Haters Back Off (2016) – Review

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Uncle Jim (Steve Little) teaches Miranda (Colleen Ballinger) a thing or two about going viral

It’s clear that in an ever expanding world of Youtubers, Colleen Ballinger is the real deal. She’s undeniably the most talented and successful creator on the net, with features on Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and The View. She’s genuinely talented. And smart. For the unfamiliar – Ballinger is the creator of Youtube sensation Miranda Sings. Miranda was originally created to parody the inexplicably confident and untalented sea of people who would upload singing videos to the internet. What started as an in-joke amongst Colleen’s theatre friends, caught on among mainstream Youtube viewers (i.e. 8-12 year olds).  Many Youtubers start and end their careers on Youtube, but Colleen Ballinger breaks out with Haters Back Off.

Miranda (Colleen Ballinger) is a deluded, narcissistic, ageless girl, with an interesting manner of speech. She lives with her doormat mother, Bethany (Angela Kinsey) who suffers from “fibromyalgia” and dreams of having the confidence to wear a “fancy” arm brace. Her infamous Uncle Jim (Steve Little) truly believes Miranda has the potential to be a star. He quits his job at the fish shop (as in, they sell pet fishes) to become Miranda’s full time manager and live vicariously through her. Then we have Miranda’s sister, Emily (Francesca Reale) – the normal teen struggling to get by in a house of utter chaos. Both Bethany and Uncle Jim enable Miranda to varying extents, but no one is as infatuated with her as her neighbour and best friend, Patrick (Erik Stocklin). Miranda leads the show through hell and back as she strives to show the world what a star she is.

I must admit, I’m familiar with Miranda Sings and Colleen Ballinger. When I heard she had pitched the show to HBO and Netflix, I knew it wouldn’t be like other Youtuber attempts to hit mainstream success. Let’s cut to the chase – the show is pretty decent. The first smart decision they made was to scale back Miranda’s insanity. As time has gone on, Youtube-Miranda has… devolved. It was clear to me that Ballinger was burning out, having to pander to young audiences. Well, don’t worry because she plenty of gas left in the tank for Haters Back Off. TV-Miranda still employs her classic catch phrases and mannerisms, but actually makes sense as a character. I was surprised at how well she translated to the screen and emotional depth that naturally developed.

A large part of this success was due to the supporting characters that both elevated and grounded Miranda. Haters Back Off is about small town life. Miranda has a mother who works in a grocery store, a deadbeat uncle who leeches off the family and a sister who wants to escape her life. Whilst the plot revolves around Miranda, it is driven by the community in Tacoma, Washington – church groups, nursing homes and local magician alliances. It’s what makes the show sweet, and stops it from becoming an all out Miranda rampage.

Steve Little’s performance steals the series. He and Miranda’s chemistry is perfect as they are both as controlling and deluded as each other. I always got the feeling that Colleen wanted Uncle Jim to be a creepy predatory character, which obviously would not have been appropriate for her audience. I thought the “new” Uncle Jim was great, however, there were a few scenes where the comedy was too heavy handed – clearly moments that were meant to allude to the “old” Uncle character but, in my opinion, came off as immature.

The tone of Haters Back Off is perfect for both its target audience and new viewers. It’s silly and funny, sometimes a little dark and has enough layers to satisfy all audiences. Not every episode is a laugh riot, but I did particularly enjoy Miranda’s attempt at becoming a magician and an episode where Uncle Jim directs his own version of Annie. (Daddy Warbucks is not a phrase I will be forgetting anytime soon.) I knew that Haters Back Off would humanise Miranda, but I feel the team deserves praise for how organic it felt. To think that Miranda would have a genuine love interest, beyond her hordes of “baes”, is a miracle in itself. This is in no small part thanks to Colleen’s performance who allowed Miranda to become more than a 3 minute Youtube video. Because of this, the show was able to go in a darker direction in its final episode. There were a few lines that hit hard, and I did cry in certain moments. Dark-comedies can be gratuitous and pretentious, but Haters Back Off struck a perfect chord, without forgetting that this is a comedy series with children watching.

Haters Back Off is very enjoyable to watch. I was expecting a well crafted show and that’s what I got. And I do hope they make a second season. I thought I was jaded to the phenomenon of Miranda Sings, but with a smart creator at the helm, I think this character is destined for greatness beyond Youtube.

Haters Back Off: Season 1 (2016): 8/10

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