I caught up with “Made for Love,” the March HBO Max series featuring Cristin Milioti, who was great in the movie “Palm Springs” as well as in the shows “Fargo,” “Black Mirror,” and “How I Met Your Mother,” on which she played the mother.
The show, adapted from Alissa Nutting’s novel, is a bit over-conceived, as it explores love in a high-tech world like other near-future series such as Netflix’s “The One.” Basically, Milioti plays a woman named Hazel whose tech-billionaire husband puts a monitoring device in her head, so that he can track her every perception and feeling. After 10 years, she escapes from his Atlantis-like kingdom and returns to her father’s home. The no-privacy conceit is more complicated than it needs to be, and questions about the logic of the story — both narrative and emotional — distract.
It wasn’t just Milioti’s charm that kept me watching the eight episodes of the first season. Ray Romano, as Hazel’s father, Herbert, adds yet another performance to his growing list of remarkable post-”Everybody Loves Raymond” turns that includes “Vinyl” and the gone-too-soon “Men of a Certain Age.” After seeing him play Herbert, with equal parts comedy, pathos, and tragedy, I am impressed all over again. Over the years, he has found a way to transform his hangdog sitcom face into something far richer.
Herbert is an odd dude, which becomes abundantly clear when he introduces his girlfriend, Diane, who happens to be a life-size doll. Yes, it’s a “Lars and the Real Girl”-type situation. Initially, it’s kind of funny, especially since the expression on the doll’s face is so peculiar and, in some ways, human. She provides some good deadpan visual punch lines. Herbert sleeps with her, he watches TV with her, and he even takes her to restaurants, despite the way people in the town laugh at him. But by the end of the season, his love for Diane becomes poignant, as we learn more about Herbert’s past and future.
Romano’s synthetic partner story line also provides a nice contrast to the central romance between Hazel and her husband. Herbert is in love with an object, and he treats her beautifully, as if she were a woman; Hazel’s husband claims to be in love with a human, but he treats her like an object, as if she shouldn’t have free will or independence. There’s no question about which kind of love is preferable.