‘I Love Dick’ Makes A Lot of Sex and Art Jokes

I Love Dick is a new Amazon Prime series starring Kevin Bacon, Kathryn Hahn, and Griffin Dunne — it’s kind of a comedy, kind of a drama: eight half-hour episodes of hyped-up emotions. This is the new show from Jill Soloway, who gave the world Transparent; I Love Dick is based on the book of the same name by Chris Kaus. Hahn and Dunne play married-couple Chris and Sylvere — she’s a struggling experimental filmmaker, he’s a successful academic specializing in studies of the Holocaust. He gets offered a fellowship at an arts enclave in Marfa, Texas, and they leave their New York City warren to settle into Marfa’s cool-kid art colony for a semester. There they encounter the Dick of the show’s title, a laconic, cowboy-hatted sort of Marlboro Man of the arts, played by Bacon.

Chris and Sylvere are going through marital difficulties. Their passion for each other flickers, and their uneven professional achievements cause mutual irritation. Upon arriving in Marfa, Hahn’s Chris takes one look at Dick — who seems such a strong, rooted, macho contrast to her bookish husband and his flighty academic scene — and she is swept up in an instant crush. Chris begins writing “Dear Dick” letters, unsent missives exploring her feelings; the letters that turn into an art project of its own. These letters also become part of the narration of the show, a unifying element around which the subplots turn.

For much of its eight-episode first-season length, I Love Dick can’t seem to make up its mind whether it’s a satire of the contemporary art world, or a love letter to it. It’s a show in which a character can deliver a mouthful such as, “It’s a stunning embodiment of a new [experiment] where academia and art and social media create a post-modern bricolage of high and low culture” — and I Love Dick challenges you to either be awed by or laugh at that word-salad’s low-carb pretensions.

The performances of Hahn and Dunne are strikingly good, all the more so given the emptiness of so much of their dialogue. Their rowdy domestic fights achieve effectiveness almost entirely through this duo’s energetic and witty delivery, not the actual content of what they’re saying to each other. As the series proceeds, it becomes more predictable: You know that Soloway’s would-be-radical, doctrinaire-progressive approach to Transparent and I Love Dick will inevitably compel her to deconstruct Dick’s verile-dude self-image, and raise Hahn’s Chris above the male characters. There are so many scenes of nudity and sex intended critique the so-called “male gaze” that you come to think Soloway wants it both ways: to turn you on, and make you feel bad for feeling turned-on. And in either case, she makes sure one character or another comments on that paradox, just so she can say, implicitly, “Nyah-nyah, doesn’t matter what you say: I already thought of that!”

You watch I Love Dick — and yes, the show really commits, over and over, to the naughty joke of the title — and hear its citations of avant-garde touchstones such as the filmmaker Maya Deren and novelist Kathy Acker, note the way Dick’s minimalist earth-art is supposed to remind you of former Marfa resident/artist Donald Judd, and wonder whether you’re watching a TV show or attending a lecture. As someone who enjoys both, I wish the show were a livelier version of either.

I Love Dick is streaming now on Amazon Prime.

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