The Act is a seasonal anthology series that tells startling, stranger-than-fiction true crime stories.
Season One follows Gypsy Blanchard (Joey King), a girl trying to escape the toxic relationship she has with her overprotective mother, Dee Dee (Patricia Arquette). Her quest for independence opens Pandora’s box of secrets, one that ultimately leads to murder.
Review by Lauryn Medland
If you have been on any form of internet streaming service lately, you’ve definitely seen the never-ending spin-off shows created almost every week. More and more of these shows created seem to have a dark, twisted core – consisting of shows like Netflix’s The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann, and The Ted Bundy Tapes, as well as Hulu’s The Act. Shows about abductions, serial killers and mothers with mental health illnesses. These are the kind of TV shows that really make you analyze all the relationships in your life and how different they could be. That is the best way I can describe The Act on Hulu. It stays in your thoughts long after you’ve watched it and it highlights important taboo subjects such as mental health, disabilities and even the health care system.
The television show, The Act, tells the story of an abusive, overbearing mother and her disabled daughter – or so we thought – and how their life changes after moving to a new neighborhood. Since the series is brand new and ongoing, only the first four episodes will be discussed in this review. The audience first gets introduced to Gypsy, a 14-year-old girl who has a wheelchair, and a bald head, and consumes her diet through a feeding tube through her abdomen. From this first impression, the audience can evidently tell that Gypsy has health issues and can’t take care of herself on her own. That is where her mother – Dee Dee – comes into play. Dee Dee is a ray of sunshine that captures everyone’s hearts with a quick smile and her love and devotion towards her daughter. At first, their relationship appears to be innocent and strong as Dee Dee takes care of everything for Gypsy. However, it becomes clear further into the season that Gypsy doesn’t have any say at all in her life and is being controlled by her mother. Hulu does an excellent job of slowly opening up the audience to this corrupted relationship but also making sure not to hide it, so the audience can form their own opinions as the show goes on. They are able to ignore the pressing signs of mental health illness and choose to continue to believe Dee Dee is doing what’s best for Gypsy or they can become skeptical of their relationship, wondering when it’s going to come crashing down. Since the duo just moved into a new neighborhood, the audience finds out more about their relationship just as the neighbors do, but only the audience is able to see behind the scenes when they are alone. This reveals just how well Dee Dee is able to control Dee Dee and only keep their problems behind closed doors. The episodes become harder and harder to watch as you begin to realize the truly deep and disturbing truths of their mother-daughter relationship and as Dee Dee gradually loses her grip on Gypsy.
There are three important points in the show that cause the audience to recognize just how warped Dee Dee’s love and concern for Gypsy has become and that their relationship is deeply corrupt. The first instance was when the family had a surprise visit from a social worker. When Dee Dee became aware that it was a social worker at the front door, she immediately ran to the giant closet full of Gypsy’s medications and snatched a bottle named “sleepy baby” which was a bottle of Xanax and shamed Gypsy into taking it. This action showed the audience the unjust lengths Dee Dee will go to to make Gypsy appear sicker than she truly is and needs help. This is when the audience starts to go skeptical of Dee Dee as she starts to show her true colors.
After starting to doubt her mother a little, the next critical scene was when Gypsy finally decided to eat sugar and see if her allergy to sugar was in fact real. Dee Dee had repeatedly told Gypsy if she ate sugar she would die, even though she was told by multiple doctors that Gypsy had no such allergy. When Dee Dee fell asleep, Gypsy went into the kitchen – whipped cream in one hand and her epi-pen in the other – and decided to seek the truth. When the audience sees that nothing happened when Gypsy ate the whipped cream, the doubt in Dee Dee mother creeps in further and further.
Although there are many moments in the show that cause the audience to distrust Dee Dee, a truly eye-opening scene was when she was sat on the couch – in the home built by habitat for humanity – opening up envelopes of money people had donated to Gypsy. Dee Dee nonchalantly grabbed the cash from the heartfelt letters and put it in her special fund – which happened to be a Ziploc bag filled with more money. Although they had funds, Gypsy got nothing she asked for and was always waiting for award money or donations to get her teeth fixed or get a new wheelchair. Dee Dee’s actions affected Gypsy greatly, but they also impacted children with disabilities around the world that weren’t receiving the necessary help. Even though Gypsy could talk fine, walk fine and eat fine, she was confined to a wheelchair, and eating through a food tube. Dee Dee wanted to maintain this look of helplessness so people would continue to help by sending money and financial awards to Gypsy. Dee Dee went from appearing as this thoughtful and overbearing mother to an ingenious mother getting endless perks and money because of something that doesn’t exist.
Overall, the Hulu original brings a new kind of dark and twisted to the table. Instead of a mundane documentary, the true story is told using fiction which allows the audience to experience the suspense and uncovering, rather than a narrator telling the story. The show begins with Dee Dee displayed as a loving and thoughtful mother and Gypsy being a disabled, dependent 14-year-old daughter. It ends with Dee Dee being exposed as a manipulative guardian with a possible psychological disorder and Gypsy becoming more independent and physically healthy.