Colleen Ballinger has created a character, Miranda Sings, whose fans range from millions of YouTube viewers to Jerry Seinfeld, who put Miranda in one of his Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Miranda is a pushy, sarcastic, rude young woman who drastically overestimates her talent as a singer and actor. In portraying her, Ballinger is clever and shrewd.
In an earlier era, Ballinger’s Miranda character would have appeared on variety shows and perhaps even recorded a novelty song that could have become a hit record. She would have been sort of a cross between Pee-wee Herman and Tiny Tim. But on the Internet, Ballinger was able to connect with an audience even more quickly than Paul Reubens did as Pee-wee, and it’s easy to see why some entity would want to build a show around her — she’s new and different. Enter Netflix, which has now brought us Haters Back Off!, a series about Miranda’s quest to become a YouTube star as the start of a rocket ride to superstardom.
In addition to Ballinger, the show stars Eastbound & Down’s Steve Little as Miranda’s uncle, and The Office’s Angela Kinsey as Miranda’s single mom, Bethany. Uncle Jim is convinced that Miranda will be an immense success, and acts as her de facto manager. Her mother, a hypochondriacal dimwit, is more dubious but also more distracted — she’s constantly trying to find a new boyfriend. This tense little lower-middle-class household also includes Miranda’s sister, Emily (Francesca Reale), who is the only one to possess common sense and a realistic view of the world.
I’ve laughed at some of Ballinger’s YouTube videos, and I certainly understood why Seinfeld was curious enough to invite this smart performer out for a cup of coffee. But Haters Back Off! joins other exclamation-point comedy shows — cult favorites such as Comedy Bang! Bang! and Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! — as a presentation of a peculiar character placed in situations designed to make a viewer feel both uncomfortable and amused. The degree to which you will find Haters entertaining depends on how hilarious you find jokes made, for example, at the expense of the inhabitants of old folks’ homes. I found the show’s insistence upon having Miranda, Bethany, and Uncle Jim all gang up on Emily in their cruel dismissiveness to be quite off-putting. The show also insists upon being formless to the point of abstract: The first episode peaks with people in a pet store taping dead goldfish to the outside of their tanks.
Miranda sings badly with great gusto; she is witheringly sarcastic to people even though we know she has misunderstood what they’ve said. It’s a very impressive, thought-through presentation by Ballinger. I admire it, but I also didn’t find it funny.
Haters Back Off! begins streaming Friday on Netflix.