In a media culture that is saturated with true crime television at the moment, it takes a special show to stand out from the crowd. Hulu’s new television series The Act, which just finished its first season, is that kind of special show. Based on a Buzzfeed newspiece written by co-showrunner, producer, and writer Michelle Dean, The Act follows the tragic story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard and her mother Dee Dee.
Read the Buzzfeed article to get the details of the case. Then watch Mommy Dead and Dearest for even more shocking details. If you’re anything like Mary and Emily, you’ll still be fascinated by this fictionalized account of this unbelievable story. Here’s why…
Emily: Okay so let's do this. My first question is this: How did you first find out about the Gypsy Rose case?
Mary: I read a Buzzfeed article about the case, then watched Mommy Dead and Dearest! It was such a wild case I wanted to know everything about it.
Emily: I heard about it on My Favorite Murder. And then yes I also watched Mommy Dead and Dearest while I was pug sitting. So Frederick and I watched it together.
Emily: Yes, Frederick here is my True Crime Buddy.
Mary: Awwww did he love it?
Emily: He did he was like "I'm so glad my mommy loves me and lets me walk around on my own feet in the sun and say hello to people."
Emily: So this is an ANTHOLOGY show, so they're going to do more seasons of this. But want to explain this one for us?
Mary: Ok! So Gypsy Rose Lee lived with her mom DeeDee, and they had (seemingly) a perfect relationship. Gypsy was disabled with a host of illnesses and conditions and Deedee was her full time caretaker. BUT all of that was a lie. Gypsy was actually completely healthy and her mother was telling her—and a host of doctors—that she had all these problems and her medical records were lost in Katrina. Gypsy was the victim of her mother’s Munchausen by proxy. That’s the wildest part of the actual case—Gypsy is both guilty and innocent in a way. She was horrifically abused.
Emily: Yes. I mean, I feel like there were other ways out that she could have explored before resorting to MURDER. But I also think, you know, she wasn't really allowed to ever think for herself, and so she probably felt extremely trapped and couldn't think of a reasonable way out because of that.
Mary: Yes, exactly! Eventually, as she got older, Gypsy began sneaking onto the computer late at night, where she met Nicolas Godejohn, who introduced her to some BDSM stuff.
Emily: And she convinces him to murder her mother. And he... has his own mental health issues. We have to be careful about how we discuss some of this because these are REAL PEOPLE.
Mary: I think he’s autistic. There are a lot of things going on here. Both of them lacked direction from parents it seemed. Gypsy wasn’t allowed to grow up and, while i know less about him, it seems like Nicolas didn’t have a great home life either.
Emily: So let's talk about the stance we think the show is trying to take. Apparently Gypsy Rose has not seen the show, but she's planning on suing them for using her story without her permission.
Mary: Whoa! But also fair. I do think the show is trying to show that she was abused and the situation is complicated. It’s a sympathetic portrayal of her. But she should be getting paid for her story and I doubt she is.
Emily: Yes, seriously. I will say at the end of the show, I do not feel sorry for Dee Dee at all. I understand why Gypsy Rose did what she did, and I also understand why she mourns the loss of her mother.
Mary: Yes, for sure. It makes total sense how Gypsy Rose can be regretful and happy to be free. Every interview I’ve seen with her, she says she’s enjoyed being treated like an adult in prison. That she feels freer in prison.
Emily: I also read that she really had no idea how healthy she truly was until she got to prison. Her mother not only lied to her about her health but she lied to her about her age. It's wild to me that Gypsy Rose feels freer in prison than she did in her own home, but I get it. So we've discussed the acting in this show a lil bit. But let's chat about it here and now. How did you feel about this cast?
Mary: Yes!! The acting is so great. I felt like they all did a great job trying to get the mannerisms down just right. Especially Patricia Arquette and Joey King.
Emily: Before this, I only knew Joey King from The Kissing Booth, and lawd, was that a bad movie.
Mary: Well, she really turned it around for The Act. She’s fantastic. Gypsy Rose has this very high pitched voice that seems like it would be hard to do.
Emily: I don't think she was really the problem in The Kissing Booth, but that character SUCKED, so I also hated her in that movie. But yes, I feel like that voice would be hard to do without making it comical or unbelievable.
Mary: But I felt very convinced by her performance. Her acting is simultaneously true to life and moving. And Patricia Arquette, while she doesn’t look exactly like Dee Dee, really does a great job cycling between angry and frustrated and loving.
Emily: And honestly I BARELY RECOGNIZED HER.
Mary: I know!
Emily: Like the first episode, I seriously thought "That kinda looks like Patricia Arquette, but nah..."
Mary: But it issssss. I think the show does a good job trying to paint DeeDee in a complex way too. She had her own problems.
Emily: Yes, there’s a whole episode about her relationship with her mother.
Mary: Yes! And another episode about how she cuts off outside relationships in order to focus exclusively on Gypsy Rose. The episode about her mother was so good. I, too, would have had issues with a mom like that. Who literally takes your baby away the moment she’s born.
Emily: I still fucking hated Dee Dee. Even her way of speaking was SUPER annoying.
Mary: She’s from Louisiana, and as we know, there are so many accents there.
Emily: This definitely felt like an authentic Louisiana accent. Most people don't care about getting it right. They just think "SOUTHERN."
Mary: But this was a very specific, thoughtful accent.
Emily: That also sounded like nails on a chalkboard.
Mary: Hahahaha true. I found it weirdly soothing at times, but came to associate it with Gypsy Rose’s abuse, so it lost that quality.
Emily: Right exactly. I think it was supposed to be soothing, but knowing how she treats Gypsy, it took on more of a SMOTHERING tone.
Mary: Yes, exactly! That’s a good way to put it.
Emily: I want to talk about the neighbors, played by Chloe Sevigny and AnnaSophia Robb. They were the only characters made up for the show, and I have to say sometimes I could tell.
Mary: Yes—I thought AnnaSophia Robb was great. Her character made sense to me, as Gypsy Rose’s link to real teenagers. Her mom, less so.
Emily: And I loved AnnaSophia Robb in The Carrie Diaries. SHOUT OUT TO A SHOW ONLY I WATCHED!
Mary: Yessss! I recently cast her in my Wheel of Time fan cast blog.
Emily: Sorry that was our AnnaSophia Robb love tangent. Anyway,I get why they added the neighbor characters. I think it was important to showcase the outside perception of them from people who knew them. And Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose did socialize with neighbors in real life. But… I don’t know. Why do you think the mom character didn’t work?
Mary: It seemed like she was going to have more of a role, then she didn’t. I didn’t see why we needed her instead of more of other characters.
Emily: I was more interested in the doctor who was trying to look into Gypsy's medical records
Mary: YES! Whatever happened to that?
Emily: I mean, I guess they couldn't go too far into that because in reality it didn't amount to anything. But a doctor DID try to look into her medical records, and I guess they wanted to address that on the show, even though it didn’t amount to anything. Because otherwise viewers would be like "why didn't the doctors do anything?" And the answer is: Doctors suck.
Mary: I don’t know how you don’t know your patient ISN’T SICK.
Emily: Like, there was the one good doctor who tried but then all the bad doctors put up a lot of red tape and she was like "aw fuck it I have a lot of patients.” She did call social services though so good job on that.
Mary: But then social services didn’t turn up anything either.
Emily: Social services sucks too. And that lawyer sucks for trying to help Dee Dee out. Everyone is terrible basically.
Mary: I think it’s just a testament to how manipulated Gypsy Rose was, and how much of an elaborate act DeeDee had built.
Emily: She was a con artist.
Mary: Definitely, though I wonder if she would’ve seen herself that way.
Emily: What do you think she thought of herself? Do you think she made herself believe Gypsy was sick?
Mary: I’m not sure, but I think that because she was mentally ill she probably believed what she was doing. Or felt like she was doing it for good reasons.
Emily: How do you feel about the way this show handled disability? I want a disabilities studies analysis.
Mary: Hmm...I think it’s hard to say! I don’t think the show vilifies mental illness. Actually, I think it does a good job of trying to show that mental illness is incredibly hard and that the people who experience it are real people who have feelings. So that’s a good thing! The show also shows Gypsy Rose struggling with feigning her own disability. It’s something she struggles with once she figures out she’s well. The show does a good job of putting enough nuance in to make it complicated, which is what disability is! It also did a good job to show how people sometimes objectify disability—with how people treated Gypsy Rose. People went out of their way to talk to her...almost pityingly.
Emily: And at the same time, they were able to ignore that she was a full person. Like Dee Dee just told everyone she had the brain of a seven year old and people took her word for it.
Mary: Yes, everyone believed that.
Emily: And even Lacey (AnnaSophia Robb's character) says, you know, basically, she told me everything that was going on with her, but I didn't listen. I thought she was just making it up.
Mary: Because that’s how we treat kids!
Mary: What else do we want to say about the show? I’m honestly just floored by it. I looked forward to watching it every week.
Emily: Yes, I loved it. What other true crime stories do you think would be a good fit for this series?
Mary: I was just about to ask you that! I’m honestly not sure. I’d like to see something just as personal and intimate as this case though.
Emily: Maybe they could do one based on the Teacher's Pet podcast story. That could be interesting. Similar personal dynamics going on along with a crime. But I guess technically we don't know if he committed the murder (he did). It would have to be a story that could last for several episodes. So any cult story would be good for this as well.
Mary: I love cult stories. Whatever it is, we’ll be watching!
The Act is currently available on Hulu. The first season was 8 episodes long. You want to check it out.