If you know the name “Miranda Sings”, then Netflix’s new original series needs no introduction. If you don’t, allow us to explain: Miranda (a character created by Colleen Ballinger) does exactly what her name suggests. She sings. If, by “sing”, you mean make a noise with her mouth that sounds nothing like any singing you’ve ever heard. She’s out of tune, screechy and painful to hear. So, naturally, she thinks she’s brilliant.
That single joke is what has powered the spoof YouTuber’s rocketing rise to fame – and now, Netflix takes us back to before she was famous to give us her origins story. Miranda Begins. And so we meet her sad mother (Angela Kinsey), her disturbingly enthusiastic Uncle Jim, and her sensible sister, Emily (Francesca Reale), the only one in the clan who understands what’s actually going on. The joke, though, remains the same: Miranda Sings. But, you know, she can’t.
In short bursts on YouTube, it’s a well-executed gag, allowing Ballinger to assault our eardrums for maximum impact. In longer bursts, though, it’s a much harder concept to swallow, because to keep us tuning in for 30 minutes at a time, we have to care about her, or constantly find the one-joke character funny, preferably both – and Haters Back Off! doesn’t always achieve either.
Miranda is, it goes without saying, totally self-centred, an attitude that makes her hard to sympathise with. The problem is that her mother and uncle are too, leaving us with a family full of ego-centric idiots, pitching the tone somewhere between Napoleon Dynamite and Malcolm in the Middle. On the web, Miranda might have been a larger-than-life YouTube personality, but in reality, there might actually be something more serious wrong with her.
For the majority of the show’s first season, then, it’s an awkward watch. Sometimes, when Steve Little’s hyper Uncle Jim channels Bryan Cranston in Malcolm in the Middle, that awkwardness steps into amusingly warped territory, and at other times, it’s just awkward.
The cast are fully committed to their roles, led by the commendably dedicated Colleen, but it’s a question of format and structure, not just acting. By the time we enter the show’s second half, though, and Erik Stocklin’s perpetually nervous Patrick (who has a crush on Miranda) and Dylan Playfair’s suave Owen (who plays guitar at church) become more important, co-exec producers Colleen and Christopher Ballinger really begin to get a handle on how to position their characters. Depths appear out of nowhere, as Emily becomes a movingly tragic figure, their mum hooks up with a priest with his own weird obsessions, and Uncle Jim occasionally appears to realise that he’s creating a monster. The show manages to include an excellent piece of slapstick in a club and a cute flash of romance in a supermarket – and, in one surprising moment at a computer, something bordering on substance beneath Miranda’s garish, lipsticked surface.
The result is uneven, but ultimately spells out promise for a second season, should Haters Back Off! be renewed. The only catch is you have to get through these eight episodes first. But tellingly bookended by recreations of Miranda’s YouTube hits (props to the set designers for rebuilding the backdrops from her early videos), that shouldn’t be a problem for Miranda’s existing fans. As for the haters? Well, they should do what the title suggests.
Haters Back Off! is available on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.49 monthly subscription.