HBO Max’s comedy series, Made for Love, is thematically nimble and wholly original. Set in a somewhat distant future, Cristin Milioti’s Hazel discovers that her husband, tech magnate Byron (Billy Magnussen), plans on controlling her by a chip he implanted into her head. It raises questions about consent and the boundaries with a marriage. Composer Keefus Ciancia had the difficult task of creating a score that never undercut the emotional journey of this couple and his work showcases the complexity of the human heart.
A lot of romantic scores weigh down the story and the script but Ciancia’s work on Made for Love is breezy with a nod to the technology that Byron is so obsessed with. He uses synthesizers and old soap opera organs and incorporates doo-wop influences to hint at the glossiness of Hazel and Byron’s lives but the music really keeps us on our toes.
“There’s so much shorting of the brain and the heart going on. When we start in The Hub, my brain connected with this mecca in the future, and I had this plan in mind for this music. Then when I read more of the scripts, I realized there was so much to tie in there.”
Made for Love‘s theme song has a true aspirational ring to it. A choir lightens the pulsing of the music and then a harp comes in to give it a panache that we rarely hear. It reminded me of how Byron might want his company to be perceived: singular, sleek, and ambitious. This theme is used throughout the first season and it serves as a true home base to the themes of the show.
“That is one that I probably wrote early on. What happened with a lot of lockdown stories, they didn’t get to finish about four weeks of shooting. I wrote not to picture because sometimes it helps you not get too locked into something. I tried to envision how to marry The Hub, the future, and the soap opera section in the middle. I played with a lot of instrumentation because I thought as a couple, Hazel and Byron have a cinematic quality to them. I had seen that one more through than a lot of cues.”
One of the most interesting things the show does is not make it only a show about escape but about second chances. Byron’s actions are reprehensible, but the love story is what is most important. There is a connection between him and Hazel. In the track “Hazel and Byron,” Ciancia suggests a love lost and confused. Could Hazel and Byron have had a deeper love if he wasn’t so insecure and controlling?
“This is a cue that made me realize it was more of a love story. I tried to imagine how those two wind back and forth throughout and that’s why there is this call and response at the start of that track. It’s the light of each one and there are about four notes and it moves faster and faster. Once you get past how they build up, it goes into the actual love theme which can work in so many ways. You can hear the love there but the music also shows how fucked up it is. When Zelda opens the door for Hazel and she can take off the bedsheets, it becomes a love theme for Hazel’s heart. I had never written anything like that where it kept working so well to the heart of the show.
A huge musical set piece comes in when Hazel and Byron go on their first date. He blows her mind with what his money and technology could make her do, and we realize that Hazel has been trying to escape something for her entire life. “She’ll Live Here” has notes of something Danny Elfman might write but then “Marry Me” has some sinister piano strokes that hint at something darker. The horns are reminiscent of an old-school, classic musical.
“That was a huge piece of the puzzle because it was the middle of the season where you go back into this world. It was a different moment for the show. It might have been the only piece where Alissa [Nutting] and I went through to make sure that sequence went well. There is so much play between those two characters–it’s quite a dance.”
Curious about soap opera organs? Ciancia informed me that your grandparent’s might have one in their basement or attic, and they can be found all over Craigslist. They play in a dramatic way that no other instrument can and that supports the sweeping love that Made for Love details so well. It merges the traditional kind of love story with something bold and modern.
“They were overly dramatic in the greatest ways like if Liberace was asked to score a love story. How over the top could you go? I believe organs were supposed to take the voices over for a choir. It depends on who is behind the wheels. I feel like they created these things as a getaway before the Internet. It’s a way to get lost in something.”