Thumbnail graphic by Olivia Aloi / North by Northwestern.

This article contains spoilers for Jury Duty.

In 2021, 30-year-old San Diego native Ronald Gladden responded to a Craigslist posting soliciting volunteers to participate in a documentary about the American jury system. Between jobs as a contractor, Gladden saw this as a one-off opportunity to make some money and have a new experience. Little did he know, he would soon be launched into a world of prank comedy in which every person involved in the jury trial was an actor except him.

This is the focus of Freevee’s latest hit Jury Duty, an eight-episode mockumentary with the original goal of pushing Gladden to his breaking point.

After parsing through thousands of applicants, casting executives chose Gladden as their main subject of this grand scheme. However, as the actors’ ploys revealed Ronald’s true compassion and goodness, the show went in an unexpected direction.

Since the show’s release, the internet has fallen in love with Ronald, with fans on social media calling him “America’s sweetheart” and “the perfect example of the female gaze,” among other praises.

“I never would’ve imagined that I would ever have fans, let alone fans in different countries, people from Japan, Norway, Scotland, Ireland, all over the world,” Gladden told GQ. “I’m thrilled obviously, but it’s a weird feeling that people all over the world can see my face.”

One of the most absurd elements of Jury Duty is its casting of James Marsden, playing an exaggerated, egoistic version of himself. Marsden tips off fake paparazzi to the courthouse in order to sequester the jury and thus cut off Ronald’s access to the outside world and the internet, eliminating any roadblocks to the show’s progression. Marsden’s constant name-dropping and gloating never seem to faze Ronald as he doesn’t hesitate to bring the actor down to size, even upon their first meeting.

“Oh shit, you were in the movie Sonic? That’s the new one with Jim Carrey, right? I heard that was not a good movie,” Gladden said.

@amazonfreevee “I heard that was not a good movie” ☠️ Stream the first 4 episodes of #JuryDutyonFreevee ♬ original sound - Amazon Freevee

Also among the cast of eccentric characters are Noah (Mekki Leeper), an awkwardly-innocent ride-share driver whose paranoia over missing a romantic vacation with his girlfriend causes him to attempt to evade jury duty by telling the judge he is racist; Jeannie (Edy Modica), whose outgoing personality and lewd humor incite endless laughter from viewers as she attempts to ‘corrupt’ a heartbroken Noah; and Ken (Ron Song), a quiet man with a gambling problem whose determination to owe Ronald a huge sum of money after losing a game called ‘Yut’ becomes an obstacle amongst the two. Amidst all of the antics, instead of making Ronald run, he embraces each juror with genuine friendship and care.

In a particularly aw-inducing encounter, Ronald takes one of his fellow jurors under his wing. Todd (David Brown) makes it known to the jury that he is different. He engineers and wears a pair of ‘chair pants’ made of crutches to avoid standing for prolonged periods in court; he slides overbearing notes under the door of Ronald’s conjoining hotel room; and he never fails to bring up his passion for bionics and science fiction.

While his bizarre, slightly disturbing persona ostracizes Todd from the other participants, Ronald embraces his unique perspective and encourages Todd to remain authentic to himself. Taking inspiration from a randomly-placed set element, Ronald shows Todd the 1998 movie A Bug’s Life, which depicts a misfit ant who deals with bullying, similar to Todd.

“I showed him that movie to kind of let him know that those people tend to be misunderstood in society, just like it’s portrayed in the movie,” Gladden said in a confessional. “I feel like they do a perfect job. He’s kind of an outcast, people think he’s a weirdo, they push him off to the side, but all he’s trying to do is just help in his own way.”

Beyond his interactions with the cast, the dichotomy between Ronald’s stature and teddy bear personality makes him all the more loveable. Standing 6 feet 6 inches tall, Gladden is a gentle giant, and his online presence has only reflected that reputation.

@filmsygirl ronald was cast perfectly. hes literally the sweetest most empathetic person ever?? #juryduty #jurydutyonfreevee #jurydutyedit #ronaldgladden #ronaldgladdenedit #mekkileeper #mekkileeperedit #noahprice #noahpriceedit #fyp #film #edit #danonation #jurydutyshow ♬ sweet ronald - syd

In the first few minutes of the finale, Ronald approaches the bench to deliver the verdict. It is then that the judge reveals the elaborate ruse.

After Ronald’s initial confusion and the cast’s bout of rousing laughter, the judge says, “We’ve considered all of the evidence present in your trial, and we’ve decided that you, Ronald Gladden, are a hero.”

Citing his “service, kindness and strength of character,” the judge tells Ronald he will take home $100,000 for participating in the experiment. The genuine smile and look of bewilderment on Ronald’s face make all the deceit worth it. Who knew getting duped could lead to such a wholesome ending?

Gladden’s gentle and down-to-earth demeanor is a refreshing break from what we are used to seeing on-screen. What makes Ronald the internet’s newest obsession is that he is just a normal guy: plain and simple. His pre-show Instagram feed features a mix of solar panel installations and action shots of his corgi Meatball, to whom he is a shamelessly proud “dogfather.” In a world obsessed with fame and fortune, Ronald makes a strong case for the restoration of faith in humanity just by being himself.

Though the finale has aired and the curtain has closed on this season of Jury Duty, this does not mark the end of Ronald’s engagement with the world. Gladden recently announced he would be joining Cameo, an online platform through which fans can purchase personalized videos from their favorite celebrities. According to his LinkedIn profile, he also picked up a position as a project manager at Home Depot in January 2023. It seems that Gladden has maintained his humility and warm personality all while interacting with fans and experiencing the excitement that comes with being on a hit TV show.

All this to say, the verdict is in: Gladden has wormed his way into our hearts, and we sense he will occupy them for the foreseeable future.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Yut as a made-up game, which it is not. NBN regrets the error.