“Pitch Perfect” series keeps the beat better than expected

Written By Rachel Ross, Co Features/A&E Editor

For me, the “Pitch Perfect” brand inspires fond memories; between the ages of 10 and 12, it was my favorite movie series. My admiration for the films steadily fizzled out upon discovering my love of 80s movies, as well as seeing the franchise’s third installment, which was so bad that my brain seems to have blocked most of it out as a coping mechanism. However, the first two will always hold a special place in my heart. 

But this soft spot isn’t what drew me to the franchise’s latest installment. I was committed to watching it based on the name alone: “Pitch Perfect: Bumper in Berlin.” Anyone in my family can vouch for me; on Thanksgiving Day, the night after hearing about the show, I wouldn’t stop repeating or making mention to “Bumper in Berlin.” I just thought it was so absurd, it couldn’t be real. It sounds like the name of a fake show within a real show. I’d be willing to bet that the creators came up with the name first, thought it sounded fun, and then built a story around that. 

Needless to say, I did not go into “Bumper in Berlin” with very high expectations; I figured it would be a painfully unfunny show with a funny name featuring the few side characters they could scrounge up from a series that hasn’t been popular since the mid 2010’s. But…Bumper bamboozled me. Hiding behind a ridiculous name turned out to be a show that wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I was expecting, and actually featured a few charming or enjoyable elements. 

“Bumper in Berlin” follows side character Bumper Allen (portrayed by Adam DeVine), who was featured in the first and second Pitch Perfect films as the leader of the “Treblemakers,” the main characters’ rival a cappella group. Now, he’s back with his own installment. He starts out in a rough way; he has a dead end job, his music isn’t going anywhere, he doesn’t really have any friends, etc. That all changes when Bumper receives a call from Pieter Krämer (Flula Borg), a cappella performer turned music producer. It’s not explained how he and Bumper know each other; as far as I remember, they never really crossed paths in the second film, where Krämer’s group “Das Sound Machine” took over the position of main antagonists. Anyways, somehow they know each other, and, due to the success of one of Bumper’s TikTok’s in Germany, Pieter wants Bumper to move to Berlin to be his client. Bumper accepts the offer, but quickly discovers the situation is not exactly as Pieter promised. Regardless, with the help of Pieter’s assistant Hiedi (Sarah Hyland), and sister, Thea (Lera Abova), known professionally as DJ Das Boot, they set off to secure the newcomer spot at German Unity Day, which is meant to set Bumper off on the rest of his career. Along the way, they struggle to compete with Pieter’s former girlfriend and bandmate, Gisela (Jameela Jamil), who is also vying for the newcomer spot. 

I was legitimately surprised by “Bumper in Berlin,” although I don’t regret judging it so hastily, because I still maintain the name is ridiculous. Although it did feel a bit bland or unoriginal at times, it was never offensively or excruciatingly bad. There was a joke here and there that I enjoyed, the performances were passable, and the chemistry between the characters actually worked pretty well at times.

The show’s sense of comedy is probably a rank or two below that of the second film; it’s not the best, but it’s also not the worst the series has to offer. Some of the jokes were very much in the vein of that “awkward millennial is awkward” humor, but the cast delivered them with enough zest and commitment that it was often passable. Each character definitely had their corner they kept to; Bumper’s jokes are all about him being stupid or irresponsible. Hiedi’s jokes are all about her being overly friendly. Pieter’s jokes are all about him being German. Thea’s jokes are all about how she lives recklessly. And Gisela’s jokes are always overly sexual for some reason. Of all of them, I think Pieter probably had the most consistent hits, as his deliveries were usually nonchalant and unassuming enough that they elevated the comedy of whatever absurd thing he was saying. Bumper has an arrogant air about him that is supposed to be charming or endearing, but sometimes just comes off as cringey or annoying. After all, his character was originally written as a self absorbed antagonist. You can tell the writers are trying to balance this personality that’s already been established for him with wanting to make him likable and worthy of support. 

I appreciated that the jokes were usually presented as just being what they were; it didn’t feel like the writers were patting themselves on the back as they loaded up what they figured to be gut buster after gut buster like something else I’ve watched lately (Blockbuster). They just presented them for what they were, often being stupid throwaway lines about how clean German dumpsters are or how Bumper has failed to call anyone about taking care of his cat the entire time he’s been in Berlin, and I respect that. I respect that they’re seemingly aware of the absurdity of what they’re making, and are not out to turn it into something it’s not. 

The performances probably exceeded my expectations further than anything else. Some of them were better than performances in the main film series, again, like the comedy, feeling somewhat grounded and reined in. DeVine did well in adjusting to the changes made to Bumper’s personality; although I can’t say I was rooting for him with foam fingers and face paint, I didn’t necessarily want him to fail either. I have to say that I expected a bit more from Sarah Hyland than she delivered. I’m not saying it’s entirely on her; I think the writing for her character was often a bit flat and cliche. Still, with her stint on Modern Family, I expected her to be a bit more entertaining. 

As for Borg and Abova, I thought they carried themselves rather well. Borg was often the most entertaining of the main group, as mentioned previously. Abova did best when she was given a chance to be natural and one with the group, as opposed to pushing this alternative, grunge persona. It worked for certain jokes, but not really much beyond that. 

But probably the best performance of the whole show was from Jameela Jamil. She’s super outlandish and over the top, yet it never feels out of control or as though it’s gone too far; she clearly had a good sense of what she wanted the character to be. Although some of her jokes felt sort of out of place, she still carried them well and managed to deliver an entertaining performance. 

Then there’s the area of the show that I didn’t think warranted concern going in, but ultimately turned out to be the worst part: the music. The most essential part of the Pitch Perfect movies is music, and the intricate a capella covers they perform. This show on the other hand failed to feature much a capella at all, choosing to focus instead on lackluster original compositions. Of the show’s three original songs, none of them are any better than just “Okay.” This makes a bigger difference when the plot of the show revolves around trying to build a music career and secure a spot in a prominent festival. Everyone’s constantly flipping out over how good their songs are, including Thea, who is supposedly a somewhat prominent producer, when in reality, I couldn’t see any of them becoming popular in a real world situation. I maybe wouldn’t have had such a big problem with the music if it’s popularity wouldn’t have been such an integral part of the plot. They strayed too far from their comfort zone; sure, their original song from the second film was legitimately good, but that doesn’t mean you should throw out the schtick that got your name on the map and go all in on originals. 

I don’t know that I would necessarily recommend “Bumper in Berlin,” but I wouldn’t caution anyone to avoid it at all costs either. It was a palatable experience for what it was, but I don’t think it was good enough to actively seek out. If you currently are or previously were a fan of the films, it might be fun to see Bumper again (that’s a generous “might”) but other than that, I probably wouldn’t bother. Just because it surprised me doesn’t mean it was good; it just means it wasn’t horrible.