This is a review for the three-episode series premiere of Made for Love, which debuts on HBO Max on Thursday, April 1.
Cristin Milioti is carving out a name for herself as an unconventional sci-fi lead, not just in the way that she herself may be an unusual hero for the genre as a perpetually quirky and frustrated woman, but also in projects that push the boundaries of what we expect from sci-fi projects. After the unforgettably creepy Black Mirror episode USS Callister and the critically acclaimed time loop comedy Palm Springs, Milioti shines in HBO Max’s darkly comedic new show, Made For Love. The series centers on a woman trying to leave her controlling husband who just so happens to be a Mark Zuckerberg-esque tech billionaire with a sadistic side.
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The first three episodes of Made for Love hit HBO Max this week and it’s the kind of show that you can easily binge. While it’s easy to make comparisons to Black Mirror, this is far more than a single creepy conceit, though it also has that. We begin as Hazel Green (Milioti) emerges through a desert hatch, coughing up water as if she’s drowning. Despite her clearly desperate situation, she’s incredibly happy as she wanders past Joshua trees through the desert. Why? Well, she’s escaped her sociopathic husband, Byron Gogol (Billy Magnussen) who was just about to implant her with a “Made for Love” device that would give him full access to the inner workings of her brain. It’s an exceedingly creepy setup, which gets far scarier when it becomes clear that Hazel might not have actually escaped at all.
Milioti and Magnussen are a powerhouse team. She’s the perfect wife until she isn’t, and he brings an alien-like separation to any and all human interactions. His perfect sheen is nothing but PR as he sees everything (and everyone) around him as a tool to create his new inventions. Milioti imbues Hazel with a relatable level of paranoia and frustration as she realizes her husband has essentially put a spy cam in her brain. Her performance is powerful and hilarious as we learn about her life and what led her to the “Hub” where she and Gogol have lived ever since their first date. Did he kidnap her? Was she just desperate to get away from her grubby home life? We get no answers in the first three episodes, but it all builds to a level of enjoyable intrigue that’ll keep you hooked and waiting for the next episode.
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While on the surface this seems like a nearly-here type of sci-fi, showrunner Christina Lee crafts an unexpectedly weird and futuristic world, which is defined by the underground compound that the pair call home. The juxtaposition between the almost entirely fake world that Gogol and Green have been living in for a decade and the dirty, smelly, and powerfully real one above works especially well as Hazel returns home and looks for help from sex-doll loving father Herbert (Ray Romano). Romano has enjoyed taking roles that push him further and further away from his sitcom fame, and this is no different. We meet him making love to his plastic partner Diane, and Herbert lives up to that introduction in every way. He loves Hazel but has no idea how to support or help her. He wants to show her he cares in every way he can — like trying to win a mechanical bull tournament — without really having the tools to protect her against her all-encompassing and powerful soon-to-be ex-husband.
If the named sex doll character didn’t give you the hint, Made for Love is a show that doesn’t shy away from sex and all of the strangeness that goes with it. In fact, the series is joyfully committed to making the audience uncomfortable. Even though Hazel is our hero, she hasn’t left her marital underground lair for 10 years so she has little to no memory of how to treat people or interact with the world around her. Milioti delivers on that potential, sniffing and screaming her way through her small-town home armed with an ax and a need to be anywhere but beside her loving husband. Despite the high concept and the sci-fi trappings, this is very much a character piece and Milioti is at its core.
There are some very impactful moments when Hazel’s completely out there situation becomes a very real lens through which to explore the ways that women are objectified and, once she leaves the hub, how they’re disbelieved when they try to leave an abuser. While dark comedy is the general tone here, occasionally Milioti delivers a line about having a chip in her head with such force and emotion that you realize this is really a show about a woman trying to escape the most controlling man in the world, which is how any woman trying to leave an abuser feels. And as those around her struggle to believe Gogol could have done such a thing, anyone who has tried to leave a controlling partner and share their experiences with others will feel a pang of recognition. The show’s ability to balance the heaviness of those topics with the abstract humor and ambitious sci-fi storytelling is impressive, and a lot of it is owed to Milioti who holds all of the above on her shivering, angry, and ecstatic to be free shoulders.
If you’re looking for a weird and sinister sci-fi with a gnarly sense of humor and a killer leading turn, then look no further. Made for Love delivers all that and more in its three-episode premiere, and builds up a central conflict that you’ll want to see all the way through. If you’re already a fan of Milioti then you’ll be delighted to see her flex her leading lady muscles in this sci-fi star vehicle. And if you’re not then get ready to jump on the bandwagon, as even if the creepy conceit isn’t for you this is still the kind of performance that can’t be missed.