On May 1, 2019, the Hulu original series The Act wrapped up. For those not yet familiar, The Act is a dramatization of the true story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard (Joey King) and her struggle for independence from her mother, Dee Dee (Patricia Arquette), who is overprotective, overbearing, and very likely exhibiting Munchausen by proxy.
Specifically—and none of what I am about to speak of should be considered a spoiler, as all is public record and would be deduced by any premise summary and within the first few minutes of episode 1—the series focuses on Gypsy realizing that not only is she not as ill as her mother would lead her to believe, but she’s actually several years older than she believes. All of this and more culminates in Dee Dee’s murder. However, it is not the destination that matters here but rather the journey that leads to that destination.
When I started this series, I knew almost nothing about the true events that took place, but I was soon consumed by the story and its details. I even viewed the 2017 HBO documentary special Mommy Dead and Dearest, which covers essentially everything the series does and features prison interviews with Gypsy—I highly recommend it if you can watch it. I grew up with a mother who, though she didn’t come close to what is displayed in this series, was at times overprotective. I also come from a family history of mental illness. Not only did this story happen, but others like it happen too; mental illness and child abuse are no joke, especially when someone is experiencing both together. I’d like to thank this series for bringing to light such an important subject. It isn’t often a television series can have such a poignant message without feeling forced or politicized, but I think it came off brilliantly in this case.
That said, I was drawn to this show initially not by the story but by Joey King. Now 19, she is known for her roles as a child actress in such films as The Conjuring and Oz: The Great and Powerful, though I personally had made note of her talent in Netflix’s The Kissing Booth, which came out last year. When I saw that film, I was sure she was ready for a breakthrough beyond child-star status. However, her role as Gypsy in The Act was very different than what audiences may think of, or even be comfortable with, when they think of King. To say she goes all out and covers a lot of ground in her performance would be an understatement. She covers the innocence of a child in one episode, the struggle for independence from her mother and budding hormonal changes in another, and the guilt of her actions in yet another. She is the epitome of versatility.
Speaking of versatile, there is Patricia Arquette. Arquette has played many likable and sympathetic characters, but this is not the case in The Act. With each episode, I found myself hating Dee Dee more and more. I feel this was a job well done, especially in how she may make you border on regretting all those feelings by the end of the series. Combined, she and King are a force to be reckoned with. They are a solid acting duo that will leave you stunned, devastated, and a loss for words. I pity anyone who goes against either of them for any Emmy nominations that may deservedly come.
I cannot put into words how this show will make you feel. Some will cry, some will doubt, some may scoff. Despite it all, everything is based on actual events. I cannot recommend it enough. If you don’t have Hulu, I suggest signing up for a free trial week—it’ll be worth it to see this series.