This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason The show doesn't start streaming until the day after this post's publication; we got screeners.
Will You Love I Love Dick?
Jill Solway's new Amazon series follows sexual obsession into the Texas backcountry. Should you go there too?
What Is This Thing?
Chris Kraus (Kathryn Hahn), an unsuccessful independent filmmaker, accompanies her husband Sylvere (Griffin Dunne) to an art colony in Marfa, TX. There, she develops a sexual obsession with the colony's founder, Dick (Kevin Bacon). Her pursuit of Dick strains her marriage and leads Chris to question her worth as an artist, wife, and...well, human being.
When Is It On?
The entire eight-episode season drops May 12 on Amazon.
Why Was It Made Now?
The series builds on showrunner Jill Soloway's successes over the past few years, from Afternoon Delight, an independent film (starring Hahn) that earned her the Directing Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and, more recently, the highly acclaimed Amazon series Transparent. I Love Dick also emerged as a winner of Amazon's 2016 pilot season; previous winners include Transparent and The Man In The High Castle
What's Its Pedigree?
The series is based on Chris Kraus's 1997 cult novel of the same name, and has talent coming out of its ears. Soloway's list of credits is pretty amazing. In addition to creating Transparent, she served as a writer and executive producer on Six Feet Under, and did the same for the second season of The United States Of Tara.
Then there's the cast. Kathryn Hahn -- an actor who can pretty much do anything -- plays Chris and, if the world is a just place, should be a massive star. In addition to working with Soloway on the aforementioned Transparent and Delight, she's appeared in a long list of TV series and feature films, including We're the Millers, Revolutionary Road, Crossing Jordan, and (personal fav) Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy. Veteran actor Griffin Dunne (An American Werewolf In London, After Hours) plays Chris's husband Silver.
And, of course, there's The Bacon. Kevin Bacon serves in the titular role of Dick. He's well-cast, if for no other reason than that he is smoking hot.
I have not stopped thinking about this show for two days; it’s a singularly unique program. To start, the whole look and feel of the show is very reminiscent of 1990s-era independent films. Think Bodies, Rest And Motion or Kicking And Screaming (the Noah Baumbach film, not the Will Ferrell one). There is very little in the way of plot, and the characters spend a lot of time talking about big ideas or the human condition, usually while imbibing various forms of intoxicants. In other words, it's a character study of flawed, lost people perpetually stuck in the mind of a twentysomething liberal arts major who refused to go to law school.
And while less-skilled writers and actors would make it incredibly difficult to elicit any sort of sympathy for the main characters in I Love Dick -- who can be self-involved, preening slaves adhering desperately to their largely insignificant artistic visions -- Soloway, Hahn, and the others reveal the fully formed yet contradictory personalities underneath the surface. I found them endlessly fascinating, often frustrating, and occasionally unbearable. I had an English teacher once tell me that James Joyce didn't use a single word that he had not thoughtfully considered before committing it to paper. This show comes across the same way. The writing and performances feel both effortless and thoughtfully constructed.
Kathryn Hahn shines as Chris: she's a woman of a certain age who envisions herself as an artist -- despite a lack of talent -- largely as a way to claim an identity for herself separate from her successful professor husband, and as means to explain her rejection of society's expectations for middle-class white women. She sees so much potential in herself as a social and cultural rebel, but also refuses to own her limitations and failures. Faced with artistic rejection and the cracks it creates in her façade of self-deception, she throws herself into the pursuit of Dick, a man who finds her uninteresting both sexually and artistically. The fact that Dick is a pretentious jackass coasting on his past successes -- he hasn't completed a work of art in years and explains the fact that he hasn't read a book in over a decade by claiming he is "post-idea" -- only makes Chris's obsession with him that much more painful to watch.
Griffin Dunne turns in an excellent performance as Sylvere, Chris's husband, who has flaws of his own -- most notably his need to shamelessly flirt with Toby, a young female artist also in residence at the colony. The portrayal of the marriage between Chris and Sylvere is complex and immediately familiar.
Real love still exists between them after years of marriage, but they are also aware of each other's weaknesses and shortcomings, making it that much easier for them to land hurtful blows when the fantasy they created -- based on letters Chris writes to Dick -- gets out of their control.
There are a few flaws that tarnish this otherwise excellent show. Kevin Bacon has little to do, at least in the first half of the season. Since he's the object of Chris's obsession, the argument can be made that we shouldn't get to know Dick intimately: her attraction to him is built not only on his innate charisma, but his existence as little more than an object on which to project her sexual fantasies; knowing too much about him would ruin that.
Still, having Dick do little besides insult Chris and then stroll slowly while exuding a smoldering sexiness seems a waste of Bacon's talents. I recognize, of course, that this is a criticism that applies to a million, billion female actors on TV shows and in movies in which the woman is the target of the sexual fantasy. Which is one of the main takeaways from I Love Dick, I guess.
Also, the secondary narrative arch about Devon seems less thought out than the rest of the show, although given how well everything else is done, I'm willing to give the writers the benefit of the doubt and trust that it will make sense by the end of the series.
I have intentionally never used the word "compelling" to describe any TV show -- but it seems like the best choice here. I did not blow through the first few episodes because it was a pleasant, enjoyable, easy, or funny view. In fact, at times, it's quite the opposite. But, man, I needed to stay involved with these engaging, complex, frail, broken, and weird yet oddly relatable characters. It's unlike almost anything else on TV right now -- by which I mean better. Even at its most annoying, you can't look away.