The Hard Times of RJ Berger
|The Hard Times of RJ Berger|
|Created by||David Katzenberg
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||2|
|No. of episodes||24 (List of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||David Katzenberg
Seth Grahame Smith
|Running time||22 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Wild Brain|
|Distributor||MTV Networks International|
|Original run||June 6, 2010– May 30, 2011|
The Hard Times of RJ Berger is an American television comedy series created by David Katzenberg and Seth Grahame-Smith for MTV. The show's central character is RJ Berger (Paul Iacono) an unpopular sophomore at the fictional Pinkerton High School in Ohio who has an exceptionally large penis. Berger's two best friends are Miles Jenner (Jareb Dauplaise), whose ambitions for popularity cause him to clash with Berger, and goth girl Lily Miran (Kara Taitz), who has been lusting after Berger for several years. Berger's love interest is Jenny Swanson (Amber Lancaster), a cheerleader who is involved with Max Owens (Jayson Blair), a popular jock and bully. The show is presented as a coming of age story and has been described by Katzenberg and Grahame-Smith as a blend of the television series The Wonder Years and the film Superbad.
The pilot episode premiered on June 6, 2010, and the first season of 12 episodes concluded August 23, 2010. MTV renewed The Hard Times of RJ Berger for a second season, which premiered on March 24, 2011, and concluded on May 30, 2011, but canceled the show that August.
The Hard Times of RJ Berger originated from a short film with a similar premise titled The Tale of RJ, written and directed by David Katzenberg and produced by Seth Grahame-Smith. The Tale of RJ was described by The New York Times as "a short homage to Boogie Nights, about a well-endowed nerd" played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse. MTV executives were interested in developing scripted television series around the time Katzenberg and Grahame-Smith made their short film. In June 2009, MTV announced multiple series in development, including "Hard Times". It was described as "an irreverent half-hour coming-of-age series" in which unpopular fifteen-year-old RJ Berger becomes infamous when his "anatomical gift" is revealed to his school. Paul Iacono was cast as the title character that May.
Series creators Katzenberg and Grahame-Smith were the showrunners for both seasons, credited as executive producers. Grahame-Smith said "generally, David is concerned with visuals, running the set and designing the coverage, and I’m more concerned with making script changes and giving notes to actors, but those things cross-pollinate. I direct some episodes and David directs some episodes, but we’re both there, every day. Even when we’re not directing an episode, we have a couple directors that we really enjoy working with, on the series, and we’re still involved, still bouncing things off the actors, and we’re definitely making our presence felt, at all times, on set." The series was shot in a single-camera setup; each episode of the first season was shot in three and a half days, while each episode of the second season was shot in four days with two episodes being shot concurrently.
In regards to the content of the series, Grahame-Smith said that "it’s an elevated, comedic world that this kid [RJ Berger] lives in, and he’s surrounded by these absurd characters. He’s surrounded by these archetypes, and he’s the one semi-centered character in the middle of it all. I feel like, the more absurd that you are, the more you have to ground some things in reality. You have to earn that absurdity. Even though our show has one animated segment in every episode, even the live-action is like a cartoon, just with the way people carry on."
Cast and characters
The Hard Times of RJ Berger features five roles that receive star billing in the opening credits; in season two, three members of the recurring cast joined the main cast:
- Paul Iacono as Richard "RJ" Berger, the eponymous protagonist; a nerdy, socially awkward but moral 15-year-old high school sophomore. He is shy, cynical, and generally ignored or picked on by his peers. He has been in love with Jenny Swanson since he first saw her and has since had constant wet dreams about her, but he's been too shy to proclaim his love for her, and is afraid of her boyfriend, Max's, retaliation. He is forced into the limelight when a fight forces several basketball players to be ejected from the game. Coach Sinclair tells RJ if he wants to continue skipping gym, he has to play. RJ puts on a uniform that is much too large for him. When he shoots the ball and misses entirely, his shorts fall off, followed by his jock strap and thus showing his large penis to the whole school. At first, he becomes famous, but after the initial episodes, his classmates go back to ignoring him. He claimed that his gift is a curse because when a Japanese girl he was teaching English began to give him oral sex, she choked and almost died (according to RJ). After his brief but sudden popularity, he decides to begin an active social life and pursue his ultimate goal of winning Jenny's love. In the season 1 finale, he loses/gives his virginity to a hospital-bound Lily, out of guilt proclaiming that it "was the right thing to do". He and Jenny start dating in the second season, though their attempts at intimacy are regularly foiled by Max and a vengeful Lily. He and Jenny break up after RJ's father (at the time the English substitute teacher) uses Romeo and Juliet as a metaphor to convince RJ and Jenny that they may be destined to remain friends. RJ and Jenny mutually agree to break up after several 'bumps' in their relationship: Jenny finds out RJ had lied to her about being a virgin (he gave his virginity to Lily)/RJ and Jenny had nothing in common/ they get into arguments about Jenny's self-consciousness (in a previous episode she became obsessed about a pimple breakout)/ RJ felt unsupported in his problems (mainly being unpopular and his parents divorce)/ RJ starts to have a crush on his tutor (Amy). RJ soon dates Amy, eventually resulting in the fact that he has fallen in love with her. Towards the end of the second season, Amy almost breaks up with RJ when he and Jenny are nominated Mr. and Mrs. Pinkerton, but he patches things up in the end of the season. RJ ends up winning Mr. Pinkerton, with Jenny, beating Max and Robin. RJ also finds out that Max is gay (he found Max making out with another student in the locker room) and tells Max he won't tell anyone until Max decides to come out; he does tell Jenny though. When Lily arrives in tears, she tells him that she's carrying their baby.
- Jareb Dauplaise as Miles Jenner, RJ's comical, immature, overweight, sex-crazed, and often vulgar best friend. He is obsessed with becoming popular and scoring with girls; he appears to be an antithesis to RJ's moral values. He often carries a video camera with him. When he discovers RJ's secret, he persistently encourages RJ to use it to become popular so he can become popular too. He has a frenemy relationship with Lily and is constantly insulting her physical appearance. He suffered a number of losses early in life, including the death of his mother and the "suicide" of his cat. He also has an older brother named Chet, who is shown to be a crazy Iraq War veteran. He lost his virginity to a substitute teacher which resulted in him catching crabs. Miles finds out along with other people that Lily is pregnant with RJ's baby due to RJ losing his virginity to her.
- Kara Taitz as Lily Miran, socially awkward, and sex-obsessed girl who has a lustful infatuation for RJ and constantly chases him, much to his dismay. Despite RJ not returning her feelings, she hopes to get him to notice her. It was revealed that she has been chasing after RJ since childhood – they kissed in kindergarten - and then still she was very perverted. She has an unusual fashion sense and is frequently dyeing her hair; it is revealed that she makes her own clothes in episode 11. She and Miles constantly antagonize one another. RJ asks Lily to the school dance in episode 11 and Lily confessed her attraction towards RJ started since they were in second grade as she claims she is "the happiest girl in the world". Lily then gets hit by a bus. In the season finale, RJ feels bad for leaving Lily alone at her hospital bed so he goes back to her. When she wakes up, she and RJ have sex in the hospital bed. Soon after RJ leaves, though, her vital signs flat line. Lily is alive in the Season 2 premiere, although, her fate was unknown until then - especially that the episode opens with a funeral. When RJ tells her that he only had sex with her out of pity and that he still went to the dance with Jenny, this makes Lily both angry and sad. Afterwards, Lily appears to want revenge on RJ for her humiliation and will stop at nothing to foil his relationship with Jenny. She and RJ eventually rekindle their friendship; she even sparks a friendship with Jenny. Lily then starts dating Hamilton and they form a heavy relationship, until the second season finale where Lily reveals to RJ that she is pregnant with his baby and wonders what she and him will do next.
- Jayson Blair as Max Owens, an arrogant, selfish, dimwitted and obnoxious stereotypical school jock and RJ's main antagonist. After RJ stood up to him in the first episode, Max swore to humiliate RJ at all costs as a punishment. He was Jenny's boyfriend in the first season and is aware of RJ's love for her, which sparked jealousy. In the season finale, just as Max is about to fight RJ for kissing Jenny, Miles tackles him and starts punching him repeatedly in the testicles, giving RJ the chance to leave. He is now dating Robin Pretnar, Jenny's ex-best friend and head cheerleader. He still actively antagonizes RJ for stealing Jenny (despite that his relationship with Jenny ended before she started dating RJ) and Miles (for assaulting him at the formal). In the second-season episode "Steamy Surprise", RJ discovers that Max is secretly gay when he sees him making out with another student in the high school locker room showers. RJ decides to keep Max's secret, although he does tell Jenny. Max breaks up with Robin after a tape is played where she called him stupid and says he's just a pretty face.
- Amber Lancaster as Jenny Swanson, RJ's primary love interest; a beautiful, popular, and down-to-earth cheerleader. Though she represents the stereotypical cheerleader, she is sweet and open-minded, as opposed to the other popular students. She later gets RJ to tutor her and trades email addresses with him, which implies she has an interest in him. She is impressed with RJ after he stands up to her boyfriend, Max, and by RJ's overall morality. In the season finale, RJ and Jenny share a kiss before a concerned RJ returns to Lily's hospital bed. She and RJ start pursuing a relationship in season two. However, Jenny soon discovers that RJ lied to her and their relationship falls apart. They ultimately end it in friendship. At the end of the second season, Jenny wins Mrs. Pinkerton along with RJ as Mr. Pinkerton beating Robin and Max.
The series' recurring roles include:
- Beth Littleford and Larry Poindexter (the roles were upgraded to main cast in season 2) as Suzanne and Rick Berger, RJ's parents. They fail to level with their son and will sometimes embarrass him even when they try to make him feel better. They are also portrayed as sexually adventurous (which includes engaging in group sex and Suzanne performing in porn). At the end of the season 2 premiere, they tell RJ they are getting a divorce, since Rick lied to Suzanne about his unemployment which put the family in debt. Suzanne would begin a relationship with Jeriba Sinclair which results in a full-time relationship during the season until Rick shows back up and woos her with the poem he wrote the first time they had sex. It appears that Rick and Suzanne make up in the end of the second season but it is unclear how much they have patched back up. At the end of the second season, it is revealed that Rick and Suzanne will be grandparents due to Lily being pregnant with RJ's baby.
- Marlon Young (the role was upgraded to main cast starting Season 2) as Jeriba Sinclair, Pinkerton High's basketball coach and gym teacher; he is also RJ's guidance counselor, though he is very sarcastic and unsupportive and gives RJ questionable advice. He begins to date Suzanne after she and Rick separate in the season 2 premiere, much to RJ's disgust. After the majority of the season, Jeriba decides to ask Suzanne to marry him and when he attempts to propose, Rick shows up and ruins his plans and his relationship with her crumbles after she decides to make her marriage to Rick work, making him angry at RJ and he then returns to humiliating him once again. Once Lily's pregnancy is revealed, Sinclair tells RJ that he won't be the only one making RJ's life hell next year.
- Ciena Rae as Robin Pretnar, Jenny's ex-best friend and fellow cheerleader; she was Miles' love interest though she not only hates but despises him and prefers to not acknowledge his existence. However, when Miles spread a rumor that he motorboated her breasts, she challenged him to a fight and beat him up. She is Max's girlfriend in season two and she now claims to be the status of the school's "queen bee" and is shown as being very cruel, snobbish, and domineering towards the other cheerleaders. Max ends up breaking up with her after he finds out that Robin called him stupid.
- Caitlin Crosby as Amy, RJ's math tutor, introduced towards the middle of season 2. She has a "geek-chic" vibe, and always acts relaxed and down-to-earth. RJ is assigned to be tutored by her when his grades drop, and chemistry between the two develops. RJ asks her out in Season 2, Episode 7, "You, Me, and Weezer", and at the end of their date to a Weezer concert, they kiss. Later they eventually have sex but afterwards, she almost breaks up with him after finding out that RJ and Jenny were on the ballot for "Mr. and Ms. Pinkerton High". RJ then declares his love for her during his speech and she accepts him back and she says that she loves him as well.
- De'vaughn Nixon as Hamilton, a "gangster" student who first appears in Season 1 as a one-time character, and then becomes a recurring one in Season 2 when he starts dating Lily after they meet in school therapy. He is extremely smart (having an IQ of 170), and actually a nice guy.
- Adam Cagley as Kevin Stern, an overweight, indolent nerd who is acquaintances with RJ and Miles though neither can stand him. He uses a mechanical chair to move himself. He is also a member of the Model United Nations Club. He plays a pivotal role in a few episodes, his biggest during a time when RJ and Miles have a fight and call off their friendship, so he becomes Miles' new best friend albeit temporarily. In the season 2 premiere, "RJ's Choice", the episode begins with the students at Kevin's funeral. Kevin's scooter crashed through a window in a donut shop. It is at his funeral it is revealed that he was adopted by an African-American couple.
|Season||Episodes||Originally aired||DVD release date|
|Season premiere||Season finale||Region 1||Region 2||Region 4|
|1||12||June 6, 2010||August 23, 2010||August 23, 2010||N/A||N/A|
|2||12||March 24, 2011||May 30, 2011||July 8, 2011||N/A||N/A|
Critical response 
The Hard Times of RJ Berger was described—by its creators and critics alike—as a cross between the teen-oriented television comedy-drama The Wonder Years (1988–1993) and the comedy film Superbad (2007). Brian Lowry of Variety wrote that beyond the crass concept, the show is otherwise "a fairly standard high school-outcast tale", adding that fortunately for MTV "the show's derivative nature will be lost on a target audience barely in diapers during the initial run of 'Wonder Years'."
Robert Lloyd of the Los Angeles Times wrote that "[a]side from a few novel details, MTV's latest is a by-the-book geek sex comedy for the Apatow Generation. In other words, a likely hit." Barry Garron of The Hollywood Reporter wrote that "even with its abundance of stereotypical characters", The Hard Times of RJ Berger "is endearing and relatable to its target demo[graphic]" and drew parallels between its characters and those of the sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Willa Paskin of New York magazine thought that the show's premise was faulty, noting that an enormous penis is unlikely to have much effect on your social life in high school.
The pilot episode of The Hard Times of RJ Berger premiered on MTV after the 2010 MTV Movie Awards on June 6, 2010. The debut generated 2.6 million viewers, making it MTV's most-watched series launch in the 12–34 age demographic since 2008.
Viewership for the series' second season ranged between just 765,000 and 1.37 million viewers with the series finale having 865,000 viewers.
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