A new eight-part series Industry, set in a fictional investment bank in London, was released on HBO on November 9, and airs on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer from November 10. Created by two former British bankers, Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, its pilot was directed and executive produced by Lena Dunham.
Industry follows a group of graduates competing for a place at an investment bank, named Pierpoint & Co., as only a limited number of them will end up with a permanent position.
Industry takes a bleak realist view at what it is like to start a professional career in the financial sector in the heart of London city. Fresh out of university, these young professionals must quickly learn fast in this cut-throat environment. The series is slow to get into at first (ironic, considering how fast-paced it is), but it gradually becomes more intense as more is revealed about the lives of some of the graduates.
In the opening sequence of the first episode, we are introduced to the five graduates that the series will focus on. Harper (Myha’la Herrold), Yasmin (Marisa Abela), Robert (Harry Lawtey), Gus (David Jonsson) and Hari (Nabhaan Rizwan), all have very different backgrounds. Harper, a young woman from New York, is the only one arriving from the U.S., sponsored by financier Eric (Ken Leung), who becomes her mentor at Pierpoint & Co.
Robert is teased for the suits he’s chosen to wear, Yasmin is too busy just bringing coffee to everyone, while Hari is too busy pulling all-nighters to the detriment of his own health. Each are fighting for their place in the company.
HBO’s tag line to the series is: “they were promised meritocracy, but hierarchy is king.” Harper says in her job interview that she considers banking to be the closest thing to a meritocracy. However, in this London investment bank what becomes clear is that the graduates who went to Eton or Oxbridge are already a step ahead from everyone else. Gus, for example, is the only one who seems in his element.
You do get the sense that the two screenwriters and creators of the show, Down and Kay, have tried to represent as faithfully as possible their experience of this financial world. Both are Oxford graduates who used to work in investment banking. Mickey Down was an analyst and Konrad Kay worked on the trading floor. The series though does get bogged down by its jargon, which may leave some viewers, unfamiliar with it, having to figure out what is actually happening.
The series feels like a fictional dramatization of a reality show such as ‘The Apprentice’, with all the worst candidates starring in it. There is a grimness to this series, enhanced by the oppressive grey and almost dark tones of the images. The series perfectly creates this sense of claustrophobia that one may find in an office full of aggressively competitive and back-stabbing colleagues. There’s nowhere to turn, you either make it on your own or you just don’t.
The characters are also no better, each as ruthless as the other in this cut-throat competition to get the job. It is thus difficult to sympathize with any of them. The series is slow in revealing the backstory of each character, but even then each rely so much on stereotypes that the storyline becomes tedious. Having only seen the first four episodes of the series, perhaps the last four break through these stereotypes to uncover something new.
One performance that manages to shine through all this greyness is Myha’la Herrold who stars as Harper Stern. The mystery of her character’s past, the fact that she achieves in getting this graduate position without any university qualifications, keeps the show intriguing. The reason why this job matters so much to Harper is also quite a mystery, apart from the obvious pecuniary benefits.
As the episodes unfold, what stands out about this series is the way women are represented. Yasmin’s story in particular takes a turn, exploring whether she will ever stop being the one bringing lunch and coffees to everyone, and how she copes with it.
Industry takes a grim and austere look at our society through these twenty-somethings, who have divided their lives between hectic slices of back-stabbing work, sex, drugs and booze.
Industry is created and executive-produced by Mikey Down and Konrad Kay. The series was produced for HBO/BBC by Bad Wolf, and executive-produced by Jane Tranter, Lachlan MacKinnon, Ryan Rasmussen, and David P. Davis, along with Ben Irving for BBC.