Colleen Ballinger’s brought Miranda Sings, her supremely grating, awkwardly gyrating YouTube personality to a different corner of the internet for the Netflix series Haters Back Off! For those unfamiliar with the character, she’s an overly confident woman of unspecified age—she’s homeschooled, but never described as a teen—and indiscernible talent. Nonetheless, she’s got an audience at her fingertips, thanks to the internet, and enthusiasm for assaulting their senses with her over-stylized vocals and over-applied lipstick. She’s not going to be famous—she already is, and just needs the rest of the world to catch up.
Miranda’s move to Netflix puts her in fine (albeit incomparable) talent. Like a bizarro Kimmy Schmidt in her unrelenting optimism—or a distaff Napoleon Dynamite in her obliviousness—Miranda steamrolls the objections from reality and more honest company. Haters also contemplates the darker side of fame, à la BoJack Horseman, while providing a lovable, flawed family like the one in Malcolm In The Middle. The series is as much a product of pop culture as Miranda is—and, as a spoiled youngster whose aspirations are built on her mere existence, she’s walking clickbait.
But Ballinger’s wisely added layers to the character, who experiences believable growth in even the most outlandish of circumstances. Her portrayal of Miranda is multidimensional in spite of the character’s single-mindedness. The struggling singer is still self-centered and lacking in talent, but Haters fleshes out the environment that would spawn such an egotistical personality. Surrounding Miranda with unconditional support are Angela Kinsey as her hypochondriac mother Bethany, and Steve Little is on hand to enable another deluded individual as Miranda’s uncle Jim.
Miranda’s career is a folie à trois, as both Bethany and Jim have a lot riding on her ascension. That leaves only her sister Emily (Francesca Reale) to provide the voice of dissent, which is often the voice of reason, if anyone else actually cared to listen. Emily’s lucidity places her in direct opposition with Miranda, and provides much of the conflict early on. Emily’s forced to participate in her family’s shenanigans more often than she’d like, leaving her to remark sarcastically from within the chaos. For the most part, her resistance just heightens the comedy, but there are times when Haters abruptly decides Emily’s eyerolling would be out of place, and she all but disappears to make room for more wacky antics.
Eventually there’s a moment (one of several, actually) that threatens to destroy the delusions of grandeur of the lead character that have been so painstakingly maintained by everyone in her family, especially her uncle. In the midst of trying to prank her with the old banana-peel gag, he unwittingly describes her as not being famous in the conventional sense. Miranda looks on in exasperated disgust as he fumbles to categorize her stardom: Is she a “YouTube sensation” or a more mainstream pop phenomenon? It’s obviously the former, but Miranda doesn’t see the distinction.
Haters Back Off! similarly skirts the subgenres and genres of TV comedies. With so much of the action centered around the home, it could easily be a family comedy. But there’s also plenty of domestic strife and even anguish that could place the series in dramedy territory. And yet, the zany schemes and visual gags suggest a more farcical comedy, one that’s almost cartoonish. Some of the setups and punchlines would be right at home on The Simpsons, while one running gag recalls Family Guy.
Of course, such labeling isn’t really necessary, especially not when laughs are as consistently delivered as they are here. Haters runs the comedy gamut in eliciting chuckles and outright guffaws, whether it’s from witnessing a disastrous pep rally, or sharing the internet-based humor of a sight gag involving an organization with the acronym of “FAP.” There’s also plenty of Jared Hess-like twee-awkwardness to offset the cringing that comes with the schadenfreude.
But this comedic commitment does raise questions about some of the more dramatic turns the series takes. The bubble that the homeschooler lives in has been fortified like a bomb shelter, yet viewers know that it’s meant to burst. But sometimes the foreshadowing is just a little too foreboding. Despite the more cartoonish elements, there are real consequences for actions in Haters, and rightly so. Still, while the discord is earned, the tonal shifts don’t always jibe. It’s not enough of a deviation to throw Haters Back Off! off the rails, though, so there’s no need to heed the warning when partaking of this new comedy.