TV review by
Kari Croop, Common Sense Media
Madoff TV Poster Image
Dense drama charts the rise and fall of an epic fraud.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Major themes include trust and loyalty but also dishonesty and duplicity. Justice ultimately wins out, though it takes a while.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The title character is a convicted felon who deliberately lies to investors and cheats them out of billions of dollars, all under the guise of trustworthiness. The series humanizes him somewhat as a husband and father, but even in that, he's criminally dishonest to those he loves most. The only plus: There are serious consequences for his actions.


A character's suicide by hanging, though bloodless, is depicted with a shot of his feet dangling into the frame.


Implied infidelity, showing characters in bed but covered with sheets, robes, lingerie, and the like.


Words such as "damn," "hell," and "pissed off" are audible.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some social drinking; the main character doesn't drink alcohol, though a secondary character is a heavier drinker.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Madoff tells the true story behind the largest financial fraud in U.S. history. Its title character is as far from a positive role model as you can get, but the story isn't likely to interest kids anyway, considering most of the technical aspects of his crimes will go way above their heads. Audible language includes words such as "damn," "hell," and "pissed off," and there's implied infidelity but no simulated sex or nudity. A character's suicide by hanging is also suggested by an image of his feet dangling down into the frame. Some characters drink socially, too, and one has an implied alcohol dependency, though the main character avoids alcohol altogether.

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What's the story?

MADOFF tells the dizzying true story of how Wall Street investment adviser Bernie Madoff (Richard Dreyfuss) defrauded countless victims -- including his own friends and family -- out of billions of dollars as part of the largest Ponzi scheme in American history. The two-part, four-hour miniseries is based on ABC News correspondent Brian Ross' book The Madoff Chronicles, which delves into the private lives of Madoff and his wife, Ruth (Blythe Danner).

Is it any good?

Telling the story of Bernie Madoff's infamous Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors out of billions of dollars is as complicated as the scheme itself. But to make sense of Madoff, prior knowledge is a must. That's because this oddly plotted miniseries is so focused on Madoff himself -- to the point that his character doubles as the narrator -- that it neglects to explain the details of Madoff's scam, arrogantly assuming you already know them and, if you don't, expecting you to figure things out. The beginning, especially, is all over the place, though Madoff eventually gels into something you want to keep watching.

Teens won't share that interest though, as there's nothing here to attract them in the first place. And it's just as well, considering Madoff is one of the worst role models you could find. It's bad enough that he's lying to his friends and family, falsifying records, and pocketing huge sums of cash under false pretenses. But to cheat on his wife for years, inspire his own son's suicide, and con Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel out of his life savings -- all while demanding trust and loyalty from everyone around him -- is the definition of despicable.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Madoff's depiction of real-life people and events. Did the miniseries mostly stick to the facts, or did it take some creative liberties? How important is accuracy when it comes to telling a "true" story on television?

  • Does Madoff make any attempt to educate the average viewer about complicated financial concepts and the way the market works? Who's the target audience, and how can you tell?

  • What motivates a man like Bernie Madoff? Was it all about money, or was he craving something more? And did Madoff's ultimate punishment fit the crime?

TV details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love drama

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