Written by Dylan Brandsema
Haters Back Off! is hard to watch, harder to describe, and perhaps even harder to review. It’s one of those shows that insists it’s good simply because it’s quirky and weird. It’s about Miranda Sings, a self-centered, narcissistic teenager, played Colleen Ballinger, with no talent who gets her first glimpse at Internet infamy when she uploads a video of herself singing (badly) to YouTube. This pilot episode follows the immediate aftermath of the upload as we meet her enabling mother (Angela Kinsey) and Uncle Jim (Steve Little), and her more logical, no-nonsense sister Emily (Francesca Reale). The episode is essentially a series of mildly zany antics revolving around Miranda and her family as she spins out of control as a result of seeing some negative comments on her video.
The concept is strong enough to see potential, but when I checked the Netflix time-bar literally less than one minute into the 31-minute episode, I knew immediately something was wrong. The simple fact of it is that Haters Back Off! is painfully unfunny. It’s mostly because the character of Miranda Sings is wildly unlikable. Everything she does is shrill, annoying, and noisy in the most uncomedic way possible. A little bit of research informs that Ballinger has been playing this character since 2008 in various mediums across the Internet and other iterations. So, her performance is certainly a dedicated one, but unless the occasional silly face and Fran Drescher-esque nasally voice is meant have the audience busting a gust, she does nothing to inspire even the slightest of chuckles. Also, at 29 years of age, Ballinger looks too much like an adult, even in the signature character make-up, to be convincing as a teenager. This makes her frantic, childlike performance even more awkward and uncomfortable to watch.
Kinsey and Little both do commendable enough jobs as her enabling, delusional caretakers, and while their characters are a little bit more interesting, the writing isn’t nearly strong enough to do them any justice. Most of the time, it just feels like they blend into the background while Ballinger goes nuts and steals the scene. Francesca Reale is the primary redeeming factor as Miranda’s sister Emily, the super-serious member of the family who is constantly keeping everyone in check with reality. If this character had more screentime, or perhaps a bigger dynamic with the rest of the characters other than snarky remarks, it might be more worth watching. I can assume that this will happen at some point over the next seven episodes, but I cannot bring myself to tolerate everything else just to find out.
Haters seems to be the kind of comedy that believes wacky and eccentric behavior automatically equals funny in any circumstance. There’s no sense of moderation or balanced narrative. Every attempted funny moment induces either a cringe or stone-faced confusion, and every attempted dramatic moment, the few that there are, winds up simply earning boredom instead. There’s nothing to be invested in and nothing to like. It’s an excruciatingly long 31 minutes.
There’s also a self-referential meta element to the episode that doesn’t ever earn its place. I understand that the character of Miranda Sings is intentionally meant to be off-putting, but just because something is successfully what it is supposed to be, that does not automatically make it good or even worth watching, no matter how many degrees you have from the Vulgar Auteurism School of Filmmaking. If I were to film myself slapping myself in the face repeatedly for 60 minutes and show it to you and say it’s a slapstick comedy, it’s likely that nothing will convince you or make you agree, no matter how many times I yell it in your face that it is one.
There’s not a single moment in the episode that ever really works at whatever it’s trying to achieve. I use the word “whatever” because it’s difficult to tell what the show’s underlying aim is, aside from laughter, which it obviously doesn’t achieve. At some moments, it seems like some kind of meta-commentary on Internet culture and cyberbullying. At others, it feels like an attempt at some strange Freddy Got Fingered-style comedic surrealism. At others, it plays like a failed satire that doesn’t even know what it is that it’s satirizing. Truly, whatever it is this show is trying to do, it isn’t working.