On television these days, the near future tends to look like an Apple Store. Everything is gleaming white, a triumph of polymers and marble and Windex. Everything is shiny and unsullied by human fingerprints. On Made for Love, HBO Max’s zany new series about a woman who manages to escape what’s essentially a virtual-reality prison, the contrast between her pristine digital surroundings and her disheveled, pine-paneled childhood home makes for the show’s most effective comedy. On Starz’s third season of The Girlfriend Experience, which will debut in May and places its central character within a groundbreaking start-up in what seems to be the near future, all the messiest and most primal human experiences—eating, fucking, fighting—are rendered sterile, and bloodless. The clothes are made of latex and the gourmet dinners are sashimi, both smooth and chilly to the touch.
The two series are curious about what we really want from the people we love. But they also use futuristic technology to complicate the subject of desire—to imagine what we might want if anything were possible, and how much control we’d crave over others. On Made for Love, adapted from Alissa Nutting’s semi-absurdist 2017 novel, Hazel (played by Cristin Milioti) escapes in the first episode from The Hub, a virtual-reality retreat where she’s been living with her reclusive, tech-giant husband. Byron Gogol (Billy Magnussen), Hazel’s former partner, is a kind of Elon Musk by way of Stretch Armstrong, all comically brawny arms and megalomaniacal instincts. For a decade, Byron has controlled Hazel’s external existence: her daily schedule, her outfits, even the timing of her orgasms. But, as if to prove Schopenhauer’s argument that possession is the ultimate ambition of a man in love, he concludes he needs authority over Hazel’s mind, too, and that’s what compels her to break away.