“DEAR DICK,” begins the pilot of “I Love Dick,” in all-caps cards: “EVERY LETTER IS A LOVE LETTER.” The cards are narrated by Kathryn Hahn’s character Chris Kraus, a filmmaker whose name’s unfortunate similarity to ‘90s hip-hop duo Kris Kross is just part of her tragically unhip personality. As Chris, Hahn’s narration is monotone, flat, and aggressively pointed — the consonants that bookend the name “Dick” are delivered like whiplash. Chris’ words are from her letters to a sculptor named Dick Jarrett (Kevin Bacon), a man who becomes the object and vessel for the personal, sexual, and creative crisis she experiences as she arrives in the artistic community of Marfa, Texas with her husband, academic philosopher Sylvère (Griffin Dunne).
Or to be more blunt: “THIS IS ABOUT OBSESSION.”
“I Love Dick,” the show, is based on the semi-true 1997 book of the same name — written by real-life independent filmmaker Chris Kraus about her obsession with real-life theorist Dick Hebdige. Kraus constructed the book as a series of letters to Dick, reveling in his nakedly Freudian name and using that as the provocative starting point of her storytelling. The Amazon show updates the era, moves the action to Marfa, and adds the critical element of an auteur’s eye — in this case, Jill Soloway, the vision behind the streaming service’s award-winning “Transparent.” (There is a whole extra layer of ‘90s-era academia and intertextual influence at play: Soloway’s girlfriend is poet Eileen Myles — fictionalized in the last two seasons of “Transparent” as Leslie, played by Cherry Jones — and Myles is a longtime colleague of Kraus’; she even wrote the foreword to “I Love Dick.”)
It was Myles’ idea to bring the production to Marfa — and the wide-open deserts of West Texas, coupled with the insular artistic community of the town, make for a singular backdrop for Chris’ obsessions. In some ways, it’s the only way that “I Love Dick” is plausible on television; it is only because Chris is unmoored from her usual surroundings and immersed in a hyper-verbal community of self-examined artists that she can be so toppled by six feet of cowboy-intellectual — a man so conscious of his own appeal, and so disdainful of those who are susceptible to it, that he is like a sexual black hole. (Bacon, a picture-perfect Hollywood stud of a certain age, is impeccably cast.)
This story of turning a man into the object of a woman’s obsession is perfect for Soloway, who has been explicit about her efforts to create a cinematic grammar for the “female gaze,” a concept that is usually defined as the theoretical counterpoint to the ubiquitous male gaze of the camera. Soloway is not mincing around;