HBO Max’s new dark comedy Made For Love is a blend of advanced science-fiction and a classic love story gone wrong. Girl meets rich boy, boy sweeps her off her feet, and then implants a tracking chip in her brain without consent. At least that’s what happens to Hazel Green-Gogol (Cristin Milioti), who marries tech genius and billionaire Byron Gogol (Billy Magnussen). After 10 years of the pair living together in a fancy bubble called The Hub, Byron inserts a device in his wife’s mind that provides data on her thoughts and emotions. Hazel escapes to seek shelter with her estranged father, Herbert (Ray Romano).
Made For Love is based on the 2017 novel of the same name by author Alissa Nutting, who also wrote for the series. The dramedy joins recent TV shows about dystopian tech and artificial intelligence like Black Mirror, Upload, and Person Of Interest. But it stands out because of its surprising yet heartfelt subject matter, which subverts the genre with a story about empowerment seen through the female lens. The cast also includes Noma Dumezweni, Patti Harrison, Dan Bakkedahl, and Augusto Aguilera.
Christina Lee, whose most recently wrote and produced for HBO Max’s darkly satirical Search Party, takes up the showrunner reins in Made For Love. She also previously worked on shows like Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp, Super Fun Night, and Washington Heights. Ahead of Made For Love’s three-episode premiere on April 1, The A.V. Club spoke to Lee about finding creative satisfaction with this project, tackling ominous themes in inventive ways, and casting Romano in an offbeat role.
The A.V. Club: How did you get involved with this project?
Christina Lee: I initially came in as a consultant, but I connected with the material because I’ve been a huge science-fiction fan. Black Mirror is one of my favorites and I’ve always loved the episodes that focus on relationships and intense emotions. When I read Alissa’s book, I thought it was such a fun read. It has a dark and disturbing premise and yet it made me laugh out loud. Alissa and I clicked creatively, and it was off to the races from there. It was fun developing with her, and I loved that she also wanted to expand the world of the book while honoring the characters she created.
AVC: How different is the show from the book? What was the process of forming the writers’ room, knowing you already have this material and then get to add layers of creativity to it?
CL: By the time I joined, the writers’ room was already set up. However, right away, there were discussions on how to expand it from the internal place of the book. We wanted to show Hazel’s story, but also understand where the others were coming from, so it naturally fell into place to show all of these different perspectives.
AVC: Were you involved in the casting process?
CL: I was. It’s a cliché but we felt so lucky with this cast. I love that they all brought such humanity to their characters, because even when they’re not doing great things, there is a vulnerability. It was important to us and we did not want anyone coming across as a straight villain.
AVC: It was especially fun to see Ray Romano as Herbert; it’s quite different from what he’s usually known for.
CL: We were such huge fans of Ray and it was a dream come true that he even entertained this. When Ray came onboard, that’s when the character of Herbert started to change a little bit. The initial writing was a bit harder. Even though the facts remained the same pertaining to Hazel’s childhood with her father, because it was Ray playing him, a bit of the edge was taken off. Everybody Loves Raymond is true, you know? He is so lovable, he brought that humanity to the character so that even when you know he hasn’t been the best father, you feel that empathy for him. It was hilarious watching him work with his synthetic partner Diane. It was new for him but he was good at it.
AVC: This show tackles dark themes with the dangers of technological advancement; underneath all that is a woman trying to escape from a bad marriage. What kind of conversations did you have about portraying and connecting these arcs?
CL: In the beginning, we were talking a lot about the role of technology and how it plays into human relationships. Ironically, we were having these discussions pre-2020, and then we entered a year when we were relying almost entirely on technology for our interactions. So we talked about having this shortcut in how we all access and connect, and I heard a lot of people say “I just want to Zoom” or “I don’t need to see people.” I’m not that way. So our conversations were also about how technology is a temporary solution to loneliness; it doesn’t take place of true human connections. It was interesting that it happened before shutdown.
The other big topic was marriages with different power dynamics. With that, typically women, they’re entering a relationship where at first it may seem exciting to be with a powerful person—but what strings are attached to that and how much do you have to give up to be in a partnership like that? We looked at a lot of famous people and relationships to pick up on clues. It informed a lot of what we wanted to write about.
AVC: All of this is balanced by comedic elements that are also presented visually, like the dolphin Zelda. How much of that did you know you wanted to add?
CL: That’s the natural inclination of myself and Alissa. We see the comedy first or come up with the most ridiculous version first and then we figure out the more grounded version. But this was a fun project for me as a comedy writer because we did approach this first with story, with character development, their emotional journeys, and then the jokes last.
AVC: The show has two very different settings. The Hub is fancy and rich and then there is Herbert and Hazel’s dingy apartment and town. How did you set those up to also inform the characters that reside within them?
CL: It was almost like doing two different shows, because they are so visually different. It was fun to see Cristin play with both because we knew she could handle it. The Hazel that was trapped in the Hub is so different from the Hazel who is getting her own agency outside of it. It’s a tricky walk for her to go back and forth between the two, but she nailed it perfectly.
AVC: You’ve previously been a producer and writer on Search Party and Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp, but this is your first showrunning gig. How did you approach it and what influences from your time behind-the-scenes on these other shows did you bring to it?
CL: I was lucky with the people that surrounded me during Made For Love, it made showrunning easy and fun. Being partnered with Alissa was great because I found my creative partner with her and we plan to do much more in the future together. I would say my approach was very collaborative also, because we went through this pretty insane year and a lot of bonding happened so it felt like a family. Working on Search Party and Wet Hot American Summer also taught me a lot. You hear about these very tough, complicated Hollywood on-set situations and writers’ rooms. But in both these cases, because it was group of friends and there was mutual respect, [the shows] were fun to work on, and I wanted to bring that with me
AVC: Do you know yet if you’re coming back for Search Party season five?
CL: I do know but I won’t be able to answer that yet.
AVC: Made For Love has timely hooks with technological headway and the women empowerment angle. What was the biggest takeaway for you and what do you hope audiences will take away from the show?
CL: I hope that they see this is a sci-fi show that we approached through a female lens. We had female directors like Stephanie Laing, Alethea Jones, and S.J. Clarkson, then there was Alissa and I. [Sarah McCarron also has writing credits.] It was a conscious decision. We all talked about the sci-fi genre, content we love, but what’s missing from it and how this one can be different.