Made For Love review: Palm Springs’ Cristin Milioti is trapped in a loveless marriage

Made for Love Season 1, Episode 2 - Photograph by John P. Johnson / HBO Max
Made for Love Season 1, Episode 2 - Photograph by John P. Johnson / HBO Max /

Palms Springs star Cristin Milioti seems to be a favorite of casting directors when they are seeking an actress who specializes in being stuck in parallel sci universes. Milioti was locked in a Groundhog Day time loop in Palm Springs with SNL’s Andy Samberg. She also had a memorable role on an Emmy Award-winning episode of Black Mirror, as an unsuspecting employee at a tech company who ends up trapped with her coworkers in tyrannical cosplay fantasy.

Her latest role is in Made for Love, a dark HBO comedy adapted and inspired by Alissa Nutting’s bestselling novel. Cristin plays Hazel Green, a robotic acting Stepford wife who is bogged down in a hi-tech 10-year marriage with her manipulative husband.

The first episode begins with a commercial promoting finding a Made for Love match. We see a soaking wet Hazel escaping from an underground hatch in the middle of nowhere wearing a fancy sequin dress.  We learn a few episodes later that Hazel met her billionaire hubby Byron Gogol (Billy Magnussen)  by chance while engaging in a petty scam. The couple falls in love at first sight after handsome Gogol wines and dines her in a virtual simulator that resembles a fancy restaurant.

The pair has a quicky wedding after that first date. We don’t see the ceremony but their wedding rings resemble mini handcuffs to symbolize a literal lifelong bond. The story unfolds in a series of flashbacks cutting back and forth to the present day. Hazel and Byron appear to be the perfect couple.  Byron makes sure to please his wife during lovemaking and then takes a dip to swim in their personal pool with his pet dolphin named Zelda.

We realize later that the dolphin has a chip in her brain and is actually a scientific test animal. Hazel goes about her day, which includes having to enter data rating how much she enjoyed her orgasms.  The spouses participate in an elaborate presentation for global tech investors announcing their Gogol Tech “Made for Love” program. “Hazel and I are users one. Our minds will become one.” A video explains the background of Gogol (who has a name that sounds like Google). We discover that Gogol created a VR hub and has been locked away with his wife from the outside world for 10 years.

Gogol explains that he has developed the perfect piece of technology for couples to find their soulmate. Byron’s scientists inform him that according to their research his wife is pretending to like him while publicly acting like she is in a state of wedded bliss.  Gogol is determined to continue with his Frankenstein-like experiment by kicking off the launch of Made For Love. “Technology has improved the way we live. Why not improve the way we love?” he declares.

This entails having a surgically implanted brain chip that can perform a mind meld so that compatible lovers will see and hear everything in their mate’s world. This is the equivalent of having your twin flame chipped with internal spyware. “Together, we will become a singular living God!” Byron declares. “You agreed to this!” Hazel is scared by the possibility of being forced to participate in this experiment so she plots to flee the compound. She hitches some rides to make her way to the outskirts of town where her eccentric dad Herb ( Ray Romano) lives in a rundown trailer. “I thought those were metaphors! I want out and I want a divorce!” She yells at Bryon after he tracks her down at her estranged father’s place.

Ray Romano stands out as a quirky widower who falls in love with a life-like sex doll while mourning his late wife. This character was giving me vibes from Ryan Gosling’s role in the film Lars and The Real Girl. Transgender actress/comedian and writer Patti Harrison also shines as Hazel’s rebellious best friend who is still mad at her for disappearing with her favorite sequin dress. It takes convincing for Hazel to confess that she didn’t deliberately steal her bestie’s dress because she was held hostage for years.

Billy Magnussen admits that he enjoys playing this type of character. “This boy has some issues,” Magnussen said in a recent interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “That’s the fun part of it. I wanted to dive into the weird construct of reality and mess with it. He is so out of touch with reality. He made his castle in the sky separate from the real world. But he has this human quality. He comes from a world of code and structure, but love is not that way. He can’t control it, and he’s confounded.”

I was given four episodes to review after the series debuted at the virtual SXSW 2021 festival. The performances and the possibilities that could occur in a rom-com scenario like this intrigued me. Our current state of wanting to be always plugged in makes the show interesting to watch. We are all walking around in the 21st century without disconnecting from our smartphone bubbles.

But this is taking things to another level of obsession by forcing a spycam into your lover’s brain to keep them trapped. I want to see what happens in the next 4 episodes to end the first season. They even have a storyline about concocting smells to lure his wife back because Elon Musk-like Gogle has banned them from his universe. Magnussen resembles a dimpled chin Ken doll who makes being diabolical look good. I got used to love-hating him.

Made for Love is a twisted parable about a rebellious wife who fights back to seek freedom from Stockholm Syndrome. I kept rooting for the heroine to make it out safely.

Next. Mortal Kombat, The Nevers and more on HBO Max in April. dark

Made For Love premieres April 1, April 8, and April 15 on HBO Max.