On Haters Back Off, independence is hard

Hater’s Back Off/Season 2, Episode 1/“im gunna be an legend”

Episode Grade: B+

Haters Back Off shocked viewers last year with its final scene in its first season, as the culmination of a series of letdowns in the final episode left an isolated Miranda soaked both in rain and tears. With everyone in her life gone, the tragicomedy picks up right where it left off: the opening act finds Miranda attempting to navigate this new independence/isolation. Ballinger plays Miranda’s stubbornness well, showing how she makes up for her lack of smarts (or street smarts, as Bethany would say) with her strong-willedness, as she forces her way into a Pascetti can. But even Miranda, as headstrong as she is, can’t tolerate being alone: she attempts to recreate the family (Jim is a potato, Bethany is a piece of cardboard, I think) that abandoned her, despite her being upset at them leaving her. She finds comfort in her family unit. Although Miranda does have delusions about her talent, her realizations that she needs her dysfunctional family are founded. So, she follows the sound of the ringing bike bell.

The bell was a clever cliffhanger in Season 1, and used as a clever twist in the first act. It turns out, Uncle Jim is the one ringing the bell, and Miranda’s hopes that Patrick had magically forgiven her disappear. It attests to good writing that Miranda and Patrick don’t immediately reunite, as it fleshes out Patrick, making him a more well-rounded character. Haters Back Off has pleasantly given layers to characters that are often oblivious to themselves and the people around them. Kinsey, Ballinger and Stocklin have shown these layers with each grimace and each awkward smile. (Steve Little does good work with his lines, but disappointingly the writing never goes beyond the one-note cringe for Uncle Jim). By not immediately reuniting Patrick with Miranda, Patrick no longer becomes an accessory to Miranda, but a character that is more independent and compelling.

The power dynamic in Miranda’s relationship with Uncle Jim has always been seemingly one-sided. Miranda here, in theory should have the power: after all, she is the “celebrity”, she’s the one living in the house, while Uncle Jim is rotting away in his car. But, Miranda’s desperation for someone to interact with, besides herself, leads her to give herself up to Uncle Jim. I’m sure there’s a very interesting backstory to their relationship, and the arrival of Miranda’s dad will hopefully shed some insight on why Jim is so controlling (and more importantly why Miranda allows him to be). Perhaps Miranda’s dad abandoned her a long time ago, and so Miranda acts obsequiously toward Jim, because she’s afraid that Uncle Jim will abandon her too. Hopefully, this season taps into the foundations of Jim and Miranda’s relationship, because it is both creepy and uncomfortably hilarious at times.

The narrative structure of this season appears to be about Broadway: while last season was about becoming famous, apparently now Miranda (really, it’s Jim) wants her to become a Broadway performer. Although I do appreciate a solid narrative backbone, so the season doesn’t move all over the place, this does seem oddly similar to Season 1. Hopefully the later episodes will highlight new differences and changes the new season makes.

One of the key differences that manifested itself in this episode was Miranda and Patrick (or Mirandick)’s relationship. Having Patrick stand up for himself is important for the character, and it hilariously sends Miranda into a downward spiral. Patrick has easily emerged as the most precious character on the show, if not the most important one. His awkwardness around Miranda is adorable, and it would be easy for the show to have Patrick sink back into being Miranda-obsessive. But Patrick was betrayed last season by Miranda, and it makes sense that he would unsubscribe from Miranda. Still, he bails out Miranda at the airport. His desire to keep a professional relationship is the natural response to prevent Miranda from trampling his heart again, yet his showing up at the airport shows that he can’t quite get Miranda out of his head, even if he does earnestly try.

It’s easy to say that Patrick rescuing Miranda at the airport is a regression of the character, and in some ways, it might be. But I think it highlights the layers of Patrick, rather than his inconsistency. Heartbreak may be terrible, and Patrick still needs time to forgive Miranda. But he’s still gonna show up for her: that’s just the type of person Patrick is. Rather than painting him as the Miranda-obsessed roadie, the writers show Patrick’s kindness, further underlined by his desire to keep just a professional relationship. He’s not solely motivated by a potential romantic relationship with Miranda (obviously, he still is, to some degree), but by a desire to help Miranda. It highlights his desire to both protect his heart and his capacity for kindness.

Perhaps Patrick’s running-back to Miranda is a testament to the inability for any of Haters’ characters to be completely independent. All 5 characters (even Emily) are interdependent, and they do honestly struggle without each other. Miranda uncomfortably wallows in her bed. Uncle Jim has no one to turn to, resorting to living in his car. Patrick tries hard to leave Miranda, but he himself is lonely too, and Miranda is a comforting presence for him. On Haters, the dysfunctional family shouldn’t exist, but it needs to. The splintering of the family and their subsequent struggles supports this.

Bethany’s plot is a somewhat odd detour. While Uncle Jim and Miranda are planning for Broadway, Bethany is hoping for some sort of a spiritual awakening as she goes on a trip to a Bible museum. Bethany has proven herself as a family woman throughout Season 1: her loneliness drives her to desperately attempt to hold the family together, which then leads to her being a pushover to both Jim and Miranda. Her cathartic release in the Season 1 finale proved a triumph of Bethany’s character and her independence over her desperation to maintain her family.

That’s what makes this episode a disappointing regression for Bethany. You could argue that it’s unfair that I call Bethany’s reconciliation a regression while I call Patrick’s reconciliation an exploration of Patrick’s layers. But Bethany has arguably suffered way more abuse than Patrick from both Jim and Miranda, and the episode doesn’t really make it clear how and why Bethany suddenly realizes she needs her family. It does make her loneliness apparent, as the frames prominently display her isolated presence in the center. However, it’s just so oddly sudden that she abruptly decides to reunite her family. I would have appreciated if Bethany practiced a bit more introspection before she jumped right back into her family, because it’s clear that the healthy option would be to focus on both her mental and physical health (aren’t her kidneys failing?!?). Still, Bethany’s decision to reunite with Emily than Miranda is somewhat of a redemption. Even though I think she needs some time to herself, if she really does need to cure her loneliness, it’s better she did it with Emily than Miranda.

Overall, Haters delivered a solid premiere that sows the seeds for the rest of the season. Personally, I’m interested in how the relationships between the four main characters evolve this season than Miranda’s antics to get to Broadway, but I do appreciate the sillier side of the show. After all, the season premiere firmly establishes that these characters desperately need each other, for better or for worse.

Notes:

  • Why B+: I liked the Mirandick stuff, but I felt like the Bethany plot was unnecessarily rushed. Bethany has been one of the more mellow characters on the show, and I would’ve enjoyed more of an introspective Bethany. I can’t really knock the show off too much, as it only has a collection of 8 20-ish minute episodes to weave a broader story with Miranda, and it is harder to focus on plots that don’t involve Miranda. Emily’s return next episode should be exciting.
  • I focused mostly on the drama of the episode rather than the comedy in this review. This isn’t a knock on its humor at all, I actually thoroughly enjoy Miranda’s shenanigans. However, I do understand that comedy is niche and I wouldn’t want to rate an episode poorly just because its comedy didn’t satisfy me. Plus, I think Haters’ character work and drama is more interesting than its comedy.
  • Still, though: favorite comedic moments:
  • Miranda in the bathtub with Spacettis. Ballinger is honestly brilliant with the physical humor and her understanding of Miranda’s physical movements.
  • Bethany’s wandering around the museum was so tragically and cringe-worthily comedic. It almost made up for the fact that the plot ended kinda funkily.
  • Miranda trying to stick the popsicle stick onto the wall: I think I just like the physical comedy a lot better, I think it’s more effective in delivering the comedy and is in tone with the cringe-worthy comedy genre Haters has established itself in.

Originally published at goodtelevision.wixsite.com/home.