Early on in the first hour of ABC’s four-hour Madoff miniseries, Bernie Madoff (Richard Dreyfuss) turns to his brother Peter (Peter Scolari) and cryptically says, “You’re not going anywhere for a long time.”
The line is in reference to the cancer that permeates the Madoff family line, but it also foretells Madoff’s future in prison, where he’s currently serving a 150-year sentence. The parallel between the actual disease that runs through the family and Madoff himself almost seems Shakespearean, a perfect subplot only a scribe could create. But as everyone knows, this story is all too true. Madoff would go on to cause both of his sons’ deaths: one through means of the bloodline and the other through his nefarious actions over the course of 30-some years. Cancer is a running theme throughout the miniseries (the second episode is even called “Catch Me If You Cancer”), and while most of the Madoff clan is trying to outrun the actual disease, it was a malignant family member that would actually do them all in.
Madoff boldly goes with using a narrator to drive the story, that of Bernie Madoff himself. And while usually narrators are a gamble when it comes to overtelling and oversharing, screenwriter Ben Robbins uses the device effectively. After all, the draw of Madoff’s story is, “What was he thinking?” and it’s entertaining to imagine Madoff’s inner thoughts as he weasels humanitarian and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel out of money and even more compelling as he contemplates his next move during the financial collapse of 2008. Richard Dreyfuss is perfect in this role as is Blythe Danner as Ruth Madoff, who’s given more to do during the second half of the miniseries – especially when she realizes she’s devoted her life to someone who not only cheated his clients but on her for a year and a half.
Unlike The Big Short, Madoff doesn’t explain in intricate detail (or with the use of Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez cameos) how exactly Madoff made off with this scheme for so many years, which is one flaw in the film for TV. Harry Markopolos (Frank Whaley) is introduced as the Christian Bale-esque character in the first half of the mini-series who’s on to Madoff’s fraudulent activity, spouting off mathematical jargon that no one understands. Markopolos appears to be a planted seed for a later showdown of “I told you so,” but the only payoff we get from him is one scene on the couch as he watches the Madoff meltdown unfold on TV, with his hand to his face.
In some ways, I felt like Madoff could have been an interesting weekly TV series. Let’s see what kind of financial shenanigans Bernie is getting into this week. . . Like Mad Men but for the modern age. Similar to Don Draper, Bernie Madoff was also a fraud. But the writers at Mad Men were able right Draper’s wrongs and deliver redemption to him. Bernie is never able to reclaim anything, physically or spiritually.