Unforeseen Triumph

When Jury Duty first aired on Freevee, neither the actors nor producers could have predicted the overwhelming success that awaited them. The show’s premise is centered around Ronald Gladden, an unwitting participant in a staged jury trial. It was the execution and unexpected twists that made the show believable for Ronald.

There was little buzz leading up to the show’s airdate, but when one of the show’s writers, Kerry O’Neill, tweeted the trailer with the caption, “We Truman-showed a man,” it went viral. This helped viewers contextualize the sitcom’s premise and invest in the outcome, especially with Ronald being a star worth rooting for. 

James Marsden and an Impeccable Cast

One significant factor contributing to the show’s triumph was the casting of James Marsden, a beloved figure among audiences. Marsden took on the role of an exaggeratedly rude and pretentious version of himself forced to serve as an alternate juror. His improv performance was filled with comedic timing and exaggerated mannerisms as a self-inflated actor whose ego is bigger than his heart. Marsden’s involvement undoubtedly drew attention to the show, creating a strong fan base.

The cast delivered remarkable performances, maintaining their characters without revealing the truth to Ronald. It was testament to their dedication and skill that none of the actors broke character or gave away the ruse, adding an extra layer of impressiveness to their portrayals. The show’s finale revealed a few minor slips by the actors here and there that other actors were able to identify and recover from before Ronald noticed (such as the bailiff accidentally calling a juror by their real name).

Ronald’s Endearing Kindness

While James Marsden’s performance and a strong cast of comedic actors undoubtedly played a vital role in the show’s success, it was Ronald Gladden who stole the hearts of viewers. Despite the outrageous circumstances that unfolded throughout the trial, Ronald continued to exhibit unwavering kindness and sincerity. This stark contrast between the absurdity surrounding him and his genuine nature made Ronald all the more lovable to viewers.

The audience resonated with Ronald, finding solace in his unassuming demeanor and genuine interactions. In a world saturated with dramatic reality shows and contrived narratives, Ronald’s authenticity and goodness were a breath of fresh air. Viewers connected with his innocence and were drawn to his unwitting participation in the show’s antics.

Social Media

James Marsden has a theory about why the show became such a success and part of it is attributed to TikTok: “They want to see what’s going on out there in all its absurdity or its hilariousness or its scariness. They want to watch something real, and not fake.” The fact that Ronald wasn’t in on the hoax made him more relatable to viewers, gaining their empathy.

Jury Duty and the Emmys

The unforeseen success and widespread acclaim of Jury Duty have led many industry experts and fans alike to anticipate multiple Emmy nominations for the show. With its unique blend of comedy, authenticity and compelling performances, the series has captured the attention of viewers and critics. James Marsden’s standout portrayal, coupled with the endearing and authentic participation of Ronald Gladden has garnered praise for their comedic chemistry and genuine connection. Ronald’s heartwarming connections and friendships with the other jurors gave viewers even more to root for. The show’s innovative mockumentary format and ability to resonate with audiences on a deep level make it a strong contender for recognition in categories such as Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Lead Actor and Outstanding Writing. As the buzz continues to grow, the anticipation for Jury Duty to make a splash at the Emmys is reaching new heights.

Jury Duty serves as a testament to the power of unexpected success and the magic that can happen when talented individuals come together. As we continue to explore the evolving landscape of entertainment, it is heartening to see experimental shows like Jury Duty thrive, showcasing the power of unique storytelling and the enduring appeal of relatable characters. This mockumentary has  left its mark and will be remembered as a prime example of how a slow start can evolve into an extraordinary success story, and how working on an unsuspecting reality show can lead to prestige and awards.

The official Emmy nominations list will be released July 12th.

Mary Scraggs holds an M.F.A. in creative writing and is an avid fan of film and television, both through her own passion and her sister’s involvement in the industry as an actress.

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