TV Review: “Haters Back Off”

In Arts & Entertainment, Film & TV, Reviews
 Courtesy of Netflix
Courtesy of Netflix

“Haters Back Off” is one of the strangest Netflix Originals of the Fall season and teen viewers are likely to find it appealing.

It delivers a distinctly “Napoleon Dynamite”-esque style, where much of the humor comes from the characters’ awkwardness instead of any situational wit. Fans of the YouTube character Miranda Sings, which show creator Colleen Ballinger has been performing as for over a decade, may find that what is funny in short skits online, can otherwise be insufferable when stretched to a half-hour episode.

The show centers around Miranda and her disastrous artistic endeavors. She can’t sing, she can’t act, she can’t dance, but she thinks of herself as God’s gift to the world of entertainment. Some of her false confidence is derived from her Uncle Jim, played by Steve Little, who believes getting just under a hundred views online is equivalent to going viral.

However, Miranda is not a sensation but is instead the victim of a few negative comments for her YouTube singing videos. The series follows Miranda in her quest for fame and glory, but subplots focused on her family are sprinkled throughout in an attempt to bring variety to the proceedings.

Many characters are intended to be oddballs, but not a single performance is endearing or close to being memorable.

The series encourages its audience to laugh at the characters and their implied mental instability instead of with them, and it comes off as unsettling instead of humorous as a result. Napoleon Dynamite was loyal to his friends and able to bust out a wicked dance that won the appreciation of his peers, but in “Haters Back Off,” whenever any sort of heart is forced into an episode’s narrative, it feels disingenuous and phony.

This type of humor might only appeal to kids in their early teens who are at a stage where awkwardness feels like a fact of life. It was one of the main reasons why “Napoleon Dynamite” was such a success over a decade ago. It appealed to the desire inside of teens to find something that is lower than what they feel and find some basic humanity in it. In this case, a neurotic home-schooled girl who makes terrible YouTube videos could be seen as an extension of their own awkward tendencies.

The content of the show, however, is completely lacking. Miranda Sings, as a real life Internet oddity, featured videos that had a homemade charm that just doesn’t translate well to a higher-budget Netflix series. Online viewers get the sense that the woman playing  Miranda is having an absolute blast goofing off, and while her humor is not for all tastes, most of the videos are under five minutes long. Teens get to laugh at someone making silly voices and expressions for a few fleeting moments without an overarching narrative to wear it down.

With a narrative backbone, Miranda is no longer a pleasant snack, but a full-fledged meal. Much like other YouTube stars who make a big break into longer-form entertainments, like Fred, the jokes lose their appeal when surrounded by unnecessary filler.

The cast of characters is far too unlikable to make a consistently watchable television series. Not even a good dose of drama involving Miranda’s mother, played by Angela Kinsey, during the show’s latter half can bring the show from feeling like a bloated accessory to a perfectly nice YouTube career.

“Haters Back Off” feels as though it exists in an alternate universe in which everyone is either petty, grating or self-centered. It doesn’t have the cutting boldness to directly imitate “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” with its mean-spiritedness, and its humor is frequently repetitive and dull. It is the weak link in Netflix’s Fall lineup thus far, but its constant non-sequiturs and goofy hijinks are bound to appeal to a group of teenagers somewhere. For them, it could be the next cult sensation, but most adults should just re-watch “Arrested Development.”

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