‘Haters Back Off’ Review: Netflix Gives Miranda Sings the Spotlight She Craves

Colleen Ballinger’s hit character moves to the streaming service with a ready-made following. Lulz result.

Haters Back Off
Colleen Ballinger and Erik Stocklin

With more than 300 hours of videos uploaded to You Tube every minute, the video service can be a great leveler and a great elevator. The culture is rich with stories of John or Jane Doe posting a video seen by millions of people, which usually translates into the evanescent, vanishing stardom of the Internet … but sometimes, it’s something bigger, something more.

Miranda Sings, a gawky, bossy 20-something from Tacoma, Wash., is a legend in her own mind, and in today’s viral, interconnected world, that might just be enough. Miranda – actually a character created by performer Colleen Ballinger – has plotted a course for stardom as a singer, secure in the knowledge that she is a star — whether the rest of the world (or her family) knows it or not.

That’s the premise for “Haters Back Off,” the new Netflix comedy series that debuts on Friday. But don’t be misled by the word “new”; the show’s prime mover has already had a long life in web culture. Ballinger is the show’s star, creator and co-EP. Ballinger launched Miranda as a character in 2008, on her own You Tube channel. Since then the channel has generated more than 1 billion views and gained 7 million subscribers.

That means a ready-made audience for the antics of Miranda, her quest and her family. On the Netflix show, she lives with her mother, the reluctantly single Bethany (Angela Kinsey, “The Office”); her uncle Jim (Steve Little, “Eastbound & Down”), the over-amped co-conspirator in her pursuit of online fame; and her level-headed, long-suffering sister Emily (Francesca Reale). Erik Stocklin plays Patrick, Miranda’s puppy-dog of a best friend and the wannabe romantic lead in her life.

From the moment we see her eviscerating “Defying Gravity,” from the Broadway musical “Wicked,” it’s clear that what Miranda may lack in conventional talent is more than compensated for by sheer nerve, and the courage of her convictions. Narcissistic, imperious and often just plain arrogant, she’s got the diva aspect of stardom down pat. But there are times in the first two episodes (the series’ full eight-episode run is available Friday) when the veneer of ego is stripped away, and we discover the shy, insecure young woman behind the bluster.

“Haters” reflects a hearty sense of humor about the genesis of online celebrity. “Is the web necessary?,” mother Bethany asks. “Yes, mom,” Miranda says. “All the most famous people in the world started off on the Internet: Justin Bieber, Susan Boyle, that cat that fell off the table when it got scared.”

Ballinger — her face a rubbery marvel of plasticity, her shrill, nasal voice some kind of national treasure — is a character all her own. This queen of malapropisms is just a little too loud, wearing just a bit too much fashion-red lipstick; she’s all about the over-the-top excesses of celebrity. But what resonates with Ballinger’s character (and the 1 billion times people have watched her) is Miranda’s underlying humanity, her basic drive to be recognized, to stand apart from the crowd. And we can all relate to the pain of rejection, which Miranda experiences when she’s pushed out of a church choir, or when no one accepts the headshots she hands out to kids at the high school nearby.

“There’s more Met than Yankee in all of us,” someone once observed — more also-ran than winner. But we push against those probabilities just the same, online and off. In the videos of our lives, we live by the refresh button, waiting for discovery, one view at a time. Kudos to Netflix for having the vision (and the good sense) to elevate this antic, sometimes wise, often laugh-out-loud funny case of art imitating life imitating art to another rightful place.