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Maybe this isn’t the best year to turn over the legal system to mob populism.
After all, a terrifying percentage of Americans believe that our election was undermined by massive voter fraud, and another daunting chunk believes that it was undermined by the Russians — but maybe those numbers are meaningless since people also don’t believe in polls anymore, and the Oscars taught us that even the most closely managed of votes can still be mangled in the hands of incompetents.
AIR DATE Apr 07, 2017
If the things that are supposed to function as a popular vote already don’t deliver results we understand, perhaps undermining that whole “jury of your peers” concept in the name of Fox television spectacle isn’t the best choice for 2017?
Even if Fox’s You the Jury were the best of ideas executed in the best of ways, Fox tossed out all credibility for the premise by scheduling the show in the underwatched wasteland of Friday nights and then guaranteed the most skewed of American jury pools by making Fox News favorite Jeanine Pirro into the show show’s public face.
What is the premise of You the Jury, which premieres on Friday (April 7) night?
With Pirro as host, episodes introduce real-life civil cases and then top attorneys present the case in a bombastic 44-minute format — and then, after the evidence has been presented, America votes. And it isn’t just a silly straw poll. The people involved in the cases made the questionable decision to give binding power to text message votes from primetime TV viewers — Fox viewers.
The first thing to know about You the Jury, based on two episodes made available for critics, is that although Pirro is host, she’s only a limited figure within the show. So if you were thinking of watching because you love Pirro’s hectoring presence on Fox News, be aware that she intros each case and then provides pre-commercial bumpers and little else. She is not judge, jury or executioner here. She’s not even Cat Deeley or Ryan Seacrest. That, however, means that if you loved the idea of You the Jury, but wanted no part of the former The Jinx talking head, she’s easily avoidable. With judicious DVR buffering, once could fast-forward through Pirro and lose none of the meat of the cases.
But even without Pirro there’s still ample annoyance to be found in You the Jury.
The first problem, clearly, is one of overreach. I get that producers Renegade 83 wanted to raise the stakes so that You the Jury wouldn’t just look like People’s Court in primetime, but kicking the series off with an episode that attempts to determine civil culpability for a murder, specifically the case of Gary Giordano and the disappearance of his wife, Robyn, in Aruba five years ago, feels nothing short of gross. With the presence of failed Robert Durst vanquisher Pirro, opening with the case of a man accused of killing his wife has the rank aroma of Rambo: First Blood Part II attempting to refight Vietnam and John Rambo’s pleading, “Do we get to win this time?” If you’re going to leave murder cases in the hands of lazy TV viewers who have an hour to barely pay attention and render verdicts, you might as well make it a criminal case and let America decide if we’re imposing capital punishment and then execute the accused on national TV. For the record: We shouldn’t do that either. It’s dumb. But the Fox of When Animals Attack and Man vs. Beast would have gone all the way. At least Fox’s former reality guru Mike Darnell would have had a grizzly bear serving as judge or something.
As CBS already proved with Hunted, if you’re doing Running Man, don’t pussyfoot around. Go full Running Man.
The second episode sent to critics is scaled a bit better, if only because it isn’t letting America vote on whether or not somebody is [civilly] guilty of murder. Instead, that case just lets America vote on whether racism on the internet is bad, using the briefly notorious case of online troll Gerod Roth, who famously posted his picture with a colleague’s African-American son and then watched as his online troll buddies said disgusting racist stuff.
Does Gary Giordano owe money to his late wife’s sister for allegedly killing her (a crime he was never criminally charged with)? Does Gerod Roth owe money to the mother of the kid he set up for cyber attacks?
America gets to decide. And it’s all icky, because you can’t watch either episode without thinking, “Well, these are exactly the people I would expect to be desperate enough to put these issues in America’s hands.” They deserve this. We deserve this.
Fittingly, the production itself is manipulative, bombastic and laughable, but it’s also completely watchable in a way that promises the only person guaranteed to feel guilty at the end of an hour is the viewer. America only gets to vote on that by not tuning in.
The set is theater-in-the-round, with the audience surrounding the two sides of the case and Judge LaDoris Cordell towering above the proceedings. It’s an arena with columns and harsh gameshow lighting, so it feels like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire meets Spartacus. Again, why are we bothering with the nuance of “preponderance of evidence” when a simple “thumb up” or “thumb down” would suffice?
There’s also a huge JumboTron screen that is used to present evidence in corny filmed segments, so if your idea of justice is an accused murderer crying as he watches himself cry on a huge screen and then cutting away to the alleged victim’s sister rolling her eyes, then You the Jury has you covered.
Making matters worse, the audience laughs at questionably appropriate moments, roars when attorneys make good points, and ooh and ahh and boo when they love or don’t like what they’re hearing. Since only attorneys who already crave the spotlight have been selected for the show, this invites or demands grandstanding. Joe Tacopina, who “prosecutes” Giordano in the first episode, embraces the role as heel, and you sense that if he could smash Giordano’s face in with a chair, he would. Instead, he just bellows things like “You know you killed her and we’ll get to that” in Giordano’s face and when the opposing lawyer attempts to object, Judge Cordell overrules. When he isn’t badgering witnesses, Tacopina sits in the high-contrast lighting twitching and glowering in cutaways. Defense attorney Jose Baez comes across much more appealingly, at least if you gauge courtroom effectiveness on whoops and hollers.
Justice, man. Justice.
Pirro has a very ideologically specific audience — her brief segments here probably hint at her own prosecutorial bias, but really don’t tip the scale — and I wonder if the participants in both episodes I’ve seen would have been more or less eager about putting their fates in America’s hands if they’d known that “America” would mean “Whatever dribs and drabs of viewership a Fox News personality can bring to a Friday night on Fox.” As it stands, they’re letting cases with real stakes be adjudicated in an environment that makes a Jerry Springer set look classy. I’m betting that the vote/verdict in the internet racism case, as well as the social media/comment section response from the dozen people who watch, is going to be utterly toxic.
Maybe I’m just foolish in believing that guilt and innocence (again, only in terms of civil responsibility) requires a system different from the one that gave us American Idol Taylor Hicks. I watched two episodes of You the Jury and I was never bored, but man I felt awful about myself afterwards.
You the Jury premieres on Friday, April 7 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.
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