Hulu’s “The Act” starts the same way as the article it’s based on: There’s a small pink bungalow. There’s whispers of Dee Dee and Gypsy Blanchard (played by Patricia Arquette and Joey King, respectively). And there’s a murder.
“It’s a promise to the viewer that we’re not going to pull a twist on you,” co-showrunner Nick Antosca told IndieWire.” “It’s not a Keyser Söze story. It’s about the human beings, what they went through, and their experiences emotionally and psychologically.”
That element was critical to co-showrunner Michelle Dean, who wrote the Buzzfeed article that inspired the series.
“One of the first things that drew me to Nick when we began collaborating was he always had this insight that we shouldn’t hide the ball at any point,” she said. “I had heard the term ‘Keyser Söze’ from a lot of different producers when I was in the process of selling the article, and it always felt to me that that wasn’t the story, but I wasn’t able to articulate it as clearly as Nick could.”
“The Act” starts at the end of the mother-daughter story and works backward, tipping the audience to an impending murder but providing insight into each perspective. The eight-episode limited series digs into Munchausen syndrome by proxy, fabricated illnesses, and unhealthy obsession, which has led to plenty of intense reactions.
“I’m aware of how people have a reaction to it where they’re like, ‘This is crazy! This is wild!'” Dean said. “A lot of what I wanted to do, and the reason I stayed attached to this [project], is that I wanted people to understand that for the people who lived through this, it was an emotional experience. There were real investments in things like feeling your mother is suffocating you and that you love her anyway — and that you can’t figure out how to reconcile those two things, which is universal emotional territory hiding within this wild and crazy story structure. I wanted people to be able to see that.”
When the last episode is done — Episode 8, “Free” — Antosca hopes viewers remember how Dee Dee and Gypsy ended up where they did. “We wanted viewers to leave the show feeling a great deal of empathy for every character,” he said. To serve that story, Antosca front-loaded the big reveals and allowed episodes to focus on the actual dynamic between characters.
“There are multiple potential twists in the story, one of which is the murder — which we give you in the first episode — and the other is the fact [Gypsy] can walk, which we also give you in the first episode. It’s a different kind of premise for a pilot. This story is about how we got there and how they experienced this; how this mother and daughter went from Point A to, you know, murder.”
By all available metrics, their choices are working wonders. “The Act” has received strong reviews, and earlier this month, Hulu announced the series earned more viewership in its first month than any other Hulu Original to date.
“It’s cool,” Antosca said. “People have really responded to it, and they seem to be getting the intention of the show, which is to give the interior experiences of these women.”
But he doesn’t want to get too caught up in the ratings, citing that personal creative fulfillment is what really counts.
“You can’t put too much stock in [viewership] because you might do something you think is awesome and nobody watches it,” Antosca sadi. “To me, it only matters in the likelihood you’ll get to tell other stories you want to tell.”
Watch Antosca and Dean discuss casting Patricia Arquette and Joey King at IndieWire’s Consider This FYC Brunch below. “The Act” is eligible for Outstanding Limited Series, as well as other series programming categories, at the 2019 Primetime Emmy Awards. All eight episodes are available to stream on Hulu.