Want personalized picks that fit your family?

Set preferences to see our top age-appropriate picks for your kids.

Get age-based picks

The Act

TV review by
Jenny Nixon, Common Sense Media
The Act TV Poster Image
Dark, toxic mother-daughter tale is based on a true story.

Parents say

age 17+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 5 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Explores a girl's desperate attempts to escape her abusive, mentally ill mother.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Dee Dee and daughter Gypsy have extremely dysfunctional, abusive relationship, and although viewers will feel for Gypsy and root for her to break free, the choices she makes to do so are violent ones that can't be recommended. It's also frustrating to see people around the mother-daughter pair who saw, suspected that something strange was afoot didn't push hard enough to uncover truth.

Violence

Gypsy is routinely abused by mother Dee Dee, emotionally and physically. She's forced to dress and behave as younger child would, is confined to wheelchair (and sometimes tied to bed) despite being able to walk, undergoes invasive surgeries and medical procedures at her mom's behest, is given prescription medications to knock her out or to mimic symptoms of illness. Particularly intense scene where Gypsy has her teeth -- rotted due to lack of proper care -- pulled out by dentist. Bloody knife wounds seen on corpse's back. References to BDSM, violent sex acts.

Sex

As Gypsy grows up, she becomes curious about opposite sex, pursues relationships with men via texting and dating apps. A private message is opened on someone's laptop and a photo of a stranger's erect penis is briefly seen. Gypsy and her boyfriend masturbate over Skype (both clothed). Some anime-inspired drawings of cartoon characters engaged in sadomasochistic practices are shown. Talk of bondage. Gypsy licks a knife. Gypsy and her boyfriend have sex; his bare buttocks are seen. Gypsy gets out of bath and is shown nude from side; nothing sensitive is seen.

Language

"Damn," "hell," "bitch," "s--t," "f--k," "a--hole."

Consumerism

Repeated shots of a can of Coca-Cola, a few brand logos, nothing major.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adult characters smoke cigarettes, drink beer. Prescription drug use is a running theme, both as way to mistreat and abuse Gypsy and as recreational habit for Dee Dee. Many scenes of drugs being crushed, administered in various ways, including being forced down Gypsy's throat. Dee Dee develops diabetes; scenes of her receiving insulin injections.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Act is a true-crime miniseries based on the story of Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose Blanchard, the mother-daughter duo profiled in the much-lauded 2018 HBO documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest. The show examines the dark realities of Munchausen by proxy syndrome, a psychological disorder wherein a caregiver or parent fabricates or even induces illness or injury in a person under their care (in this case, Dee Dee's daughter, Gypsy Rose). The details of this case have been well-documented elsewhere; The Act lightly fictionalizes the tale, showing the years of abuse and abnormal behavior that led up to its violent conclusion: Dee Dee's brutal murder at the hands of her desperate daughter and her online boyfriend Nick Godejohn. Viewers should expect mature content, from simulated sex and masturbation to a copious amount of abuse (both emotional/verbal and physical). There's a brief shot of an erect penis shown when a character receives an unexpected "dick pic" online, and someone is nude in the bath. Adult characters smoke and drink, and there's some rough language as well.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bymommanager405 March 22, 2019

Good for more mature kids!

I’d say it depends on the parent. Frequent mild language such as sh-t, h-ll, and d-mn is used, with stronger language once in a while. Not much sexual content,... Continue reading
Adult Written byTalekzandyr7 April 3, 2019

Good show for older teens and adults

It is an interesting case and the show is portrayed well, but the masturbatory scenes that occurred in the past episode and what we are to expect in future epi... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byMaya9482 March 26, 2019
Teen, 16 years old Written byReviewerll April 3, 2019
Very frequent us of words like f*ck, b*tch, sh*t, d*ck,h*ll, and a**. In episode four we see gypsy’s Bare breast’s and nipples as she steps out of a bathtub. Ve... Continue reading

What's the story?

THE ACT's Gypsy Rose Blanchard (Joey King) is, at first glance, a seriously ill teenage girl suffering from a litany of ailments, from muscular dystrophy and epilepsy to overactive salivary glands. Her ultra-attentive mother, Dee Dee (Patricia Arquette), has devoted her life to caring for her disabled daughter, who has "the mind of a 7-year-old" and will presumably require help for the rest of her days. The true story, however, is much more sinister: Dee Dee has been making Gypsy sick all along, plying her with unnecessary medications and forcing invasive surgeries on her, attention-seeking behaviors that are a hallmark of the psychological disorder known as Munchausen by proxy. The series delves into the years of torment Gypsy suffered at the hands of her mother -- examining who may have known what was going on and what was done about it -- and how the twisted dance the pair was locked into eventually led to Dee Dee's death by murder.

Is it any good?

Was this series truly needed, given how ubiquitous the Blanchards' story has been in the media landscape of late? Maybe not, but standout performances by the always-solid Patricia Arquette as Dee Dee, and a mesmerizing Joey King as Gypsy make it a compulsively watchable guilty pleasure. The Act might not have a whole lot to say about the case that hasn't already been covered in the (multiple) documentaries or articles, but what it lacks in analytic substance, it makes up for in emotional truth.

Arquette's Dee Dee is a pathetic, deeply disturbed woman desperate to hold on to her daughter by any means necessary -- both because of the pity and adulation it brings her and the sense of security Gypsy's "condition" gives her. It's in her best interest for Gypsy to remain ill, as this ensures an ongoing influx of cash donations and compliments, and the contrast between Dee Dee's public persona as a self-sacrificing caregiver and the emotionally manipulative sicko she is behind closed doors is truly discomfiting. King's helium-voiced performance, however, is the biggest surprise here. The former teen star is shockingly great at showing the stages Gypsy goes through, from vulnerable naïf trapped under her mom's oppressive, abusive thumb to vengeful internet flirt using whatever connections she can to get out of a truly impossible situation. It's an acutely odd story, and one that will keep you absorbed despite already knowing how things wrap up.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why true-crime dramas are so popular. What is the appeal in watching a fictionalized account of a horrible event like someone's murder? What does taking a narrative approach add to a story like The Act?

  • Families can talk about Munchausen by proxy syndrome. Why do you think the people around Gypsy and Dee Dee didn't pick up on what was really going on? Do you think the doctors and neighbors could have done more to help Gypsy?

  • Talk about the choices Gypsy made when trying to escape from her mother's control. Do you agree with her assertion that she had no other recourse aside from murder? What steps did Dee Dee take to ensure nobody would believe Gypsy's claims?

TV details

For kids who love dark drama

Our editors recommend

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate