“Is it weird that this is not at all what I expected?”
That’s the first thing New Yorker Chris Kraus says to her husband Sylvère as they drive into Marfa, Texas, toward the beginning of Jill Soloway’s new Amazon pilot I Love Dick. Though it’s been swathed with a significant amount of cultural caché over the past few years due to its thriving arts scene (you’ve certainly seen this “Prada store”), Marfa is still an old, dusty, teeny tiny little town in the middle of west Texas. But that’s where this strange new show, based on a cult ‘90s novel about a directionless filmmaker who becomes obsessed with her husband’s shitty, sexy friend, takes place. Is it weird that this is not at all what I expected?
I Love Dick, the book, is a novel that people both love to love and love to hate. Its more passionate admirers (or haters) are more intellectual than I am and probably found significantly greater pleasure in the myriad literary and philosophical references that went over my head. That said, I (a man, by the way) will begin and end my critique of it with a comment as simple as, “Good book! I enjoyed the reading experience! Hope that’s fine!” (P.S. you should read noted Dick-lover Emily Gould’s essay on it.)
Kraus’s 1994 novel is an odd, intense, and frequently hilarious story told mostly in the form of letters from Chris and Sylvère to Dick, the object of Chris’s obsession, who is largely absent as a physical character. But Soloway’s adaptation (Kraus was a consultant on the show) changes its central location (from California to Texas) as well as its structure, turning Chris’s letter writing into punctuations for the story, not the sentences themselves. “Dear Dick,” she says in voiceover as the show begins. “Every letter is a love letter.” The white on red text that accompanies this, like much of the show’s stylistic flourishes, comes across like a desperate attempt to bring the feeling of reading Kraus’s book to the screen. And what’s worse, no one on that screen appears to be convinced that any of it is actually working. Probably because, for the most part, it isn’t.
I’ll never complain about seeing Kathryn Hahn in anything, but even though she’s proving herself to be one of this generation’s most talented actors, her impassioned performance never took this pilot anywhere truly exciting. Newcomer Roberta Colindrez (from Broadway’s Fun Home) as the Marfa-born artist/groundskeeper of sorts who lives next to Chris and Sylvère is the only other compelling character, but her plans to write a play about her new neighbors failed to offer enough to grab on to for me to petition Amazon for more. Even Kevin Bacon’s steamy portrayal of the titular Dick—particularly during the big dinner scene—was just another puff of gas into this episode of television that never quite figures out how to light it.
Eh. Maybe I’m being too hard on this show because Soloway’s Transparent is one of my favorite anythings ever. And, again, I am a man. But I wanted to love I Love Dick more. Instead, I just think Dick is fine.
But this shot? This shot was a nice way to end anything.