Author Alissa Nutting released her novel Made for Love in 2017, and now roughly four years later, it has been adapted for the screen as the latest addition to HBO Max’s original programming. The series premiered at this year’s SXSW film festival and garnered plenty of buzz, with great thanks to a stellar cast lead by Cristin Milioti, Billy Magnussen, and Ray Romano.
Made for Love follows Hazel Green (Cristin Milioti) who has been living the past 10 years in a highly secure and technologically advanced compound created by her husband Byron Gogel (Billy Magnussen) – the greedy “self-made” CEO of Gogol Tech. An experimental chip is implanted into Hazel’s head as she non-consensually becomes the first test subject of Byron’s latest invention, a program aimed to link the minds of a non-platonic couple into one. After managing to escape, Hazel begins a frantic journey of getting as far away from ‘The Hub’ as possible, dodging her abuser’s goons and reuniting with individuals from her pre-marital life along the way.
HBO Max’s newest original is a quirky extravaganza that makes for an entertaining watch. The story does feel unique, however, the similarities it shares with exceedingly popular series such as Black Mirror – Milioti herself starred ‘USS Callister’, the opening episode of season four – are quite noticeable. Where questions and critiques surrounding technology are a critical aspect of the narrative, it’s no surprise that it shares similar ploys and themes. Although, Made for Love perhaps falls too deep in this trap as it also features specific plot points with more Black Mirror episodes, notably ‘Arkangel’ and ‘Hang the DJ’, which were also installments of the fourth season.
The premiere episode offers initial exposure to the insanity of Hazel’s life in the perfect balance of comedy and eeriness. Unfortunately, the second entry loses its feet slightly before picking back up in the subsequent episodes. The pacing slows down and still remains interesting, though at times it is a struggle to keep focus.
In juxtaposition to the well-written comedy and lightheartedness of the series, lies underlying messages about the ways people behave in contemporary society. Made for Love questions the ethics of big corp, the kind of influence power and greed have over the mind, and even if science can go too far. But ultimately, as the title suggests, the series questions love and its crude nature, whether it be Byron’s wealth enticing Hazel and leading to him essentially holding her hostage for an entire decade or Hazel’s dad having a relationship with a quite terrifying doll (see it for yourself).
In many ways, Hazel is a character that audiences should be able to resonate with one way or another. Despite her isolation, her personality manages to persist. She is never the damsel in distress and will go to extreme lengths to free herself from the tyranny her husband and the entire Gogel corporation have inflicted upon her. The content may grant a warning to those who have undergone abuse from a partner, but Milioti’s control of dark, witty humor carries one’s engagement all the way through. She is fierce, witty, and truly a pleasure to watch on screen.
Although this show is already entertaining through its story and technical execution, the performances from the cast are what truly make it special. No matter how big their role, every player brings immense amounts of talent and heart to this series. As mentioned, Milioti is nothing less than fantastic, which comes as no surprise following her performance opposite Andy Samberg in the critically acclaimed Palm Springs. She wholeheartedly embodies Hazel’s chaotic nature and brings the energy needed to support and enhance the other talent’s contributions.
Billy Magnussen is commendable as Byron and moves with ease between the character’s loving calmness and manic episodes. And, of course, the legendary Ray Romano is the perfect casting for Hazel’s questionable father. Other brilliant supporting roles include those of Dan Bakkedahl and Noma Dumezweni, but one stand out, in particular, is a relatively new actor in the industry, Caleb Foote. Foote is hilarious and steals every single scene, sure to leave everyone wanting even more of his character.
Made for Love is a very enjoyable series that is so rich in terms of its story, characters, and performances. It grips one’s full attention from the get-go, investing the audience into each character, their individual storylines, and motives. Although it is an often lighthearted and hilarious watch, it subtly dives into deeper notions and could very possibly establish itself as a favorite title within today’s streaming culture, obviously being a standout on HBO Max. A feat that is far from easy given the streaming competition.