Cristin Milioti has claimed a curiously specific character niche: woman escaping from twisted sci-fi trap. In the “Black Mirror” episode “USS Callister,” she was programmed into a simulation by her creepy boss. In last year’s “Palm Springs,” she and Andy Samberg puzzled out how to break free of a time loop that stuck them in a vicious “Groundhog Day” rom-com cycle. In “Made for Love,” a light-handed and dark-minded comedy of technology, control and gaslighting whose first three episodes arrive Thursday on HBO Max, the snare is all in her head.
As in physically. As in implanted. As in a microchip.
Hazel Green (Milioti) received this unwanted hardware upgrade from her husband, Byron Gogol (Billy Magnussen), who runs a world-dominating tech company. (Feel free to play around with the first vowel sound in “Gogol.”) For 10 years, they’ve lived in a gilded cage — or rather a gilded cube, a virtual-reality environment called the Hub, secluded from the messy outside world, with eternally perfect weather and a dolphin sporting in the swimming pool.
And for 10 years, Byron has grown more devoted. Too devoted. “Have your wife review her biometrically recorded orgasms to better optimize them” devoted. Finally, he decides that he loves her — and his technology — so profoundly that he and she will become “Users One” of his new product, Made for Love, which makes couples into two-person neural networks, their brains digitally connected. No more secrets, no more miscommunication, no more private thoughts.
Who the hell would want that? you might ask, a question “Made for Love” raises but doesn’t entirely answer. For the purposes of the story, what’s important is that Byron wants it, and Hazel emphatically does not. This impels her to fly the cube, a madcap and violent escape with Byron watching from behind her eyeballs. (Turns out he implanted only her chip, not his: “I had to read your diary first to know if I could let you read mine.”)
Based on the novel of the same name by Alissa Nutting, a writer and producer on the series, “Made for Love” plays out as a screwball action satire, which likely makes its chilling premise — patriarchy and techno-utopianism as two sides of the same chip — go down more accessible than it would as a straight drama. (Christina Lee of the mordant “Search Party” is the showrunner; other producers include Patrick Somerville of Netflix’s “Maniac,” with which this shares a skeevy-dystopian vibe.)