“The Act” is a true crime anthology series starring Joey King (“The Kissing Booth”) as Gypsy Rose Blanchard and Patricia Arquette (“Boyhood”) as Dee Dee Blanchard. This mother-daughter pair has an abusive, dependent and complex relationship that stems from the lie Dee Dee forces Gypsy to live; though she is an average, healthy girl, Gypsy must pretend she suffers from many severe illnesses and diseases. In the first two episodes, Hulu does a harrowing job at bringing this unique case to life.
The series is based on a true, disturbing story that broke headlines in the summer of 2015. Dee Dee is assumed to have had Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSbP), a disorder that causes a person to act as if “an individual he or she is caring for has a physical or mental illness when the person is not really sick.” Ever since Gypsy was born, Dee Dee raised her as if she had critical illnesses and diseases to garner sympathy, attention and donations from different charitable organizations.
When she was 18 years old, Gypsy began an online relationship with a 24-year-old man named Nicholas Godejohn, played by Calum Worthy in the series. In a 2017 Dr. Phil interview, Gypsy claimed Godejohn had “multiple personalities” and could easily exhibit a violent persona. At this point in her life, she was fully aware of her mother’s cruelty and confided in Godejohn the truth of her situation. When the two met face-to-face for the first time, they conspired to murder her together.
The first two episodes of “The Act” are gripping and well-done on all fronts. Arquette marvelously plays Dee Dee as a worried, obsessive mother who’s devoted to “taking care” of Gypsy for the rest of her life. It’s hard to watch her force medication, a breathing tube and a wheelchair onto Gypsy knowing full well she doesn’t need them. To their neighbors, Dee Dee comes across as frantic, but more than anything she’s seen as someone trying to help Gypsy rather than isolate, abuse and manipulate her. With Dee Dee’s mental condition, however, she likely didn’t think she was causing Gypsy harm, making the scenario all the more mind-bending. Arquette masters this complexity of her character. Additionally, King does an exceptional job in her role, playing Gypsy so realistically that if one wasn’t aware of her real health, they could easily believe she suffered from all the conditions she was said to have.
The series mixes in the police at the scene of Dee Dee’s murder in 2015 alongside flashbacks to the beginning of the story. They start when the Blanchards first moved to Springfield, Missouri, where the show takes place. This structure helps build suspense as viewers become eager to see how the events evolve into the violent end they know is coming.
For any fans of true crime shows or crime documentaries, “The Act” appears to be a perfect fit. With a strong cast and an addicting, troubling story, it’s hard to stop watching. These first two episodes put a great deal out in terms of the narrative and exposition, but there’s plenty left to be told for the remainder of its run, such as the introduction of Godejohn and Gypsy’s court trial. If the upcoming episodes can build upon the strong foundation laid down in its premiere, then “The Act” has the potential to be a worthwhile series.
Contact Kira Baldau at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.