Cancelled too soon: ‘The Hard Times of RJ Berger’

273860856_640BY TROY PHILLIPS

Having access to hundreds of channels with a relentless drive to please viewers can be both a blessing and a curse for the television-watching public. The constant strain to succeed placed on producers, writers and executives can fuel a competitive drive to produce superior content, but nothing interesting or difficult can ever be that straightforward.

RGIII may believe in a “no pressure, no diamonds” philosophy, but a simple win or lose mindset precludes everything in between. Too often, quality can be buried in the details, and media gold can often be found by reading between the lines instead of merely judging the cover product.

A countless number of promising shows have been thrown out in favor of new, seemingly better content that usually falls flat on it’s face. There’s nothing more frustrating than having that new show you accidentally discovered and talked up to all of your friends get cancelled in lieu of a dime a dozen reality train wreck or the fifteenth offshoot of Law And Order.

Alright, there are a lot of things more frustrating than that, but everyone can relate to the experience of being robbed by network execs looking to oversaturate the market with copycat spinoffs. This segment aims to avoid giving in to the pressure of the masses and remind fans about some of the great forgotten gems of television’s past.

After catching the eye of 3.1 million viewers for the Season 2 premiere of The Hard Times of RJ Berger, MTV most likely had no plans to eliminate one of it’s few remaining scripted programs. Somewhere in between the premiere and the last episode of the show two months later, Hard Times lost more than two-thirds of its’ following and limped across the finish line with only 1 million viewers for the finale. Any indication of the loss of fanfare was seemingly withheld from the show’s writers, who crafted a closing episode full of twists and new storylines to be played out during the next year. MTV was swift in pulling the plug in order to make room for any number of Jersey Shore spin-off ideas (probably) and fans were left with only 24 episodes to document RJ’s legacy — an exit that would be deemed premature even by high school standards.

For those of you that have read this far without having any idea what Hard Times is about (you’re too kind) then I’ll provide you with a link to the Wikipedia page for a comprehensive analysis of the show so that I don’t waste time rehashing the plot beyond the bare minimum, because that’s how I do things.

There are many variations of the same tagline for the show; Your run-of-the-mill-high-school-sophomore-nobody gets noticed after most of the school accidentally sees that he is, shall we say, well endowed. The events that follow mostly involve RJ (Paul Iacono) running through various social situations with his sex-crazed friend Miles (Jareb Dauplaise) while also trying to win over childhood friend and standard T.V. cheerleader Jenny Swanson (Amber Lancaster). Oh, and Jenny’s boyfriend is an all around alpha jock that hates everything RJ is and seemingly ever was.

(Editor’s Note: Jared Dauplaise and Amber Lancaster are ages 33 and 32, respectively. Love it when shows about high school aged kids cast 30-year olds to play the part. Since they’re both a few years older than any of the Poor Scholars staff, we’re gonna band our  group of twentysomethings together and make a show where we play middle school kids. I bet Fox is already interested.)

Don’t worry, I’m not about to hard sell the main dynamic; there’s no doubt that it comes across as typical and uninspired. The real magic is how the dialogue is written and delivered. Anyone who has used a locker in the last ten years can relate to many of the out of school mishaps shared by RJ and his small circle of friends. Most people can relate to the party that got out of hand, watching the obscure or amusing groups of people who seem to vanish outside of campus, and trying to meticulously plan the perfect night.

The minds behind Hard Times really get into the minds of current high school students and do an excellent job in portraying the winding process of transitioning from childhood to the real world. If only more high school and college students could have taken the small effort to watch the show live instead of waiting for the second season to come out on Netflix.

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