As we continue to see the mass production and commercial success of true crime television, it's becoming safe to say that true crime has dethroned the romantic comedy genre as audiences' favorite form of guilty pleasure television. Although it's not entirely clear why so many of us enjoy delving deep into the horrifying worlds of real–life killers, convicts, and victims, entertainment companies like FOX, HBO, and Netflix have certainly taken notice. They continue to satisfy our thirsts for blood, gore, and drama in the form of quick, binge–worthy miniseries like Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story and Making a Murderer. The latest addition to the true crime TV dynasty, Hulu's The Act tells the absurd life story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard and the murder of her mother, Clauddine 'Dee Dee' Blanchard. The unique circumstances surrounding the crimes of the Blanchard household make The Act an equally horrifying and heartbreaking experience that is sure to make your stomach turn.
For those who are not familiar, Dee Dee Blanchard was a middle–aged, Louisiana woman, largely believed to have suffered from Munchausen syndrome by proxy and abused her daughter, Gypsy Rose, by fabricating that the young girl had various illnesses and diseases—ranging from a sugar allergy to leukemia. Not only did Dee Dee subject Gypsy to unnecessary treatments—including a feeding tube—for most of her life, but she also restricted Gypsy's living conditions, and treated her like a young child despite her being a young adult at the time. In June 2015, Gypsy planned and executed the murder of her mother, with the help of her then–boyfriend who she met online, Nicholas Godejohn, who also has a history of mental illness.
It's not easy to effectively portray the stories of Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose, but the legendary Patricia Arquette and up–and–coming Joey King are definitely the right actresses for the job. With her Louisiana twang and soothing, chirpy voice, Arquette embodies the Southern charm and motherly persona that allowed Dee Dee to trick doctors, scam organizations like Make–A–Wish and Habitat for Humanity, and abuse her daughter for almost two decades. Joey King, who shaved her head for the role, plays the same part that Gypsy was forced to play for much of her life—that of an unknowing, disabled child whose thoughts and opinions were limited solely to Disney princesses and stuffed animals. This persona is best seen in her strictly girly and toddler–like wardrobe and in King's imitation of Gypsy's trademark squeaky, high–pitched voice. As the series progresses, Gypsy begins to show interest in all the things her mother had restricted from her, including makeup, boys, and sugar. She begins to realize her mother's wrongdoings while Dee Dee struggles to keep a lid on the extravagant web of lies she's created. This tension results in even more abuse that eventually leads to Dee Dee's murder and Gypsy's incarceration. Both Arquette and King do an excellent job of portraying Dee Dee and Gypsy as the multi–faceted and complicated people they were by balancing the harsh, often gut–wrenching scenes of abuse, with instances of a seemingly loving and strong relationship between mother and daughter.
After breezing through the two–episode premiere of the series, you may find yourself in a deep internet hole, researching the actual lives and criminal history of Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose. What you'll find is a plethora of interviews and articles that contain details that are eerily identical to those of the series. You'll recognize reports of a large coat closet in the Blanchard home filled entirely with Gypsy's medications with creepy child–like labels like "Sleepy Baby" (aka Xanax). You'll see the Blanchard home living room as you did in the series—occupied totally by Gypsy's collection of stuffed animals and centered around a portrait of her depicted as a Disney princess with long, flowing hair. The number of details in the show that line up with the real events makes it all the more unsettling—but it's also what make a series like The Act so thrilling.
The Act is not an easy watch. It's the portrayal of an especially absurd and terrifying story of abuse and murder. The lines separating victim and predator are blurred here, which is something that doesn't happen too often in the true crime. It's going to be hard to reconcile the end of the series into a happy ending, when in reality there wasn't one. But it definitely will definitely be interesting to see how The Act will attempt to do so with the following episodes in the next few weeks.