I dislike Bumper Allen. A lot. He was a one-note joke in the Pitch Perfect series, a human stand-in for the annoying tone fire alarms use in public buildings. Adam Devine suffers from a serious case of what the pilot episode helpfully informs us the Germans call Backpfeifengesicht, a face begging for a slap. I had negative interest in Peacock’s 6-episode Bumper in Berlin series. But Kaleena offered me a free drink in exchange for a review, and if there’s one thing I am above all else, it’s cheap. Imagine my surprise when the show turned out to actually be kind of sort of maybe a little bit good.
Bumper Allen is working as a security guard for Barden University, back where it all began. Less a Has-Been than a Never-Was, Bumper’s buddies still sing with him but have moved on with their professional lives, a step Bumper refuses despite his ever-dwindling hopes of stardom. A phone call from Pieter Krämer (Flula Borg), former member of Das Sound Machine, promises Bumper a new shot at success with the news that his Tik-Tok video’s gone viral overseas, and the chance to sing at the German Unity Festival. Of course, it’s not that simple. It turns out Pieter’s been disgraced by a lip-syncing scandal, and Bumper’s only real claim to German fame is being remembered for accidentally exposing himself on social media. Alongside Pieter in Bumper’s quest for fame are DJ Das Boot, aka Thea (Lera Abova), and Heidi (Sarah Hyland), an ex- U.S. Army brat and aspiring songwriter. Their main competition is Gisela, Pieter’s former lover and fellow performer in DSM, pronounced with a hard G and played by Jameela Jamil.
I expected to hate Bumper in Berlin. Nothing about it appealed. But the series, developed and produced by Megan Amram and Elizabeth Banks, plays it smart. Devine leans into his slappable face and pairs it with an unexpectedly mature Bumper performance that plays well together. He’s still a shallow idiot, but he’s adult enough to realize it and accept that he’s no longer at a point where people will ignore his selfish behavior with a “that’s Bumper being Bumper.” He’s realistic about his very slim chances at stardom, and while the script leans a bit into the “Ugly American” stereotypes, it never goes further than good-natured ribbing.
More integral to the series’ limited success is the remaining cast, without whom the show would grind to a halt. Flula Borg takes top marks among them. The German actor, comedian, and musician plays Pieter with a hopeful and open nature that’s irresistibly charming. Along with Katharina Thalbach as Ursula, hostel maiden, and Udo Kier as Klaus, father of Pieter and Thea, there are no fewer than three funny Germans in the show! EU law won’t allow for more without a waiver. Russian actress Lera Abova’s Thea performance is much more the straight man, the consummate professional who understands what must be done to succeed in Germany’s music scene, but she’s great at deadpan humor. Sarah Hyland’s (Modern Family) Heidi, aspiring songwriter with a crippling case of stage-fright, is a lot of fun, particularly when she and Thea are on their own and the German producer is encouraging the young American to break out of her shell. She also has a wonderful singing voice and while Heidi serves as a love interest for Bumper, it’s not her only purpose. Jameela Jamil’s Gisela is an Eastern European femme fatale flamingo, stuffed into ridiculous outfits and forced to sing in a German accent that evaporates faster than the Rhine River. It’s another cartoonish villain role like her Titania, but it’s serviceable and she’s willing to be the butt of the joke.
Bumper in Berlin is not prestige television, but it doesn’t have to be. It would’ve worked better as a 2-hour made-for-tv movie but it’s fun as a limited series and delivers a surprising amount of charm. The best part? Fat Amy doesn’t make a single appearance. Despite all expectations, Bumper in Berlin is worth your time thanks to a willingness to focus on more than the titular character. The entire series is now up on Peacock.