Made for Love redefines the modern sci-fi genre | Small Screen | Chicago Reader

Made for Love redefines the modern sci-fi genre 

The HBO Max series stands out with slapstick comedy, a complex look at female liberation, and incredible performances.

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click to enlarge The real charm of Made for Love comes from star Cristin Milioti.

The real charm of Made for Love comes from star Cristin Milioti.

John P. Johnson / HBO Max

What would you do if you and your partner could share every thought and every feeling you had with one another? What if this process required you two to be microchipped with a tracking device? In HBO Max’s Made for Love, based on Alissa Nutting’s 2017 novel, there is no question that this is bonkers to Hazel Green (Cristin Milioti). But for her tech mogul husband Byron Gogol (Billy Magnussen), things are not quite as clear.

The chip is part of Gogol Tech’s latest product, Made for Love, which is designed to “close the gap” between miscommunications in relationships. But as we quickly discover, it’s actually just another way for Byron to control Hazel (he already makes her rate her orgasms and closely monitors her emotions through his employees). The series, then, follows Hazel as she runs away from Byron and her life in “the Cube”—a luxurious virtual-reality biosphere that is also Gogol Tech’s headquarters. The only issue is, Byron has already placed the tracking chip in her brain and can see her every move and thought, making her escape harder than she initially thought. As a result, Hazel has to stay in her “shithole” of a hometown with her dad, Herbert (played wonderfully by Ray Romano), and his blow-up doll girlfriend, Diane.

It’s a unique take on a common premise and though the series will likely get compared to Black Mirror, the cast makes it feel refreshing and humorous. Chock full of slapstick comedy, Made for Love proves it’s just as funny as it is a terrifying look at a world that doesn’t seem all that different from our own. Magussen’s performance as Byron is especially amusing—it portrays exactly the entitlement and douchebaggery we’ve come to know and expect from tech billionaires today.

But the series’s real charm comes from Milioti herself, whose emotional range is on full display as the story flashes from Hazel's chaotic present-day to her life before their marriage. Though the pacing of the two storylines often feels rushed, Made for Love is at its best when it focuses on Hazel pre-Gogol, allowing viewers to not only understand why she married Byron in the first place, but also the emotions and experiences that shaped her. Hazel was an emotionally neglected child, often having to fend for herself while her dad got drunk at the local bar. She was able to escape this lifestyle once she married Byron, but now that she’s left him, Hazel has no choice but to go back to her roots—and what gets unearthed is a variety of issues regarding identity and love, both romantic and familial, that she has never given herself room to explore.

With only four episodes available for review (and only three episodes out on the series' April 1 premiere), the first half of the series was a choppy exploration of Hazel and her journey towards independence, but episode four, “I Want A New Life,” is a great turning point into what one can only hope is a more promising second half. Hazel’s backstory is given more nuance, and the series’s more eccentric characters, like Herbert, are given more screen time. Viewers are also introduced to Bangles, played by the always amazing Patti Harrison, who instantly brings new life into the series—Harrison and Miliotti bounce off of each other well and I’m excited to see how this friendship will develop and play a role in Hazel’s freedom.

Full of zany bits and a heroine who refuses to compromise on her independence, it’s not a show one will easily abandon. Despite its rough beginnings, the first half will leave you wanting to keep watching as Hazel continues trying to free herself of Byron’s control. It’s proof that Made for Love might just be a great installment in the often repetitive sci-fi genre, thanks to its complex and offbeat exploration of female liberation.   v

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