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HBO's Made for Love reunites Black Mirror stars for more creepy tech

Review: Black Mirror stars Cristin Milioti and Billy Magnussen are an odd couple in this black comedy on HBO Max.

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Made For Love

Make a break for it with Made for Love.

HBO Max

Technology manipulates us, exploits us and even harms us, but we love it. We're in an abusive relationship, but we just can't break up with our gadgets. That's the warning of Made for Love, a new black comedy starring Cristin Milioti and Billy Magnussen, streaming now on HBO Max.

Based on the 2017 novel by Alissa Nutting, Made for Love introduces us to a world dominated by the ubiquitous phones, drones and tablets created by Byron Gogol, the very model of a laser-focused technology entrepreneur superstar. Like your Zucks and your Musks, Gogol is a singular individual whose success is driven by his personality flaws -- which is a problem for his wife, pampered but unhappy Hazel, who's shocked to discover her husband has placed a tracking chip in her head. 

The show begins with Hazel making a break for it, before flashing back to reveal why she's running and why she married Gogol in the first place. This cut-up structure allows the show to tease out illuminating or macabre revelations, but also robs the story of momentum. The show as a whole has a stop-start feel to it, opening as a chase with absurd violence before shifting into a much lower gear with very little consequence.

The other problem is that flashbacks to their early relationship struggle to sell Gogol as anything but a collection of red flags, or Hazel as anything but uncomfortable in the relationship. A more linear treatment might have shown us why Hazel was seduced into Gogol's world and why she struggles to escape. There's certainly no shortage of unusual power couples in the tech sphere, as the eccentricities of the spouse match those of the tech founder. Look at Grimes and Elon Musk, for example, or WeWork founder Adam Neumann and his equally oddball wife Rebekah Neumann seen in the Hulu documentary WeWork: Or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn.

Hazel isn't much of a stretch for Cristin Milioti, who previously played a very similar everywoman caught in an abusive man's fantasies in the Black Mirror episode USS Callister (the one that looked like a Star Trek parody). 

That episode also starred Billy Magnussen in a supporting role, while in Made for Love he's upgraded to the role of the driven tech superstar. You may recognize the eerily cheekboned actor from scene-stealingly off-kilter performances in the Get Shorty TV series, Netflix's Maniac and Ingrid Goes West, and he's perfectly cast as the blandly handsome but sociopathic founder with a dolphin in his swimming pool who delights as his latest tablet sparks global riot.

Billy Magnussen is a chilling billionaire in Made for Love.

HBO Max

Magnussen deftly embodies the show's two extremes. He delivers the broadest comedy as an out-of-touch genius who lives in a virtual reality simulation and hates smells, before chilling the blood with horrifying emotional abuse. Magnussen is great at both the deadpan humor and showing the fragile vulnerability of a man who believes his monstrous manipulation is driven by love.

Just because characters keep pointing out that the idea of a chip in her head is contrived doesn't make it any less contrived. But the chip works as a metaphor for controlling and emotionally abusive relationships, as Gogol literally lives rent-free in Hazel's head even when she tries to break free. It's a dark warning of the ways technology can be used to facilitate emotional abuse and domestic violence, whether it's for stalking, controlling a spouse's life or finding someone who's escaped a harmful relationship. 

The other man in Hazel's life also has his own technologically assisted idea of love based on fantasy and control. Ray Romano plays her dad, a small-town loser who play-acts a relationship with a Real Doll-style sex doll. This is a deeply odd subplot that's often just nasty rather than comic, but you can't fault Romano for trying something left field. Best known for Everybody Loves Raymond, perhaps the most network-sitcom-y network sitcom ever, he seems dedicated now to more offbeat choices like the aforementioned (and underrated) Get Shorty, working with Scorsese in The Irishman and Mark Duplass in Paddleton. Can we call it a Romanossaince? Sure, why not.

Made for Love is made to be watched and probably forgotten about. Occasionally amusing and lightly thought-provoking, it joins a recent slate of snackable offbeat sci-fi shows like Soulmates, Upload, Tales from the Loop, and that thing with two Paul Rudds.

Any number of shows feature generic tech billionaire bad guys these days, but Made for Love is one of the more direct in its examination of our relationship with our devices and, more importantly, the people who made them. We're all locked in a one-sided relationship with Mark, Jeff and Jack -- and no matter how they manipulate and gaslight us, we just can't quit them.