The Pitch Perfect TV Spin-Off Offers Lots of Bumper And Little Feminism
In classic, unmatched Pitch Perfect fashion, the first episode of the 2022 Pitch Perfect spin-off TV show, Bumper In Berlin, begins with an a cappella performance. I’m a huge fan of the Pitch Perfect movie franchise and am in awe of a cappella. When I was younger, the strength portrayed throughout the Pitch Perfect movies greatly impacted me and encouraged pride in my feminism. I’ll confess, it took me a while to give in and watch the new show. Though I was overjoyed to hear that the Pitch Perfect universe would continue, I was a bit worried that the spinoff would sabotage the satisfaction that the end of the third (and, as of right now, final) Pitch Perfect movie left me with.
Despite this hesitation, I buckled in, signed into my base-level, free Peacock account and began the first episode. I was not shocked to learn that the rest of the season is behind Peacock’s paywall–now a common practice to tease prospective subscribers. Accordingly, the analysis to come is solely based on first impressions: a product of both my acknowledgment of the importance of a first impression and my reluctance to pay for yet another service without a real reason. Upon reflection, maybe I had hoped that I would be influenced to buy into Peacock’s services because Pitch Perfect had provided a model to look towards for being unapologetically myself, and I hoped that the continuation of the universe would provide the model I need as no longer a young girl, but now a woman. Sadly, I was wrong, and I abandoned the show after the first episode.
Bumper in Berlin follows the post-grad life of Bumper Allen, a side character and minor antagonist in the Pitch Perfect movies. Bumper was once the head of Barden University’s (BU) frattiest a cappella group, the Treblemakers. Ten years later, he is still stuck in his “glory days,” and, as an adult, hovers around BU’s campus as campus security. He is now the most pathetically enthusiastic member of the Tonehangers, an adult a capella group that Bumper vocally pitied and made fun of in previous Pitch Perfect movies (part of his schtick). He is exactly who he feared he’d become. An opportunity to leave behind his sad “career” prompts Bumper to move to Berlin, Germany where he is led to believe that he could become everything he’s ever dreamed of: famous.
Although it didn’t directly dissuade me from watching the rest of the show, it became abundantly clear that this first episode does not pass the Bechdel Test. The episode’s failure to pass was my first hint that Bumper in Berlin would not be the continuation I expected, nor could I use Pitch Perfect as a blueprint for this new show (Pitch Perfect passes with flying colors). I had a suspicion that the self-absorbed, forever-frat-boy Bumper would be the sole focus of the entire season, but still, I find it disappointing that a show stemming from Pitch Perfect, an in-your-face girl-power, we-don’t-need-men-to-win-type movie, picked the two most toxically masculine men from the series and gave them exactly what they want: their own show. To me, the appeal of Pitch Perfect is watching this group of funny college students, all women, and wondering if their banter and college experiences would be like my future. Bumper in Berlin gave me a lot of Bumper and less of that characteristic and powerful Pitch Perfect girliness, where “girliness” is not a personality descriptor but rather a feeling of comfort of being surrounded by women. That girliness is what first attracted me to Pitch Perfect and still continues to.
During the first episode of Bumper in Berlin, my ears perked up when a Holocaust joke was made. I have come to the conclusion that, in true comedy TV fashion, if a show has anything to do with Germany, a Holocaust joke can be expected. I was practically sitting on the edge of my seat with a bingo card ready to mark it off. As far as Holocaust jokes go, this one wasn’t terribly offensive. One of the German characters, ashamed, tells Bumper that the downfall of his once-famous a cappella group became Germany’s “second greatest shame.” Bumper, confused, responds with “what’s Germany’s first greatest sha-” and the exchange quickly ends with an awkward silence. In some ways, the joke is old, but in other ways, I like to think that these jokes enforce the “if we ignore history, it’s doomed to repeat itself” narrative.
Holocaust jokes teeter on a fine line. They’re interpreted differently and thus received differently, rightfully so. It’s not for me to decide how a dark joke lands for various people. I interpreted that joke not as making light of the Holocaust but instead giving audiences the opportunity to laugh at the absurdity of comparing the Holocaust to the lip-syncing scandal and subsequent downfall of Germany’s top a cappella group. It’s the type of humor that makes you let out an exhaled “tuh” followed by a pursed smile and shake of the head. If I’m being honest, that’s the precise description of my reaction to most of the humor throughout this episode.
Even if at some points throughout the first episode I cringed–and I truly do believe that the writers heavily rely on that cringe-factor to keep audiences tolerant of Bumper’s complete and utter lack of self-awareness–I concede that the writers knew exactly what they were doing with their perfectly timed Pitch Perfect references. Often spinoff or sequel writers try to ignore or forget their origins, but I appreciate that it still felt as though the Pitch Perfect spirit, the spirit that has been truly impactful to me, was ever present.
Ultimately, my feelings for this spinoff series didn’t nearly match my love for the Pitch Perfect movies. The show didn’t bring the same energy nor did it appeal to me, as a young feminist, hoping to see that continued feminist perseverance. In some ways, maybe it’s my fault for hoping that this show might be something that it’s not. With a couple of cameos from the original movies’ cast and a further developed plot line, I’m sure I would have a different opinion, but as far as first impressions this is where I am left. This first episode of Bumper In Berlin did not persuade me to continue watching and buy into Peacock’s premium services. In no way did this show contribute to the feminism fully encapsulated by its predecessor, which is a shame. I’ll admit, however, that the first episode’s strategic cringiness on occasion gave me a chuckle. It’s a fun, comedic TV show, and I appreciate that about it, not its fundamental structure.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Niestat, Miriam. "The Pitch Perfect TV Spin-Off Offers Lots of Bumper And Little Feminism." 22 February 2023. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 1, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/pitch-perfect-tv-spinoff-left-me-cringing>.