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The many roles of Cristin Milioti. (Image: Tina Tiller)
The many roles of Cristin Milioti. (Image: Tina Tiller)

Pop CultureMay 3, 2021

She’s your hell, she’s your dream: Cristin Milioti is everything

The many roles of Cristin Milioti. (Image: Tina Tiller)
The many roles of Cristin Milioti. (Image: Tina Tiller)

Cristin Milioti has her first TV leading role in Neon’s new sci-fi comedy Made for Love, but you’ve probably seen her before. Sam Brooks takes a look at Milioti’s tremendous range, with a little help from Meredith Brooks.

If you don’t know the name Cristin Milioti, you better learn it, because I can guarantee you already know her face. Whether you watched a very popular nine-year sitcom until its grim conclusion, an acclaimed crime drama, a Broadway musical or, uh, 30 Rock, chances are you’ll have seen her. She’s one of those performers who can sink into a role easily, without losing what makes her special: those dinner plate sized eyes, that malleable voice, and that cool, loose charisma.

Her biggest project, and first TV series lead, is Made for Love. It’s a seriously messed up, seriously funny black comedy about a woman, Hazel, who escapes from a suffocating marriage to a tech billionaire. Unfortunately, she discovers that he’s had her fitted with a high tech tracking device implanted in her brain. The series follows Hazel as she regains her independence while on the run from her overbearing ex.

To catch you up with Milioti’s career, I’ve used a template helpfully laid out by 90s one hit wonder Meredith Brooks: the song ‘Bitch’. The roles of Milioti’s career helpfully fit into the facts of being a woman that Brooks names in the chorus, so I’m going to highlight them using the song. 

Take a step back into the 90s and shine a light on the next big thing.

A bitch

Okay, I’m skipping over this one. Meredith Brooks can say this. Sam Brooks cannot.

A lover

Let’s step away from the screen for a moment and onto… the stage.

Milioti has racked up a pretty commendable list of stage credits in addition to her screen ones, but her biggest gig was in the Broadway adaptation of 2007’s Once. She was nominated for a Tony Award for her role as The Girl, and from the above performance you can see why: She nails the role, including a difficult accent (she really Czech’d herself before she wrecked herself), while playing piano at the same time. The casting of Once requires you to believe that The Guy would fall immediately, head over heels in love with her – and hearing the way Milioti sings, why the hell wouldn’t you?

A child

Milioti’s one-episode guest appearance in 30 Rock might not have been her biggest role at the time – she’d also been in three episodes of The Sopranos – but it’s definitely her first hugely memorable one. It’s also, in classic 30 Rock fashion, deeply weird.

In the 16th episode of the fifth season, ‘TGS Hates Women’, Liz Lemon hires a woman comedy writer after accusations that her show is misogynist. Milioti plays said comedy writer: a blonde, high-voiced woman named Abby Flynn who constantly hits on the male writers in the room and constantly speaks in a baby voice. She is, and I stress this is a quote from the show, “a very sexy baby”.

After Liz ‘exposes’ her as a Jeneane Garofalo-type who is faking her whole persona, it’s revealed that Abby is actually in witness protection and Lemon has basically destroyed her life. 30 Rock was like that sometimes. Anyway, Milioti’s hilarious in it. Check out the clip below:

A mother

Milioti’s most notorious role has got to be – and spoilers for a show that ended seven years ago – the mother in How I Met Your Mother. It’s a role with massive shoes to fill: How on earth do you play a character that is hyped up for nearly a decade, and is the central mystery of the show?

It’s not Milioti’s fault that the show backed out of this twist almost immediately, because she actually does some really great work in it: she’s lively and vibrant in a way that makes you totally get why Ted Moseby, a polo shirt of a man, would talk about her for 10 whole years. I would too!

A sinner

Everybody in The Wolf of Wall Street (which you can rent on Neon) is a sinner, and Milioti’s character, Jordan Belfort’s first wife Teresa, is no exception! Sorry.

It’s a small, but pivotal role in the first part of the movie, where Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is rising to become the wolf we’re meant to love to hate or hate to love. Eventually, he leaves her for Naomi (Margot Robbie) and she has a big break-up scene, with an even bigger wig and titanic “Joisey” accent.

A saint

In the second season of Fargo, Milioti plays Betsy Solverson, the cancer-stricken wife of Officer Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson). Fargo often has to remind the audience that not everybody is a bad person, and Milioti steps up to this particular plate expertly. It’s not an especially big role, but she’s still the grounding soul of this season – she shows us that after Lou has to deal with all the madness she’s still there to come home to.

Your hell

What if you ended up stuck in a time loop with someone you had a one night stand with at a wedding and that time loop involved experiencing the wedding again? Well, your life would be very similar to the premise of Palm Springs.

Palm Springs is a messed up rom-com that follows Nyles (peak Andy Samberg) and Sarah (Milioti) as they try to figure out how to escape their time loop, all while a murderous JK Simmons is trying to kill Nyles for getting him stuck in said time loop. It’s a bit more intense than Groundhog Day.

It’s the biggest film role of Milioti’s career and she dives into it head first. Sarah’s our anchor to the film’s core concept, and she’s the protagonist after the first loop is over. We’re very much inside her head, figuring out the deal with the loop at the same time she is, and Milioti is febrile, vibrant and active in the part, playing off of Samberg’s disarmingly charming performance beautifully.

Cristin Milioti in Made for Love, now available to stream on Neon.

Your dream

Or maybe it’s more of a nightmare.

Made for Love opens in the heart of the action, right after Milioti’s character, Hazel, has escaped from her tech billionaire’s mansion/fortress. She flips the fortress off, and goes on her way. What follows is a true bravura performance from Milioti, and the concept allows her to play the tragedy, the urgency and the comedy within every situation. One scene, played with a paper bag over her head, is one of the funniest things I’ve seen all year.

Made for Love’s premise might be a nightmare, but Cristin Milioti is a full dream in it.

You can stream Made for Love on Neon now. You can stream Meredith Brooks’ ‘Bitch‘ on Spotify.

Keep going!