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Review: In ‘Made for Love,’ She Can’t Get Him Out of Her Head

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Cristin Milioti has claimed a curiously specific character niche: woman escaping from twisted sci-fi trap. In the “Black Mirror” episode “USS Callister,” she was programmed into a simulation by her creepy boss. In last year’s “Palm Springs,” she and Andy Samberg puzzled out how to break free of a time loop that stuck them in a vicious “Groundhog Day” rom-com cycle.

In “Made for Love,” a light-handed and dark-minded comedy of technology, control and gaslighting whose first three episodes arrive Thursday on HBO Max, the snare is all in her head.

As in physically. As in implanted. As in a microchip.

Hazel Green (Milioti) received this unwanted hardware upgrade from her husband, Byron Gogol (Billy Magnussen), who runs a world-dominating tech company. (Feel free to play around with the first vowel sound in “Gogol.”) For 10 years, they’ve lived in a gilded cage — or rather a gilded cube, a virtual-reality environment called the Hub, secluded from the messy outside world, with eternally perfect weather and a dolphin sporting in the swimming pool.

And for 10 years, Byron has grown more devoted. Too devoted. “Have your wife review her biometrically recorded orgasms to better optimize them” devoted. Finally, he decides that he loves her — and his technology — so deeply that he and she will become “Users One” of his new product, Made for Love, which makes couples into two-person neural networks, their brains digitally connected. No more secrets, no more miscommunication, no more private thoughts.

Who the hell would want that? you might ask, a question “Made for Love” raises but doesn’t entirely answer. For the purposes of the story, what’s important is that Byron wants it and Hazel emphatically does not. This impels her to fly the cube, a madcap and violent escape with Byron watching from behind her eyeballs. (Turns out he implanted only her chip, not his: “I had to read your diary first to know if I could let you read mine.”)

Based on the novel of the same name by Alissa Nutting, a writer and producer on the series, “Made for Love” plays out as a screwball action satire, which likely makes its chilling premise — patriarchy and techno-utopianism as two sides of the same chip — go down easier than it would as a straight drama. (Christina Lee of the mordant “Search Party” is the showrunner; other producers include Patrick Somerville of Netflix’s “Maniac,” with which this shares a skeevy-dystopian vibe.)

The metaphors are never far under the surface here, like Byron and Hazel’s double-finger wedding bands, reminiscent of tiny handcuffs. And when Hazel seeks help from her widowed father, Herb (Ray Romano), she finds him having taken up a committed partnership with a sex doll — sorry, “synthetic partner” — named Diane. Their one-way relationship is an echo of what Byron is trying to make Hazel into, a wife machine, but it’s also oddly tender and respectful.

“Made for Love” is hardly subtle, and its cautionary tech tale has been told repeatedly in “Black Mirror” and elsewhere. But it’s playful and funny and almost momentum-driven enough to get away with hand-waving away its many implausibilities. Among those is the question of why Hazel, presented as a wily, resourceful skeptic, would have been swept off her feet by Byron, who from their first meeting throws up enough red flags for a giant slalom course.

The casting helps put this over. Milioti, with her charm and anime eyes, is an almost too-perfect rom-com-lead type. (She broke out on TV as the title figure in “How I Met Your Mother.”) But she smartly plays against that type in stories that subvert expectations. Her Hazel is cunning, feral and sardonic on the lam; in flashbacks to her married life in the Hub, you can almost hear her scream behind her 10,000-watt smile.

Romano, meanwhile, may be one of the few actors you could introduce in bed with a humanoid sex toy, whom he dresses in his dead wife’s clothing, yet have your viewer think, “You know, this seems like a complicated guy who’s been through a few rough patches.”

And Magnussen, given the broadest of the central roles, pushes Byron’s zealotry past tilt. Inept at most human relationships, Byron has funneled all his emotional capacity into Hazel, out of both passion and the gamifying impulse to get the all-time high score on his marriage. He’s the epitome of both the obsessive Wife Guy and the hubristic Tech Guy, and he makes plain the connection between the two types.

He’s also pitiable, insofar as a billionaire with godlike powers can be. “I am the only person who actually loves you!” he pleads to Hazel. “Objectively!”

But it’s Milioti who gives the season’s first half (I’ve seen four episodes of eight) its adrenaline. “Made for Love” is a loopy jolt to the cortex that demands a high tolerance for absurdity. What grounds it is Hazel’s journey from kept woman to action hero, determined not to be a character in somebody else’s love story.

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How China’s Outrage Machine Kicked Up a Storm Over H&M

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Squirrel Video, a Weibo account dedicated to silly videos, shared the Communist Youth League’s original post on H&M with its 10 million followers. A gadget blogger in Chengdu with 1.4 million followers shared a clip showing a worker removing an H&M sign from a mall. A user in Beijing who posts about television stars highlighted entertainers who had ended their contracts with Adidas and other targeted brands.

“Today’s China is not one that just anyone can bully!” he wrote to his nearly seven million followers. “We do not ask for trouble, but we are not afraid of trouble either.”

A fashion influencer named Wei Ya held a live video event on Friday hawking products made with Xinjiang cotton. In her Weibo post announcing the event, she made sure to tag the Communist Youth League.

By Monday, news sites were circulating a rap video that combined the cotton issue with some popular recent lines of attack on Western powers: “How can a country where 500,000 have died of Covid-19 claim the high ground?”

One Weibo user posted a lushly animated video that he said he worked through the night to make. It shows white-hooded men pointing guns at Black cotton pickers and ends with a lynching.

“These are your foolish acts; we would never,” a caption reads.

Less than two hours after the user shared the video, it was reposted by Global Times, a party-controlled newspaper known for its nationalist tone.

Many web users who speak up during such campaigns are motivated by genuine patriotism, even if China’s government does pay some people to post party-line comments. Others, such as the traffic-hungry blog accounts derided in China as “marketing accounts,” are probably more pragmatic. They just want the clicks.

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NFTs Are Neither Miracles nor Scams

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Perhaps you find this confusing or silly. Push that aside for a minute.

Mostly, my beef about NFTs is how people, particularly those who live and breathe technology, talk about them and other emerging companies or concepts including the blockchain, the audio chatroom Clubhouse and ultra fast trains.

Almost immediately, people sort themselves into camps to declare that THIS WILL CHANGE THE WORLD or it’s TOTAL CODSWALLOP THAT WILL RUIN EVERYTHING. We would all benefit from more breath and less breathlessness.

In life, most things are neither glorious revolutions nor doom. And behind most novel ideas is often the possibility of something useful. The trouble is that hyperbole and greed often make it hard to sort the glimmers of promise from the horse manure. So let’s take a step back.

The purported big idea behind NFTs, as Kevin and Charlie Warzel, my colleague in Opinion, each explained this week, is to tackle a problem that the internet created. With sites like YouTube and TikTok, anyone now has the power to make music, a piece of writing, entertainment or another creative work and be noticed. But the internet has not really fulfilled the promise of enabling the masses to make a good living from what they love.

NFTs and the related concept of the blockchain hold the promise to, in part, give people ways to make their work more valuable by creating scarcity. There is promise in letting creators rely less on middlemen including social media companies, art dealers and streaming music companies.

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What We Got Wrong About Uber and Lyft

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What went wrong? Gregory D. Erhardt, who analyzes transportation modeling systems at the University of Kentucky, told me that the companies and some transportation experts misjudged how the ride services would be used.

The theory of on-demand rides was that they would be like carpooling. As people drove to work, they’d pick up an extra person or two along the way — and some money, too. But Uber and Lyft turned out to be more like taxis.

Uber and Lyft, as they expanded, focused on dense urban areas, where there were plenty of potential drivers and riders. But even there, drivers spend a large percentage of their working hours roaming around without fares and clogging the streets, Dr. Erhardt said. The combination of all of these factors was more miles driven in many large and midsize cities. (Dr. Erhardt and his colleagues are soon publishing additional research into the effects of ride-hail services in about 250 U.S. metropolitan areas.)

Dr. Erhardt and I talked over three lessons from this misjudgment. First, Uber and Lyft need to share their data so that cities can understand the services’ impact on the roads. Second, public officials need to steer transportation policy to encourage helpful behaviors and limit destructive ones. And third, new technology needs guardrails in place — and maybe those need to be established before its impact is obvious.

The first point is that Uber and Lyft, which tend to keep certain information such as where people travel and idling times secret, need to share information with cities and researchers. “Cities are pushing hard and have a strong case that we should be able to use this data for planning and research purposes,” Dr. Erhardt said.

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