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SXSW 2021 Review: 'Made For Love's pilot has the right stuff

Cristin Milioti stars as a wife on the lam—who may or may not have been bugged—fleeing from her domineering tech-mogul husband.

Cristin Milioti in 'Made For Love.'
(Image: © HBO Max)

Our Verdict

Milioti's star-power is on full display in 'Made For Love,' a poignant blend of science fiction, comedy, and kinda-sorta horror that makes a stunning first impression.

For

  • 🐬 Exaggerated for artistic effect.
  • 🐬 Cristin Milioti does it all.
  • 🐬 Stylistic aesthetic is just as impressive as performances.
  • 🐬 Leans into dark comedy.

Against

  • 🐬 A single episode glimpse doesn't leave much of a supporting character impression in some places.
  • 🐬 Too early to tell if plotlines can sustain.

Made for Love is part of our SXSW 2021 coverage. You can find all of our reviews here.

Am I smitten by Made For Love after a single episode? What's not to adore. Cristin Milioti is swinging for the performative fences as an escapee breakup artist. Billy Magnussen swims with a dolphin named Zelda in his private pool. The disillusioned God-tier egotism of tech billionaires is put on blast with a Black Mirror meets Silicon Valley bend. Perhaps you'll even be treated to a severed finger or three?

Milioti stars as Hazel Green in HBO Max's series adaptation of Alissa Nutting's 2017 novelization. We meet Hazel after she escapes tech mogul Byron Gogol's withdrawn desert compound, where he essentially entraps Hazel, the love of his life, in some futuristic utopia bubble. Hazel's sick of his suffocating tendencies, app-based prompts for orgasm feedback, and imperfect perfection. Even worse? Byron surprise announces to his company board that Hazel and himself will test out his newest innovation, Made For Love, which implants chip within companion brains to form the "ultimate" couple.

Now, do you understand why the episode opens on Hazel pushing out some iron-doored hatch, sopping wet, flipping off Byron's facility in the background?

Milioti's star-power (which you also can see in Palm Springs) is on full display in this introductory glimpse, radiating a range of energies from frantic fleeing to passive-aggressive relationship facades to experimentation paranoias. Hazel's grasp on realism is frequently in flux, almost purgatorially, as pixelated clouds scroll the corners of Byron's cubic virtual enclosure or Herringbone (Dan Bakkedahl) empties a strip club of dancers and patrons without attention. Made For Love is comedic, thrilling, oddball, and alarming all at once—Milioti's awareness rolls with a cascade of punches. The way she flips on a dime from schmoozing with Byron's corporate contacts to smashing display cases holding keepsake outfits from better memories is only a tease.

As the cast fills out, we're assured Made For Love is no one-woman show. Magnussen's hubris as a visionary whose surveillance intentions and moral corrosiveness become troublesome is everything we know Magnussen can exude through devilish charms that hide a jealous, controlling lover. Ray Romano makes an appearance as Hazel's more rurally acclimated father, alongside his sex doll. Dan Bakkedahl is your possibly-helpful, possibly-conniving advisor or trusted confidant to Byron, who already extends a possible helping hand toward Hazel. She has allies, she has "enemies," but worst of all, she possibly already has a chip implanted that allows Byron to see through her optical windows—Byron's romantic engineering operation might already be operational.

Appropriately, Made For Love boasts women across its creative potions. Showrunner Christina Lee and director Stephanie Laing bring a critical perspective to Hazel's situation (S.J. Clarkson and Alethea Jones are the remaining Season 1 directors, per IMDb). Hazel's is very much a tale of oppression, something like a spunkier Swallow, where dominant personalities turn bliss into domestication, even imprisonment. Intercourse becomes a transaction with Yelp-like evaluations and comment bubbles, as Byron programs his smarthouse to monitor Hazel's recreational activities, nap habits, and presumably to further invasive degrees. Cut to an awkward assistant played by Caleb Foote, who must ask Hazel to sign-off on Byron's cunnilingus feedback of 5-stars, which becomes a point of conflict when Byron refutes the score as a lie based on suggested spy tactics. Manipulation, gaslighting, and false pretenses become Byron's calling cards, as the womanly oversight of this first episode sets a needed precedent since Hazel's character is allowed to save herself, not project damsel helplessness.

In shorter terms, Made For Love should make for an easy binge if you're able to vibe the bizarre sci-fi twist on connected hearts. There's plenty left on the table in the way Hazel's reality is already beginning to glitch, posing questions as to if she's only fled further into Byron's simulation or not. The idea of Made For Love finding its first test subject in Hazel combats tension since Byron, in theory, should be able to locate his subject-slash-sweetheart with ease—perhaps the transmitter must be removed? Enough is introduced to answer developmental queries and establish season-long intrigue, as if Cristin Milioti's (still) blossoming talents weren't enough encouragement. Not to mention the stunning visual composition and confident blending of tones that hopefully remain the series’ signature.