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The Madoff Miniseries Stars Lots of Jews Playing Jews—And That’s Exciting

Retelling of the investment drama features Richard Dreyfuss, Lewis Black, and Charles Grodin

Rachel Shukert
June 22, 2015
Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images
Bernard Madoff (R) leaves U.S. Federal Court in New York, January 14, 2009. Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images
Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images
Bernard Madoff (R) leaves U.S. Federal Court in New York, January 14, 2009. Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

The fall of a great house, usually brought on by the fatal hubris of its patriarch, has been the subject of drama since drama was invented. And ever since news of the Madoff investment scandal first broke in the winter of 2008, I’ve been wondering just how the muses would sing of the family Madoff, their terrible deeds, and the subsequent misery they unleashed unto the world. Well, pretty soon we’ll know, as ABC is producing a miniseries called, Madoff, which is based on ABC news correspondent Brian Ross’s book, The Madoff Chronicles (that’s some corporate syngery that would make even Jack Donaghy proud).

The television series seems to be kicking into high-pre-production gear, turning out major casting announcements that each seem more pitch-perfect than the last. We’ve known for a while that Richard Dreyfus will take the title role of Bernie, and Blythe Danner will play his insistently oblivious wife Ruth. And last week, Danny DeFerrari signed on as the Madoff’s doomed son, Andrew (the one who died of cancer last year.) This week, the producers double-downed, announcing the casting of Charles Grodin and Lewis Black as Madoff’s investors and co-conspirators Carl Shapiro and Ezra Merkin, respectively.

I couldn’t be more thrilled by this. Lewis Black (for some reason, I keep typing his name as “Lewish”—force of habit I guess) has delighted audiences with his hilariously angry-to-the-point-of-unhinged rants on the absurdities of modern America on The Daily Show and beyond for more than two decades now, but he’s also a highly accomplished graduate of the Yale School of Drama. For some time I’ve been thinking how great it would be to see him flex those dramatic muscles in a juicy role. And then there’s Grodin, one of my favorite actors of all time: Have a drink with me sometime and be treated to my well-honed 45 minute monologue on how he was robbed of the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his sublimely brilliant performance as the no-goodnik playboy Nicky Holiday in the 1981 masterpiece The Great Muppet Caper. (Read his own semi-fictionalized account of it the second you’ve finished reading this. You can thank me later.) They’ll both be great—script-dependent, of course, although I have to say, with performers of this caliber, the script will have a lot of leeway.

But what is so exciting about the casting of such visibly, identifiably Jewish actors—including Dreyfus—is the surprising commitment on the part of the producers to not shy away from the peculiarly Jewish nature of this tragedy, if you can call it that. Madoff was an equal-opportunity offender, of course, but the majority of his victims were Jews just like him (most famously, Elie Wiesel, who was swindled out of the near entirety of this foundation’s funds), and his crimes are often framed in the terms of tribal outrage. How could he do this, and especially, how could he have done this to us?

It’s that sense of anguish that one has been betrayed from within—by the very kind of person that for better or worse, one has been conditioned one’s entire life to implicitly trust—that gives the story its near-Shakespearean scope. Good for ABC for recognizing the power of what they have, and for refusing to de-racinate it to ward of complaints/get all four quadrants. The story of Madoff is the story of Jews who stole from many, many, other Jews, and to soft-pedal that inescapable fact is to rob them a second time. It’ll be painful, but I can’t wait to watch it—script-dependent, of course.

Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.