Sunday 1 October 2023

TV review: Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street, Netflix (2023)

Really nice docuseries, this show chronicles the promising story of Bernie Madoff who ran a Ponzi scheme from the 1960s to 2008 when the GFC brought it down as investors started to ask for their money back. Madoff was a crook of the most insidious kind, fooling an idiotic Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Wall Street watchdog, at multiple points despite having the fraud handed to them on a platter by a Boston quant. 

The SEC comes out of this debacle looking as foolish as the ratings agencies who enabled financial institutions to convince investors to buy their flawed home loan securities. In the case of Madoff, time and again the SEC was told that something about Madoff’s hedge fund was wrong, and on one occasion Madoff told the SEC commissioner, “I don’t have a hedge fund” when he had a whole office building floor of employees forging documents to keep investors happy. The scheme was grandiose and sustained over a period of decades and nobody ever looked into it apart from the Boston company already mentioned as well as a couple of journalists. These people ended up being vindicated but I imagine it was a bitter pill to swallow considering how many people had their life savings eliminated.

Netflix does these series really well and this four-part dramatic work, much of which uses actors to pretend to be Madoff and his family and employees (family were often employees) is a good example of how television can offer up something that is both true and interesting. We think of real life as lacking the drama of fiction, and of course it does, but it also has the added quality that only was is true can give: serendipity. In the Madoff case nobody would expect the SEC to so signally fail at so many points, and when finally the banking crisis brings the Ponzi scheme down it’s not just a relief but you also worry about the principals. 

In fact the disaster deeply affected the Madoff family as you can see if you take the time to watch the film. This is a pity, even though you are forced by your own conscience to deplore the criminal activities that Madoff was engaged in. I felt a deep sense of sadness and an allied sense of relief that nobody in my family was misted up in it.

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