Haters Back Off! is Netflix’s latest venture into the world of subversive, offbeat comedy. The platform has taken risks with shows such as BoJack Horseman, an animated comedy about a washed-up equine. Or indeed Lady Dynamite, Maria Bamford’s surreal account of her struggles with mental illness. These comedies, whilst too eccentric to retain a tv audience, thrive when binge-watched. As with the genius Arrested Development, which was cancelled partly due to its comedic payoffs relying on recalls from previous episodes. When Netflix acquired the show in 2013 they were not only able to introduce Arrested Development to a new audience, but also produce a fourth season where the jokes capitalised off the episodes being watched in quick succession. Haters Back Off! benefits from these predecessors and understands the value in constructing a world worth delving into for a couple of hours at a time.
The show follows Miranda Sings, an overly confident and very much deluded teenager, who is convinced of her impending fame. Most will recognise the character from YouTube, created by Colleen Ballinger in 2008 Miranda has become one of the most recognisable faces on the site. Miranda Sings may seem like a strange choice for a Netflix deal, but after eight years the channel’s success speaks to the lasting power of the character. As a comedic invention, Miranda shares the stage with all-time greats such as Zoolander, Anchorman or Napoleon Dynamite. The switch from YouTube presents a few problems, but also allows for many successful moments.
The episodes are fairly hit or miss, some work remarkably well, others not so much. Yet the small town setting mainly consisting of a church, grocery store and a nursing home effectively contrasts Miranda’s illusions of grandeur. Similarly, the cast of characters widen the world beyond the YouTube channel, making it an ensemble work (as much as Miranda wants to take centre stage). Miranda’s mother is a feeble and mousy woman who lives with her brother ‘Uncle’ Jim, Miranda’s manager and number one fan. The two of them devise a ‘five phase plan to fame’ upon which the eight-episode season is loosely structured. Best friend Patrick and sister Emily round out the cast, with Emily as the straight (wo)man to an oddball group.
The overarching theme of the show is the tension between Miranda’s lack of talent and her unfaltering belief in herself. This self-centered attitude results in her unkind treatment of others, most notably her sister. Miranda is a brat in the image of Violet Beauregarde, yet whilst her selfishness is to be abhorred her self-belief is admirable. In fact, the show packs a strong emotional punch which is perhaps the most surprising part about it.
If Broad City is the mother of webshow-turned-tv comedy, then Haters Back Off! sits comfortably a few rungs below. Though unable to achieve the heights of Netflix’s Master of None or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Haters Back Off! does conquer the transition from YouTube to Netflix, an impressive feat not to be overlooked. If you’re a fan of cringe comedy and dysfunctional losers, Haters Back Off! is one to watch.