Cristin Milioti keeps HBO Max's tech comedy Made for Love from crashing: Review
Technology, amirite? We love it, we hate it, we produce endless stories about its terrifying beauty and power. The latest is Made for Love on HBO Max, a darkly comic, if not particularly inspired, cautionary tale about the perils of our oversharing, overconnected culture.
Trigger warning: Made for Love (premiering April 1) begins with a shocking incident — a woman, soaking wet and gasping, bursting through a hidden hatch door in the middle of a desert — and then flashes back to the popular TV time period known as "24 Hours Earlier." She is Hazel Green-Gogol (Cristin Milioti), the reclusive wife of the even-more-reclusive Byron Gogol (Billy Magnussen), bazillionaire founder and CEO of Gogol Tech. After spending 10 years with Byron in "the Hub," a virtual biosphere that doubles as Gogol's base of operations, Hazel flees her life of sterile bliss — only to discover that there's a tracking chip in her brain, courtesy of her better half.
That chip is Gogol's latest, most controversial innovation: Made for Love, a product that allows any couple to share "every thought, every feeling" as "a network of two." Why? Well, Byron insists to Hazel that his invention will "close the gap between our miscommunications" — but really, he just wants to control everything and everyone around him, as most TV tech titans do. Later, a newsmagazine journalist (Nyasha Hatendi) wonders gravely whether Byron Gogol is "a genius savant living in an optimized world of his own creation" or "a megalomaniac narcissist who cannot function in normal society," and all evidence — at least in the four episodes provided for review — points squarely to the latter. So Made for Love sets up as a quirky escape thriller. Broke and desperate, Hazel absconds to her "s---hole" hometown to seek help from her dad, Herbert (Ray Romano), an eccentric widower who is now in a committed relationship with a lifelike sex doll named Diane.
Flashbacks — some going back a few hours, some years — serve to illuminate the origins of Hazel and Byron's relationship. The further Hazel and her story get from the Hub, the more interesting Made for Love becomes. Pre-Gogol, Hazel was a hustler, a young woman hardened by childhood neglect who scammed college kids out of cash to pay her overdue parking tickets. Milioti is most compelling as this Hazel, her delicate-doll face belying the ferocity of a woman who's always had to take care of her own damn self. She's particularly hilarious in scenes with Dan Bakkedahl, who plays Gogol's dutiful head of security, Lyle Herringbone; their brief moments of buddy-comedy chemistry are the high points of Made for Love's first four episodes. Though Byron is essentially a sociopathic cipher, Magnussen is able to bring flashes of humor to the techno-tyrant; perhaps in the second half of the season we'll learn why he's never heard of Willy Wonka and is unfamiliar with the concept of donut holes.
Made for Love is based on Alissa Nutting's novel of the same name which came out in 2017, before other technology-and-love tales like Soulmates and The One, and a few months before Black Mirror's "Hang the DJ" episode. Today, the story feels disappointingly familiar — but Milioti is worth hanging on for, even though the show may not be the partner that she, or we, deserve. Grade: B-