'Haters Back Off!': TV Review
YouTube superstar Colleen Ballinger brings her occasionally entertaining, mostly irritating Miranda Sings shtick to Netflix.
The list of YouTube personalities who have found sustained success is a short one indeed. For every Tyler Oakley (now hosting his own web talk show under Ellen DeGeneres' watchful eye) or Troye Sivan (whose channel catapulted him into teen-pop prosperity), there are thousands of perpetual strugglers of the kind profiled in Gaby Dunn's December 2015 Fusion article "Get rich or die vlogging." These wannabe celebs' often hollow smiles and falsely familiar greetings ("Hey, guys!" being the ubiquitous YouTuber's acknowledgment of their faceless digi-viewership) mask a palpable desperation. Genuine talent, of the sort that is nurtured and honed over a lifetime, matters less than the groveling immediate impression. Page clicks and ephemeral adoration to follow. Death still the only certainty.
Comedienne Colleen Ballinger occupies an interesting space in this brave new virtua-world. She's a mega-successful internet personality whose most popular character, the uber-untalented Miranda Sings, is an acidic critique of the very celebrity strivers who make up the majority of the YouTube community. Ballinger's efforts are very have your cake and eat it, too, and fairly potent in short bursts. Put Miranda in her own half-hour eight-episode Netflix series, however, and the lampoon loses its edge.
That's not to say Haters Back Off!, which the streaming channel made available to view in its entirety, lacks for commitment. It's clear Ballinger (who created the series with her brother Chris) has thought through Miranda's every socially maladaptive tic, from her clownishly red lipstick to her pitiable posture. In the best scenes, she seems kin to Elaine May's bumbling heiress Henrietta Lowell from the great 1971 black comedy A New Leaf, though the world Miranda inhabits is more like an unholy cross between Todd Solondz and Tim Burton.
In this off-kilter suburbia, Miranda lives in a run-down ranch house with her moronic uncle/inept manager Jim (Steve Little), sad-sack mom Bethany (Angela Kinsey) and exasperated sister Emily (Francesca Reale). She's pined for by local amateur magician Patrick (Erik Stocklin). But Miranda's one true love is attempting — always and ever attempting — to get famous, which these eight episodes detail to often excruciating effect.
Singing "My Humps" at a funeral? Sure. Hijacking the grand marshal position in a parade from the local transgender mattress store owner? Why not. Doing an off-off-off-key rendition of "All That Jazz" at a gay club karaoke night? Ja, you betcha! It's all variations on the same cringe-inducing theme, though nothing quite tops the hilarity of Miranda's initial stab at YouTube fame, with an effort mistakenly titled "My Fist Video." Also good for a laugh or two is the bastardized backyard production of Annie spearheaded by Uncle Jim in which Daddy Warbucks and his little red-headed charge have a, shall we say, very inappropriate relationship.
A good bit of Haters Back Off!, however, is given over to unearned, unconvincing pathos. Miranda pursues her delusion dreams at the expense of her family members, each of them, per that old Leo Tolstoy chestnut, unhappy in their own way. But despite the best efforts of Ballinger, her writers and the cast — an accusatory line from Miranda ("Why is it funny that someone would love me?") hints at the weighty emotional undercurrents the series intends to explore — none of the characters deepen as the show goes on. They're shallow vessels freighted down by contrived plot complications that include everything from unrequited love to kidney disease. And there's more than a bit of that vainglorious YouTubers' entitlement in where Haters ultimately ends up, the satire finally curdling into smugness.
Cast: Colleen Ballinger, Angela Kinsey, Francesca Reale, Erik Stocklin, Steve Little
Creators: Colleen Ballinger, Chris Ballinger
Executive producers: Colleen Ballinger, Chris Ballinger, Kristen Zolner, Ted Biaselli, Brian Wright, Josh Barry, Jeff Kwatinetz, Gigi McCreery, Perry Rein
Directors: Andrew Gaynord, Todd Rohal
Premieres: Friday (Netflix)