The Hard Times of RJ Berger Review
The search for acceptance in one teen's life
What’s the show about?
The Hard Times of RJ Berger focuses on the title character RJ, a scrawny highschool kid at the bottom of the high school social ladder:
- he is picked on by the jocks
- he is in love/lust with the most popular girl at school (who is dating the main guy who picks on him)
- he has parents who are weird and out of touch.
Pretty typical high school drama formula right? This could have been a really bad taste teen-sex comedy. Surprisingly, the show rises above this and delivers something more – heart.
Not just another American Pie
As I started watching Hard Times, I was concerned this was going to be just another American Pie, with a bunch of nerds trying to fulfill their sexual desires. There is an awkward scene where his mum walks in on him alone in his room, there is sexually explicit language (and yes, be warned, it is pretty explicit), and a fantasy sequence where the object of RJ’s desire slow-walks towards the camera, with wind machine blowing and strips down to sexy underwear. We’ve seen all this before.
But as the first episode unfolds, we begin to delve into RJ’s life. He isn’t a single-minded dweeb with nothing running through his brain but sex sex sex. The show is more about his search for acceptance. His desire to be liked, to be popular. To no longer be on the outskirts, the wastelands of highschool society. And no matter what happens, no matter how many steps forward he takes, even when the whole school accidentally finds out he has a larger than normal “appendage”, he still can’t catch a break. As RJ notes “They still find a way to tear me down.”
Teen life can be painful
We care for RJ. We care that he feels alone and unwanted. And we know that this is temporary, that he’ll be fine once he grows up and leaves highschool. But that’s the future and doesn’t change the fact that his life is difficult now. We’ve all been there. We know things will get better but that doesn’t mean that what’s happening now is any easier. I hated high school. Things got a lot better. But at times it was hard to see the big picture. Which makes RJ’s pain my pain. I empathise with the main character and I’m sure many other teens will too.
Searching for acceptance in the wrong places
RJ is seeking acceptance and popularity. He has a deep longing for these things. He’s also bought into the lie that sex is the only thing that’s important. RJ is looking in the wrong places. He wants to belong, to be part of something. However, because of the damage sin has done to this world, we’re always going to be searching and never finding.
Our self-worth cannot and will not be fulfilled by being popular with the cool kids, being accepted by our peers, or having sex with beautiful people.
You want true acceptance? Look to God. He doesn’t care if you’re one of the cool kids. He doesn’t care if you’re awkward and scrawny. God wants you to be part of his crew. He’s opening up his arms and saying come on in. Hanging with the cool kids won’t solve your problems. Hanging with the creator of the universe will.
The final word
The Hard Times of RJ Berger surprised me. I was expecting a smut-filled gross out comedy. Instead I got a thought provoking show about the difficulties of adolescence. Hard Times is on MTV Australia. Go! will pick it up later in the year.