Colleen Ballinger’s Miranda Sings character gets her own full series on Netflix.
I first came across Miranda Sings when she was featured as a guest in Jerry Seinfeld’s very popular Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee series. Colleen Ballinger, as well as her Miranda Sings persona, continues to have a strong YouTube following which has now evolved into a new series on Netflix dubbed Haters Back Off, a first for an internet star.
If you’ve never seen any of her videos, the character brings an astonishing level of narcissism and confidence, creating a form of comedy not really produced these days. Just imagine a deluded, Donald Trump-like figure who also knows how to make YouTube videos. (Exactly.) Sings is also similar in thinking everyone around her is unsupportive of her career goals and constantly undermining her ambitions, whilst simultaneously thinking they’re never as good-looking, funny, smart and (insert another positive adjective) as her.
The series revolves around Miranda attempting to make a splash on the internet and starts with the episode “Uploading my Fist Video” in which Miranda, yes, uploads her first video to YouTube. However, shortly after the initial upload, she receives her first hate comment, springing her real-world follower Patrick and bizarre, creepy uncle into action. (Hence the title of the show, a phrase Miranda often shouts when yelling at imaginary haters.)
Delusion is the main stimulant behind Miranda’s personality. For example, her supportive uncle observes, “Miranda, perfect. Phil, you have to stand like a normal human being,” when they’re filming an ad at the local fish store. However, Miranda fumbles her lines in the ad recording like a kid explaining something they’re not entirely sure about to their teacher. But there’s a lot going underneath the first, obvious layer in this new series. Her reckless pursuit of reaching internet fame would please fans of Ayn Rand’s silly ideas, but it definitely says something about celebrity and the state of society today through this bizarre “origin” story of a YouTube personality.
When a friend dropped by a few days ago, they were very dismissive of the fact I was continuing my Malcolm in the Middle marathon. It’s odd, given how critically acclaimed and smart that screwball sitcom remains to this day. But something lies in the fact many successful TV shows and films are ignored when they’re set in the “ordinary” world of the so-called flyover states in the US.
Haters shares many of its genes with Malcolm and also the Middle, which is currently in its eighth season with an incredibly loyal and stable viewership. We should never forget how difficult it is to create a successful sitcom series that revels in the “average”. Not everyone can relate to Modern Family, a show revolving around the upper-middle class, which would have a significantly different tone commenting on the zeitgeist if it contained just one black cast member.
Despite the comparisons to those shows, the comedy of Haters resembles the absurdist, deadpan humour of Napoleon Dynamite and the Duplass brothers’ film Cyrus. This is demonstrated best in the second episode, where Miranda reasons that she’s doing a morally positive thing in joining the church choir because, “It’s about getting on God’s good side so He’ll do stuff for you later.” And the wacky attitudes aren’t restricted only to Miranda. Later in that same episode, the pastor tries to justify forcing Miranda out of the choir by saying, “When God closes a door, He always opens a window. And sometimes, it’s my job to help push people out that window.”
Nonetheless, the quirky humour can sometimes feel forced given the quiet nature of it all. But Ballinger has a wider pool to draw from, given her series is different to other productions made by fellow YouTube stars, such as Felix Kjellberg’s Scare PewDiePie which is no different from his other videos. Her attempt to transfer a fictional character into a very believable universe is a valiant pursuit of trying to spread the exposure of talented YouTube stars towards other platforms. Have you seen how many books are produced by these guys (and their ghost writers)? There is one thing which does feel lazy and must stop: the over-explaining of jokes by a character not seeming to “get it”, something that’s been done at least 18,642 times according to my last estimate.
In the end, Ballinger executes the move of the wonderfully strange Miranda thanks to moments of genuine vulnerability and emotion. There are always plenty of opportunities for her to tilt her head and gaze menacingly towards the camera. The smeared lipstick doesn’t make her look too dissimilar to Heath Ledger’s Joker in the Dark Knight, always keeping us on our toes wondering how she’s going to react.
But it’s soon made clear Miranda gets her hyper-confidence (sorry, “sense of self-worth”) and ambitions from her mother, played by Angela Kinsey of the Office, who is constantly attempting to find a new partner. Because every character in Haters has no self-awareness, suppressing anything negative. As Miranda’s mother serves dinner, she asks her family, “If you don’t like it, don’t tell me. It always hurts my feelings.” Perhaps this reflects our world today more than anything said on other shows, where we only listen to what we want to hear. This alone is reason enough to check out Haters.