Welcome back to the Bingeworthy Breakdown, the feature where we ask ourselves if a show is worth watching or not. For the new Amazon show “I Love Dick,” the answer is a resounding “Yes,” which perhaps is all you need to know, especially if you love creator Jill Soloway‘s Emmy-winning “Transparent” (which you should, given that it’s been in our top 5 for the best TV shows of the year for three years running, including last year). But while ‘Dick’ features similar ideas about identity, transgression (and transgressive art), sexuality and self-discovery, all presented with intimate, viscerally emotional starkness, in many ways it’s a totally different, equally engaging show. It’s electric and bold in a way the more tender-hearted “Transparent” isn’t. There’s a fervid, rip-your-clothes-off, boundary-pushing quality to the show, with its bold red title cards and opening voice-over monologues that start with, “Dear Dick…” It’s raw and unsparing, but bursting with blood and messy desperation.It’s self-indulgent, but in the best way possible. Stick around so I can tell you the many reasons to watch this vibrant show, unvarnished and naked in its depiction of humanistic but female-centered desire.
How have you been?
Busy. I haven’t kicked out a Bingeworthy Breakdown in a while, but “I Love Dick” is so compelling, I had to roll up my sleeves.
OK, what is it about? Is it about loving…dick?
Perhaps metaphorically. “I Love Dick” is about a struggling filmmaker disillusioned with her career and stuck in a dysfunctional marriage. The central protagonist is Chris (a tour-de-force Kathryn Hahn, one of our best actresses working today), whose husband Sylvere (Griffin Dunne, also brilliant), a professor and Holocaust scholar, married Chris when she was young and one of his students. However, one episode is titled “Scenes From A Marriage,” nodding its cap to Ingmar Bergman, which indicates that the show is not just completely about Chris’ point of view.
I’m getting there. With Chris about to finish a new film and submit to festivals, the couple, at the behest of Sylvere, move to Marfa, Texas, for quiet and space away from New York and so he can work on his research fellowship. The initial idea is actually for Sylvere to move to Marfa alone to write, but when her film-fest hopes fall apart, Chris tags along to this remote Texas town. But without a project on hand for ballast, Chris falls into an existential funk.
Meanwhile, in the artistic and highly academic community of Marfa lives the famous and vital conceptual artist Dick (a tremendous Kevin Bacon), a kind of uber-masculine, rugged cowboy type straight out of a Cormac McCarthy book, with Guggenheim awards and any number of highly esteemed grants and prizes to his name. Escaping the New York art world for similar reasons to those of Chris and Sylvere, Dick has chosen a more reclusive life. He’s the aloof, opaque and loner star of Marfa who values his privacy and distance. Perhaps more importantly, he hasn’t made a piece of work in several years. Upon meeting Dick in the vibrant art spaces of Marfa, Chris becomes openly obsessed with the artist and it begins to strain and challenge the boundaries of her marriage. Dick oozes indifferent cool, but he’s unknowably detached.
So Chris is in love with Dick?
It’s not that simple. Chris’ ardor for Dick is an obsession and infatuation that is perhaps not rooted in reality, but that shouldn’t (and doesn’t) undercut or undermine her agency. It’s a psycho-sexual compulsion, but Chris is far from nuts.
Her unapologetic fixation with Dick, while carnal, sexual and lustful, is an extension of her existential crisis, but also her sexless marriage. Dick is a no-bullshit kind of guy: a standoffish, blunt prick who decimates any artist in one of his seminars if he feels their work rings dishonest or phony. He is brutally candid in all aspects of life, and he is merciless upon meeting Chris, and this seems to fuel her fascination with him. In many ways — and this complexity is what’s so compelling about the show — it’s a reversal of traditional gender objectification via Chris and her female gaze toward Dick. Suffice it to say, it’s complicated.
What about —
I should make an addendum to the feminist gaze of the show. It’s certainly there, but the story does shift POV “Rashomon”-style to other characters who all orbit, watch and experience Chris’ preoccupation with Dick. One of her “projects,” or perhaps just an explosive burst of expression, is writing passionate, unflinching, even aggressive letters to Dick. Initially, she has no intent to publish them, but eventually her pent up frustration leads to posting the missives all over town, embarrassing the private lone wolf. The writing is so ardent, so vomited out in fever-dream mania, that even Sylvere, in his own crisis about potentially losing his wife, can recognize it’s phenomenal work and the best thing she’s written in years.