Matricide and Munchausen syndrome by proxy may not sound like natural Emmy bait, but in 2019 anything is possible.
That seems to be the takeaway as not one but three projects – Hulu’s limited series “The Act,” Lifetime’s movie “Love You to Death,” and Investigation Discovery’s documentary “Gypsy’s Revenge” – are eligible for the upcoming Emmy season, and all three were inspired by the true-crime tragedy of Gypsy Rose Blanchard and her mother, Dee Dee.
The Blanchards’ story has been, by turns, horrifying and fascinating people since the supposedly gravely-ill Gypsy Rose was discovered missing and Dee Dee was found murdered in her Missouri home in 2015. In the weeks and months after, it was revealed that Dee Dee had suffered from Munchausen by proxy, keeping Gypsy Rose highly – unnecessarily – medicated, until the young woman had her mother murdered by her Internet boyfriend. Suffice it to say, that’s the most streamlined version of the tale that spawned an extensive Buzzfeed article, an HBO documentary, and a “20/20” episode even before the 2019 Emmy season rolled around.
Given the popularity of podcasts including “My Favorite Murder” and “Serial,” the must-see nature of previous documentary series including HBO’s “The Jinx” and Netflix’s “The Keepers,” and the entire existence of Investigation Discovery, what is it about true crime that people can’t help but rubberneck? Marquette University assistant professor of digital media and performing arts Dr. Amanda Keeler has a few theories.
“There’s a whole contingent of people who are really fascinated by what happens in people’s minds that causes them to commit these horrific, horrific crimes,” Keeler, who taught a class about Crime and Storytelling last fall, said in an interview with IndieWire. “Also, we know bad things happen in the world and when we can watch someone successfully caught and prosecuted for it, we get a sense that maybe were a little safer in the world.”
Still, there are other factors that draw audiences to true crime stories, ones that might serve as a stronger corollary to the popularity of the Blanchards tale.
“People are just really interested in fascinating stories and some of these crimes have more twists and turns than you can possibly imagine. And they’re real. They really happened,” Keeler explained. “So it’s not just some brilliant writer dreaming up an interesting story, but something that someone thought of and carried out in the world.”
Indeed, the murder of Dee Dee Blanchard is so sordid that it proves reality can readily be stranger than fiction. If years of lies and subterfuge via Munchausen by proxy and scamming charities, doctors, even entire communities, took place in a fictional television movie – the kind of which Lifetime offered up as early as 1994 – it would beggar belief. The fact that it actually happened is another matter entirely.
Moreover, Keeler suspects there could be another element at work behind the Blanchards’ zeitgeist. Specifically, the undying popularity of true crime stories featuring women. “We think of mothers as these really pure and wonderful creatures, sacrificing their time and energy to make sure their kids have a better place in the world,” Keeler said. “In this case, people wonder what would bring a mom to intentionally inflict pain and suffering on her child.”
“Then the flip side of that is this child pushed so far that they snap, this moment where she retaliates against her mother,” she continued, pointing out the inherent complexity in weighing the weight of the crimes against each other in a courtroom.
In that sense, it’s a boon that works in every medium, and which most every medium is making the most of. And yet, it’s impossible to say whether or not any of the projects will resonate with TV Academy voters. Despite Academy Award-winning actresses Marcia Gay Harden (“Love You to Death”) and Patricia Arquette (“The Act”) depicting Dee Dee Blanchard, neither project carries the same gravitas as the dueling O.J. Simpson properties of 2016. (“The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story” and “O.J.: Made in America”).
But for now, television continues to revel in its true crime glory and audiences have more than enough material to find something to binge-watch come Mother’s Day.