(CNN)TV's infatuation with true crime can be traced to "Making a Murderer" and "The Jinx," but precious little rises to that level. HBO scales those heights and then some with "Mommy Dead and Dearest," a twisted and twisty documentary that's as unsettling as it is absorbing.
HBO's 'Mommy Dead and Dearest' is true crime at its best
At first, the story looks like any old hour on Investigation Discovery. In June 2015, Dee Dee Blanchard was murdered and her cancer-stricken and disabled daughter, Gypsy Rose, couldn't be found. But then Gypsy was located and implicated in the killing, exposing a trail of lies about Gypsy's condition, which had earned mother and daughter trips to Disney World and generated support from neighbors and national organizations.
Even knowing that much robs the film of some power, but not much, as filmmaker Erin Lee Carr meticulously explores what's known as Munchhausen by proxy -- a form of abuse in which Dee Dee sought to convince Gypsy and those around her that the girl was ill, which included subjecting her to an assortment of unnecessary medical treatments.
Perhaps the most disturbing revelations come via interrogation footage and eventually an interview with Gypsy herself, as well as her secret boyfriend, Nick Godejohn, a relationship that feels plucked from an independent teen drama.