'I Love Dick' flips script on sexual obsession

(CNN)Women have so often been portrayed as objects of desire in movies and literature that turning the tables still seems rather thrilling. That's the underlying conceit in Amazon's "I Love Dick," an adaptation of Chris Kraus's 20-year-old memoir that revels in its off-kilter tone, and derives most of its strength from its trio of central performances.

That would be Kathryn Hahn and Griffin Dunne as a couple who don't fully realize how bored and unhappy they are -- she a struggling filmmaker, he an author working on a tome about the Holocaust. Their humdrum life is given a major jolt when Dunne's Sylvere wins a fellowship that brings them to a small Texas town, where Chris (Hahn) becomes instantly drawn to his advisor, Dick, a role that adds yet another degree to Kevin Bacon's career.
"This is about obsession," Chris explains in a dry voiceover near the outset, reading the letters that she writes to Dick, which at once become an aphrodisiac for her and Sylvere and an eventual source of friction.
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Arrogant and gruff, Dick comes across as a sort-of intellectual Marlboro Man, complete with cowboy hat and ranch. Chris is amusingly tongue-tied around him at first, but the layers of this twisted three-way relationship pile up and become more unexpected over the course of eight episodes.
    Adapted by "Transparent" creator Jill Soloway, "I Love Dick" shares several qualities with that series, including its stark and decidedly unglamorous approach to sex. The indie-film sensibility also extends to the supporting players, an area in which "Dick" doesn't fare particularly well -- feeling like an edgier version of an NBC sitcom about eccentric characters in an artists' colony, only with a lot more nudity.
    Still, the serialized thread regarding Chris' awakening, Sylvere's unexpected willingness to play along and Dick's inscrutable nature generally pulls the viewer along -- despite how unlikeable they generally are -- thanks largely to the key performances.
    There is, admittedly, a gimmicky aspect to the show, from the cheeky double entendre built into the title to the bright red cards IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS to the fish-out-of-water setting -- less "Green Acres" for transplanted New Yorkers Chris and Sylvere than something closer to "Trailer Park Acres."
    Chris describes her preoccupation with Dick as "seeking to quench a lifetime of thirst." Yet there's a nagging sense that she's looking for satisfaction in the wrong places, and now that this palpable longing has been awakened, it will take more than one impossibly idealized guy to fill the void.
    As obsessions go, "I Love Dick" certainly isn't so compelling as to qualify as the next streaming one; still, the show's approach to Chris' plight and its peculiar triangle feels unique enough to make for a reasonably satisfying binge.
    "I Love Dick" premieres May 12 on Amazon.