I Love Dick
“Ostensibly a love letter to a grizzled cowboy, I Love Dick is actually an ode to women everywhere.”
Title: I Love Dick
Episodes Reviewed: Season 1
Creators: Jill Soloway 👩🏼👨🏼🇺🇸🌈 and Sarah Gubbins 👩🏼🇺🇸🌈
Writers: Chris Kraus 👩🏼🇺🇸 (original story), Jill Soloway 😀🇺🇸🌈 (8 eps), Sarah Gubbins 👩🏼🇺🇸🌈 (8 eps), Heidi Schrek 👩🏼🇺🇸 (3 eps), and various (5 women—2 white, 1 Latina, 1 East Asian, and 1 black)
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
Holy shit, this show. What a beautiful, sloppy, incoherent, raunchy, profound tangle of life and art. These eight snappy episodes will make you cringe and laugh and roll your eyes, while reaching inside you to take your breath away. Certain lines pierce straight through, speaking truth with a vulgar matter-of-factness:
I want to have the kind of sex that makes breathing feel like fucking.
All I want is to be undignified, to trash myself.
I want to own everything that happens to me now.
Having not read the book I wonder how much of the stellar writing can be attributed to the original source material. Regardless, watching I Love Dick with fresh eyes and no expectations was a revelation. A sumptuous soundtrack struts to the desert backdrop while drug-induced hallucinations mix high art with the banal, evoking a heat mirage of a TV show that’s both reflective but pleasantly distorted.
Luckily, the show has a running thesis to keep the experimentation in check. Despite its sometimes helicoptering levels of self-awareness—back the fuck off, exposition, I want to discover for myself—I Love Dick knows where it wants to go with its material and makes a beeline for it.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES
Ostensibly a love letter to the grizzled cowboy who is made the subject of Chris Kraus’ obsession (played by Kathryn Hahn), I Love Dick is actually an ode to women everywhere.
The show explores the mental and emotional ramifications women experience by being treated as public property. By simply reversing gender roles, wherein Chris (and the local residents) are the beholders and Dick is the spectacle, we are able to see society’s practice of objectifying women from a fresh angle. Think of I Love Dick as a longer, more fleshed out rendition of gender role-reversal shorts commonly found on the Internet. A bit of dialogue between Dick and Chris’ husband, Sylvère, was an especial gut punch:
Sylvère: “You know, I don't think you have been completely innocent in all of this. I find it a little hard to believe that [Chris] would make all this up without some sort of, uh, reciprocation from you.”
Dick: “Oh, shut the fuck up.”
Sylvère: “No, I mean, subconscious or not, I mean, you ride a horse into town. You've got a cowboy hat and that belt buckle. I mean, what's the effect you're going for? Just tell me that.”
TOO. REAL. I Love Dick just gets it, and it’s both painful and cathartic to fantasize about men understanding what it’s like to be victim-blamed.
I Love Dick boasts a diverse cast, thankfully skipping any tiresome conversations about ethnicity or countries of origin and instead fast-forwarding to the part where they’re all Americans who happen to be black, brown, or white.
Several characters are great, such as museum curator Paula (played by Lily Mojekwu, who is black), but I was especially taken with Roberta Colindrez in her role as the androgynous Devon. Her character tackles race with a naturalness that feels like living and breathing, not reading lines. Perhaps it’s due to the actress’ own heritage (Colindrez was born in Mexico and is of Argentinian and Honduran descent.) One scene in particular stands out: when her love interest Toby (played by India Menuez) makes a scene by livestreaming herself as performance art, reclined in the nude in the middle of a male-dominated worksite, and Devon chews her out:
Devon: “It seems to me like you're just real busy inflicting all your privilege on all these working class mostly brown dudes just so that somebody out there, or you, can see what might happen.”
Toby: “That's condescending. It's an exercise in the mutual debasement of foreign bodies invading foreign lands.”
Devon: [scoffs] “Foreign. Toby, please. You're using these guys without their consent. You do realize this is, like, their livelihood? You know? They're human beings, they're not just your fucking lab rats. It's fucking unethical.”
Again, the theme of having the right to your own body comes through. I Love Dick walks the walk, too, allowing its characters of color the rights to their own bodies by infusing each person with a sense of agency through unexpected characterizations (such as a stoner East Asian) as well as a refreshing lack of self-consciousness in depicting what might come off as stereotypes in other shows (having a bespectacled South Asian do his fellowship on video game art). The key here is multi-facetedness. In my book, you can pretty much get away with any depiction of POC so long as they are complex characters with their own agendas, desires, and vulnerabilities.
That being said, the primary actors in I Love Dick are all white and in a setting, Marfa, that lends a palpable whiff of both whitewashed folklore (lone cowboys, local saloons and cracked earth) as well as modern-day white privilege (Burning Man and high art, drugs and outfits pulled from a Coachella lookbook). It’s the perfect setting for a show that blurs the lines between art and life, but it doesn’t help the feeling that this is the story of a white feminist who at least has the sense to include writers of color and different perspectives.
As mentioned above, Devon is an incredible character. She’s sex on legs, prowling across the screen with purposeful gender fluidity. Is she transgender, or a lesbian? Does it matter? The answer is no. She’s just Devon, doe-eyed and romantic and jealous, effortlessly cool and nonchalant yet simultaneously so vulnerable it hurts. She’s one of the most interesting and complex LGBTQ characters I’ve seen onscreen in a while.
Mediaversity Grade: A- 4.50/5
I Love Dick taps into life experiences from its showrunners who are both white and queer. It follows naturally then, that the show sticks the landing on Gender and LGBTQ representation. As for Race, their inclusion of writers of color lends itself to complex non-white characters, but other than episode 5, “A Short History of Weird Girls”—which is my favorite episode largely because it takes a break from Chris and includes other female stories—racial identity is not the focus of this project which aims for higher, loftier goals of commenting on the objectification of human bodies as public property.