The Briefcase

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
The Briefcase TV Poster Image
Reality show exploits America's (struggling) family values.

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

People’s values, relationships with money are major themes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Some folks appear to be more generous than others.


Lots of arguments, some yelling. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Briefcase is a reality show that forces people to choose whether or not they keep a large sum of money or donate part (or all) of it to another family in need. There's a substantial amount of arguing but nothing over the top. Though the concept itself is pretty manipulative, the show does bring to light Americans' financial struggles and the themes of generosity and family. 

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What's the story?

THE BRIEFCASE is a reality series about 12 families across the country who are forced to reexamine the things that are most important to them in their lives. Each episode features two financially strapped families that don't know each other and who think they've signed up to be on a documentary about struggling middle class families. Instead, they are given $1,000 to immediately spend, as well as a briefcase filled with $100,000. The catch? They have 72 hours to decide whether to keep the money or share some or all of it with another deserving family facing serious financial hardship. Adding to the drama is the fact that neither of the two families is aware that they are each other's potential donation recipient. During the next three days they receive bits of information about each other and even secretly visit each other's homes to help them decide. When time is up, each family must come to a final decision and go to Los Angeles to meet each other face to face and discuss the choices they've made. 

Is it any good?

The voyeuristic and exploitative series creates entertainment by showing struggling middle-class families deciding their needs against the needs of others. Though it contains messages about sharing and self-evaluation, much of the show's tear-jerking drama is a result of people having a hard time tapping into what they thought was their core value system once the possibility of financial relief presents itself. 

No doubt folks will be drawn to the series, especially when values such as selflessness and generosity are major themes. But it feels contrived given that it's only surfacing as a result of an event that's the equivalent of winning the lottery. However, the overall concept calls attention to the growing number of hard-working middle-class Americans who find themselves sinking into poverty, which is an issue parents can certainly address with their kids.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what they would do if put in the situation featured here. Would you share the money? Why, or why not? Would being on television while making the decision have any impact on the choices you make? 

  • Families can talk about people who work hard but still struggle financially. How do they deal with money challenges? 

TV details

  • Premiere date: May 27, 2015
  • Cast: David Broome
  • Network: CBS
  • Genre: Reality TV
  • TV rating: TV-PG
  • Available on: Streaming
  • Last updated: November 11, 2020

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