If You Want to See Amazon Make ‘I Love Dick,’ You Better Vote
The pilot retains enough texture from the original to leave you wanting more.
If ever there were a show that had the art crowd rooting for it, it is I Love Dick. Based on the beloved, twisted autobiographical novel by the experimental art critic Chris Kraus, the show debuted in August as part of Amazon’s “Pilot Season,” a mildly manipulative initiative that has the online TV giant wheel out potential shows, asking its audience to vote on which they most want to see.
At its launch, I Love Dick was the odds-on favorite to get picked up, coming from Jill Soloway, the creative force behind Amazon’s most celebrated hit, Transparent. Last week, Variety reported that the show was “nearing greenlight,” with Soloway saying that that Amazon had “already ordered the scripts.” Amazon, however, denied that it had made any such decision.
If you are one of those who want to see the amorous misadventures of “Chris Kraus” (played by the great Kathryn Hahn) come to the screen, however, you might still want to get in there and vote.
“Pilot Season” pits Soloway’s take on I Love Dick against two challengers: a rather pointless-feeling ironic superhero comedy, The Tick (a character that nevertheless has an inbuilt fan base); and the high-concept, lowbrow Jean-Claude Van Johnson, which features the ‘80s action star playing himself as a secret crime fighter.
As of this writing, The Tick has more than 12,000 reviews, averaging five stars; Jean-Claude Van Johnson has more than 7,700 ratings, averaging a four-and-a-half star rating.
I Love Dick, meanwhile, has just over 5,000 reviews, and they are the definition of mixed: 34 percent five-star reviews, and 26 percent one-star reviews, for an average in the three-star region.
It’s true that in mainstreaming Kraus’s book, Soloway has sanded away a lot of what makes the source material a cult object in the first place. Presumably not to make it too alien to American audiences, the character of Sylvère Lotringer—played by Griffin Dunne and based on the real-life, French-born pomo theorist and publisher of theory imprint Semiotext(e)—is reimagined as an American professor, while the character of romantic interest Dick—played by Kevin Bacon and based on Dick Hebdige, the British-born media theorist who pioneered the study of “subculture,” is also reimagined… as an American professor.
The set-up in the pilot abandons entirely the kinky lead-in of the book, in which self-described “cynical rapacious libertines” Lotringer and Kraus both become inexplicably obsessed with Dick, luring him into a romantic entanglement with the promise of participation in a Sophie Calle-style art project incorporating their crazed letters to him. Instead of being the “best, most subtle and associative listener she’d ever find,” Dunne’s Lotringer is a thoughtless oaf; instead of intriguing Kraus with his intelligence, vulnerability, and “hopelessly naïve” art, Bacon’s Dick is a craggy authority figure whose forceful intellectual chauvinism is a turn on.
It all feels much more like a vehicle for Soloway’s self-described core obsession (“somewhat unlikable Jewish women having really inappropriate ideas about life and sex”), than Kraus’s (“the alienation of the postmodern intellectual in its most diseased form,” as she sardonically characterizes her own story in the book).
Still, the pilot retains enough texture from the original to leave you wanting more. The other two Amazon offerings are hip, ironic guy stuff; I Love Dick is told from the POV of a smart, maddeningly self-questioning, creative woman. It’s better at showing her neuroses than her intelligence, but give it time.
Amazon is not really clear about what metrics it uses to pick winners in “Pilot Season.” Early on, Transparent had the fewest and lowest user reviews in its brush with fans. These days, with more than 33,000 reviews, Transparent’s first season sits at a comfortable four-and-a-half star average, winning a slew of accolades and basically making the reputation of Amazon Studios, so Dick still has a good shot.
Still, I Love Dick is mature stuff, straddling the line between lacerating cult source material and a more winsome mainstream version, so it’s not a sure thing.
“I don’t think there’s much film potential in it because none of the characters are likable,” Kraus’s narrator says at one point in the book, imagining a review of her own story—which is pretty much what the chatter is among the pilot’s less enthusiastic viewers. I hope TV’s gotten mature enough to prove her wrong.
Here’s a sampling of what the Amazon peanut gallery is saying:
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