Well, it’s official: A Madoff miniseries is coming soon to a television screen near you. Academy Award winner Richard Dreyfuss is slated to star as the notorious fraudster in ABC’s multi-part something or other based on Brian Ross’ book The Madoff Chronicles: Inside the Secret World of Bernie and Ruth. Fun, right?
Obviously, a big splashy adaptation of one of the most shameful episodes in American Jewish and economic history was inevitable. The fall of the House of Madoff, in all its cruelty, hubris, and abjection is second only to that of the House of Atreus in terms of tragic dramatic potential. (You can almost imagine it adapted, Greek-style, with a chanting chorus and scenes of Olympian interference.) And Dreyfuss, an intense live-wire of an actor whom we haven’t seen nearly enough of lately, seems like a perfect choice for the Queens-born, self-justifying sociopath.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, “several high-profile actresses are in the running” to play Ruth Madoff, Bernie’s disgraced yet unprosecuted wife who may or may not have known all about where her husband’s billions were coming from. I have genuinely no idea who they could be. As far as I’m concerned, the inscrutable Ruth Madoff provides one of the greatest casting challenges since Scarlett O’Hara. Meryl Streep, the default option for certain woman of a certain age, is, like her fellows Helen Mirren and Glenn Close, far too recognizable, too much of a clear star to play the unassuming Ruth, who, with her quiet Rolex, quilted Burberry jackets, and sensible Italian leather driving moccasins, epitomized the kind of tasteful woman you might see quietly eating a Cobb salad in one of those hushed and anonymous Italian restaurants on the Upper East Side and never give a second thought. Actresses like Deborah Rush and Jessica Walter, who specialize in playing chilly society women, are too WASP-y and too funny, respectively. Linda Lavin is too old. Nicole Kidman, who I would not put it past Hollywood to cast as a woman in her seventies, is about seven feet too tall. So who the hell is it going to be? I’m as perplexed as anyone.
What’s potentially more interesting, however, is how the passage of time has affected our view of the greatest Ponzi scheme ever perpetrated. Madoff’s crimes were first revealed more than six years ago; he has been in prison for almost that long—and has remained there through his victims’ restitution suits, his belongings being publically auctioned, and his son’s suicide (the completion of the Greek tragedy). These wounds are still raw, particularly to the Jewish community, but not so raw that the story hasn’t already inspired numerous works for stage and screen—Amanda Peet’s play, The Commons of Pensacola; Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine; the entire third season of Damages speaking of the aforementioned Glenn Close. ABC is may be the first major media outlet to make the gamble that we’re ready to see the Madoffs explicitly as the Madoff’s, but believe me, they won’t be the last. Today’s hard-hitting drama is tomorrow’s camp. Mark my words: ten years from now Madoff the Miniseries will be Madoff the Musical. And we’ll be all be laughing from the front row.