At this point, it’s not difficult to argue that Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, has too much power. I use platforms owned by Zuckerberg and people like him — Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, for example — just enough to resent our one-way relationship, where they make loads of money simply by knowing things about me, and turning my information into a product. Imagine what it would be like to be married to someone with this much power. Proximity to power comes with money and friends who can do all kinds of favors for you. But it’s also asymmetrical — being the spouse of Mr. Facebook means making peace with the fact that your partner knows more about you and most other people than you ever will. So what would it be like to divorce someone so powerful? It would probably be about as easy as using new software without agreeing to the hundred-page contract they present you with at start-up. In other words: next to impossible.
Granted, Hazel Green (Palm Springs and Black Mirror star Cristin Milioti), the protagonist of the HBO Max series Made for Love, has it much worse than this. In the dark comedy’s first episode, we meet her as she’s bursting out of a sewage pipe, wearing a cocktail dress covered in filth and raising her finger in the desert heat toward the mega-complex where the man she just left resides: Byron Gogol, the CEO of Gogol Tech.
In the world of Made for Love, Byron (Billy Magnussen) is a hybrid Mark Zuckerberg/Elon Musk-type figure, perhaps with a sprig of Steve Jobs on the side as a garnish. Gogol, as an in-universe ad makes clear before the story gets started, is a name as ubiquitous as the search engine that it sounds like. Everyone has a Gogol phone, Gogol VR is the envy of the tech world, and the media hangs on Byron Gogol’s every word.
He and Hazel are an unlikely pair doomed from the start, although that isn’t immediately clear: Made for Love’s narrative is fractured, jumping freely from Hazel’s post-escape present to her brief marriage with Byron and to moments before their relationship, eventually stopping at their meet-cute and first date along the way. This narrative restlessness would be annoying if the show’s two leads weren’t so wonderfully compelling.
Milioti gives Hazel an edge that surfaces in manic bursts without warning in her post-escape life — there’s a real dark, unpredictable energy to her, the feeling that she’s just as likely to eat an egg frying on the hood of a car after enough beer as she is to fire a shotgun at someone after no beer. Magnussen, meanwhile, is pitch-perfect as tech privilege incarnate, a man with the power to reshape the world in his image, but no ability to imagine why anyone would want to live in any other world but his. I would watch them in anything.
The pair’s madcap energy turns out to be vital, because a key part of Made for Love’s premise is extremely uncomfortable: Byron, it’s revealed, has implanted a chip in Hazel’s brain without her consent that allows him to see what she sees and get readings on how she’s feeling. It’s not just him being a creep, either: It’s the pilot program for Made for Love, Gogol Tech’s newest service for couples looking to take their relationship to the next level, by sharing each others’ thoughts. Byron, as the king of optimization, is good at being several kinds of unethical at once. Hazel, meanwhile, is hellbent on using Byron’s own overreach to screw with him and make him watch things he hates.
Under the comedic guise of a love story gone wrong, Made for Love examines the tech world sideways, undercutting the narratives of men in power by laughing at them. It is conceivable, for example, that a man like Byron exists in the real world. It’s also conceivable that this theoretical man would, like Byron in the premiere, create an obnoxious app that badgers their sexual partners to rate and review their last orgasm, as if sex is a problem that could be solved with some lessons taken from UX design. Maybe that’s a system that works fine between consenting adults who know what they’re getting into, but as a scalable standard? It’s laughable. And cartoonish men like Byron, who uses his power to project his quirks (like a hatred of smells and a dislike for eating) onto the world at large — deserve to be laughed at.
There’s a meanness to Made for Love that comes directly from its source material, Alissa Nutting’s novel of the same name. While the show and the book have very different plots, their approach of depicting the tech world as something so ludicrously male is identical, an acerbic core that likely comes from Nutting’s involvement in both. Tech, in this vision, is a solution to the perceived problem of having to understand people and care about what they think. It’s why virtually all the technology in both the book and the series is an invention that diffuses that tension.
In the show, there’s a VR cube that can realistically mimic the appearance of any locale. Why bother learning where your date likes to spend their time when you can just have them dictate their favorite environs to your magic box? Made for Love, the product, wants to edit the whole “communication” part out of relationships. And in both the show and the novel, Hazel’s father, Herbert (brilliantly played by Ray Romano) only has one prized possession: his sex doll, Diane, who can’t break his heart like a real partner would. Tech, Made for Love argues, is overwhelmingly built by and for men who refuse to do the basic work of living with other people.
When I was in college, I sat in a dim lecture hall where a professor would make the same joke every week, about how Amazon.com “knows me better than my wife.” This was about a decade ago, give or take — long enough ago for that joke to still be kind of funny, yet recent enough that maybe we should’ve known better. Still, his students laughed, because back then, Amazon mostly seemed like a company interested in making things easier. Like they say: it’s funny because it’s true. An Amazon wishlist was and is wonderfully convenient, a feature that feeds into an algorithm and the very sort of thinking Made for Love both impeccably satirizes and takes to a not-all-that-implausible extreme. Because really, who wants to do the work?
Made For Love is available to stream on HBO Max.