TV Review

The Act: A Look At the Unthinkable

By Jennea Coleman-Cubero

In June 2015, a middle-aged woman, DeeDee Blanchard, was brutally stabbed multiple times in her home in Greene County, Missouri. Not only was she pronounced dead at the scene, but her young, extremely ill, wheelchair-bound daughter, Gypsy Rose, was missing. From this, along with a disturbing Facebook post, police were quick to believe this was a homicide and a kidnapping. A hypothesis that would be proven to be partially false when Gypsy was found walking, psychically healthy and guilty of taking part in murdering her own mother with the help of her secret boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn.

The investigation had also revealed that DeeDee was no saint. She was an abusive, manipulative liar who would put her healthy child through traumatizing treatments for ailments such as cancer. Nonetheless, by the trials’ end, Godejohn had been sentenced to life in prison while Blanchard would be sentenced to 10 years.

Fast forward to 2019 where the streaming service Hulu released a dramatic docuseries, The Act, showing Gypsy’s life of lies. The Act, as of now, consist of eight episodes with each one appearing every Wednesday. The show flashes back and forth from the murder scene to the events leading up to it, which starts with the Blanchard’s move from Louisiana to Missouri following Hurricane Katrina. In the pink house that was especially built for them by charities, DeeDee (Patricia Arquette) works hard as the primary caregiver for Gypsy (Joey King). She prepares her daily medicine and food, gives her baths, and shaves her head while the ill girl would be in the kitchen sink. Not only that, the younger Blanchard would be medically treated for getting her feeding tube fixed or having most of her teeth pulled out.

However, what Gypsy herself would eventually realize, is just how untrustworthy, manipulative, and oppressive her mother truly was. In addition, it would be revealed that DeeDee would lie about her daughter’s date of birth, but she also claims that the young girl was allergic to sugar even though a doctor had pointed out that Gypsy’s medicine has the ingredient and that no one can be allergic to sugar in the first place.

While Gypsy is the only one who knows the truth, other characters would slowly catch on. First, there is Dr. Lakshmi Chandra who is often suspicious of DeeDee. Then there is the neighbor, Mel, a cold single mother who, unlike Chandra or Gypsy, would eventually come around to trust the Blanchard matriarch after the latter tells her how Gypsy was abandoned by her father, a fact Mel can relate to as she had a horrible partner. Event after event, there would be a plethora of twists and turns that would contribute to Gypsy’s need to escape, even if it would mean horrible results.

The show is still running, and it has excellent elements worth watching. For one, everyone’s acting is well done. As the story is told through episodes, instead of a full-length movie, the actors can flesh their characters out as they develop. Though she does not look like the real Gypsy Blanchard, King still does an amazing job on getting the personality right. The actress is able to mimic her high-pitched, juvenile voice. And when the show wants to show Gypsy’s desires to become a free, grown woman, King can deliver the emotions. The same goes for Arquette, who manages to impersonate both of DeeDee’s Southern charm and disturbing, secretive instability.

Another thing The Act succeeds in is its discussion on topics such as tough love. Mel is often strict with her eldest child, Lacey (AnnaSophia Robb). Though the teen is kind, especially when with Gypsy, Lacey always has a rebellious streak. With their headstrong stubbornness, Mel and Lacey are seen butting heads. Foreshadowing things to come for DeeDee and Gypsy. Meanwhile, Dr. Chandra serves as one of the series’ best characters. As the only doctor shown to catch on to DeeDee’s claimants, she does investigate to see if Gypsy really is the sick child her own mother presents her as. In the very first episode, she tries to get Gypsy to take a sip of Coca Cola to test her sugar allergy. The Act gives viewers many good reasons to watch it.

However, the series would have flaws that rub some the wrong way. As The Act is a decent viewing, it is not without problems. The series would often switch from the scene of the crime to the past events. This is supposed make the audience wait in anticipation for the next episode by having them wonder what had happened. However, for those who had already known about the real-life case, it just leaves them annoyed. Finding the constant flashbacks tedious and unneeded.

Because the show is reality based, it is best to remember that it is not for younger viewers or for the faint of heart. Throughout the episodes, the topic of sexuality will be discussed along with some gruesome scenes where Gypsy would undergo painful procedures. Viewers discretion is best advised.

Another flaw would be the fact that only the Blanchards are real, but characters such as Lacey, Mel, and Dr. Chandra are created for the show. It is true, each episode would make it perfectly clear that the events of an episode are a dramatization and actual fact. However, when a movie or show is telling about a real-life occurrence, the people would, understandably, want the whole truth. Still, if one can get by with this problem, they would have an enjoyable viewing.

The show is not perfect by any means. Yet, The Act gives its audience a good plot along with awareness of the real case. For those brave enough to wrestle with reality, The Act will be an interesting experience.