Miranda Sings, a YouTube sketch series introduced in 2008, makes a mockery of the web’s would-be celebrities. Miranda, a misfit in cakey red lipstick played by Colleen Ballinger, appears in lo-fi music videos, either caterwauling or sing-speaking salaciously. The joke is that Miranda thinks fame is her birthright.
But that’s made the joke hard to sustain–because like Ballinger, Miranda has become famous. The actor and character have a combined 11.5 million YouTube followers–more than the weekly viewership of Fox hit Empire. It’s hard to mock the thirsty when you’re on a national tour or appearing on Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee–or when you have your own Netflix series.
On Haters Back Off, whose eight episodes arrive on Oct. 14 on Netflix, Ballinger wisely takes her character back to the start. We’re not seeing Miranda with a massive audience–we’re seeing her as a homeschool student in Tacoma, Wash., beginning to make the videos that she hopes will bring her paid gigs and renown.
Attention is attention to Miranda: the praise she receives from her equally fame-obsessed uncle Jim (Steve Little) feels good, but so too does the chance to blast her comments-section critics. “I’m going to pray for the souls of my haters,” she declares. “I’m going to pray for God to punish them and teach them a lesson.” Without her critics, Miranda would have to shift her focus to her ill mother (The Office‘s Angela Kinsey)–or to the hole in her own heart that she’s trying to fill with applause.
With her placeless accent, flagrant rudeness and outré look, Miranda is a character meant to appeal to tweens and young teens–she’s a Gen Z Pee-wee Herman, and the Internet is her playhouse. But it’s an open question whether her audience is equipped to pick up the show’s minor-key notes. Miranda Sings isn’t the first YouTube sensation to get its shot at the big time. Amiable goof Grace Helbig got her own talk show on E!, and zealous pop-culture fan Tyler Oakley has practically built an empire out of Ellen appearances. But Ballinger is perhaps the first YouTuber to use access to TV-size budgets to make something truly new.
Haters Back Off, with its grating lead character and familiar-looking megachurch-and-megastore setting, is imperfect, but it’s also more than it needed to be. Past YouTube-derived projects have been a vehicle to the next thing–a way to reach more and more fans. Ballinger has hit pause on her upward climb to examine what the obsession with having fans papers over and the new problems it creates.
It also seems to come from someplace very real. In a September YouTube video, Ballinger appeared out of character to address her public. Crying as she detailed her recent divorce from husband and fellow web personality Joshua David Evans, she said, “I hate that I can’t control this–that it’s going to end up in the hands of these people that are so mean.” She says she plans to take a break from the Internet. Haters can indeed serve as motivators–but they can also make you question whether it’s worthwhile to live a relentlessly public life in the first place.
This appears in the October 24, 2016 issue of TIME.