When Hazel Green (played by Cristin Milioti) Escapes The Hub in HBO Season 1 made for love, the first thing she wants is a beer. It’s been a decade since she left The Hub, the complex her tech billionaire husband, Byron Gogol (Billy Magnussen), built to secure his business and keep him from having to interact with the real world. He is puzzled as to why she escaped. The Hub, for him, is a paradise, where every interaction is planned and measured, and where food is a tool of energy and efficiency. That’s why there’s no beer, no pizza, no corn chips, and why Hazel is so desperate to leave.
So far in human existence, no one has figured out how to recreate the pleasures of eating in the way that we know. Protein shakes and soy and food cubes can provide all the nutrients the body needs, but they don’t replace the experience of biting into a good sandwich, toasting a friend at the table in a busy restaurant. or jostling a rowdy bar to shout-order your drink. These are the things of life, and so many things in the tech world seem to want to “optimize” beyond recognition. Why eat when you can fast intermittently? Or unless you know the exact protein content of everything on your plate? Why waste time on food when you could be doing something else?
In the second season of made for love, Hazel has returned to the Hub, though she tries to exist there on her own terms – which largely involves eating whatever she wants, much to Byron’s horror. Food seeps in in a variety of ways, from the flavor balls Byron feeds everyone in the Hub, to the staff sneaking in and brewing their own beer. We spoke with Alissa Nutting, creator of made for loveon the food metaphor and why pizza is a threat to the tech-bro mentality.
Eater: It seems so clear that there is a very stark divide between the way food is presented in the outside world and inside the Hub. Is it something that you explicitly defined when you were writing this season?
Alissa Nutting: Researching the character of Byron and looking at that tech-bro culture, one thing that was always really interesting was how different CEOs approached food — like, the CEO of Twitter had this weird saltwater diet which involves a lot of fasting and calorie restriction – and just looking at how “efficiency” has really trumped all other diet-related factors. I mean, when I think of food, I think of taste, pleasure, and satisfaction. But I was looking at it through this technological lens where food is something that will “biohack” my body and give me the best performance regardless of things like taste or preference. All of those were things that we really thought about in terms of Byron.
When I see Byron or any of those real tech friends I realize the reason I’m not them is if I had billions of dollars I’d be flying through the world to eat things. And it still baffles me sometimes. I’m like, “Why isn’t that your instinct?”
It’s this whole culture of inventing an economy and inventing wealth and playing with these concepts like abundance and scarcity. You have extreme inflation, extreme overvaluation, extreme wealth relative to the work that goes into it, and these are people who are amassing more money than a person should ever have in several lifetimes. It almost seems like this badge of distinction is intentionally restrictive or restrained. It sounds like some bizarre form of psychological justification or compromise.
Capitalism is absolutely a pyramid scheme. There’s this lie that if you have enough discipline, you can be as successful as any of them. So there’s this constant fascination with the habits of the wealthiest CEOs and all their bizarre rituals, as if one of them has more courage and tenacity than an average minimum-wage worker. It’s really part of the fairy tale story that every exceptionally wealthy person is asked to invent this tradition around their habits that really sets them apart from their fellow man, because their wealth certainly does.
You have a version of Soylent in the Hub, Flavor Balls, which are those spheres that give you a complete meal and all your nutrients in one bite. And it’s not just Byron who eats them, it’s everyone who works there who buys into them.
They all adhere to this cult of Gogol and do everything Gogol’s way. I remember watching a documentary about this supplement company in Silicon Valley that was talking about biohacking, and seeing all the workers sitting at this table – they’re all doing intermittent fasting and they were all there to break their fast together. It was really part of the corporate culture.
In Season 2, we thought if you’re in this regimented, very, very controlled environment of food and drink, you’ve got all these scientists – some of them wouldn’t probably try to sneak in and brew alcohol ? We wanted to include that element of humanity for realism. But in [Season 2’s fifth episode] we filmed this scene where someone who is close to Byron tricks him into eating real food. It really felt in the landscape of this character in the world, but we created a lot more violence than expected, so we cut it. It was interesting to go against the character’s wishes in this way, with chicken transformed into this super dark, nightmarish thing.
I feel like there are other parts of the series that get there. I was thinking of the scene at the beginning when Hazel clearly says she doesn’t want to be there. She takes a slice of pizza and wipes it on that glass wall. And Byron sees him as a threat to everything he’s built.
In a way, it really is! For this character, it’s all about seeing what’s nutritionally optimal for you, maximizing your body’s output, and having zero germs. He is a character who really cuts himself off from the rest of the world. And I think pizza is one of the most democratic foods; there is something so deeply communal about it. It is made for more than one person by design; that, along with the fat and the high caloric value, makes everything about pizza really antithetical to who Byron is and really representative of the life Hazel had before entering the hub.
There’s also a scene from last season where Hazel talks to a divorce lawyer and details how bad her life at the Hub was. She was not allowed to eat “unhealthy” foods, and everything she put into her body was really regimented. And the lawyer jokes: “It doesn’t look like abuse, it looks like a spa.” Can you talk a bit more about that reaction to not being allowed to drink beer or eat fries or pizza – that it’s considered a good thing by so many people?
On this show and with these characters, we navigate this language of privilege and how anything can be a tool of abuse. But I think food is one of the most common. More recently in the media, the whole story of Nxivm really stuck with me, this deep calorie restriction and normalization of eating disorders and the expectation of thinness under the guise of discipline and health.
I think, especially in Season 1, we were looking at issues of total control, and Hazel felt like all the decisions in her life were made for her, even down to the food she ate. And yes, there are layers to this. There are people in the world who don’t have access to organic vegetables and would like to follow the diet that Hazel was subjected to, and people who go to spas for thousands of dollars a week to be served a such regime. But again, come back to feeling trapped and feeling like a prisoner in your own home – even those spaces of privilege can backfire.
Okay, if you can’t drink beer or eat pizza whenever you want, what’s the use of power? I feel like this whole season is really about the themes of artificiality versus reality, and how you really can’t get rid of someone’s will to want to experience something real – even if you create a perfect artificial world for them. How does food play into this?
Whether it’s a literal gut level or a cellular level, we can tell when there’s a difference – like a dish you’ve home-cooked by a family member versus a version you get into a restaurant, and taste that near miss. I think that’s a really good metaphor for the Hub. As exact a replica can be made, there is intrinsically this truth detection software within us.
Food is absolutely one of them. I will never forget moving to Los Angeles and going to the farmers market for the first time, tasting a tomato and having that epiphany. It was truly a radical paradigm-shifting moment for me. And I have quite discreet food tastes: Taco Bell is really my favorite restaurant. I would really rather go there than to a Michelin starred restaurant. But it’s been so long since you’ve had the real version that you adopt the fake version as the norm, until you have an experience that reminds you of all that it could be. For Hazel, that’s really what those 10 years at the Hub were like. In this season, it goes both ways, where she lives those experiences in the real world and realizes everything the real world can hold. But she’s also back in the Hub and begins to reconsider the power and technology the Hub can bring, which she may not have appreciated the first time she was inside.
If there is a third season, is there anything else you hope to do with what these characters eat and how it affects them?
Absolutely. We are now at the dawn of the metaverse, and I really wonder how food and eating, and experiential things like dining and restaurants, are going to translate. It’s something that I would say I’m quite curious about.