New HBO series Industry, the first episodes of which are available on BBC 2, is a kind of This Life for the finance sector. It begins with what sounds like a mission statement: a graduate job candidate at a City bank telling his interviewer that he grew up “playing third fiddle” to two people – Jesus Christ and Margaret Thatcher. “One is the reason we’re all here,” he smirks. “The other was a carpenter.”
Industry is unashamedly nostalgic for the Big Bang days of the mid to late 1980s, featuring a young ensemble cast who put a Gen Z spin on archetypes laid down in Michael Douglas film Wall Street.
Industry also made me nostalgic, not for the Big Bang, which took place when I was four years old, but for a year ago, when the City streets were filled with people. The sight of besuited men and women pouring out of Bank station in the morning, which once closely resembled one of the seven circles of hell, seems like a prelapsarian paradise, one that’s only slightly tarnished by a man vomiting over a copy of the Financial Times.
The first episode, directed by Girls creator Lena Dunham, hints at a dramatised version of The Apprentice, with an intake of graduates going through a grueling interview process before being told only half of them will pass the training scheme. But as the first episode fades into the second, this becomes less of a focus, with writers Konrad Kay and Mickey Down using the finance industry as a backdrop to tell both a coming-of-age story and a cautionary tale for the 2020s.
The characters all, in one way or another, struggle with their identity as they leave the relative safety of university to join a workplace that’s at best indifferent and at worst actively hostile. One character is sexually assaulted, another bullied by her deskmate, another overwhelmed by his desire to appear hardworking. They seek refuge in cocaine, sex or prescription medication, and each looks ready to break as the first episode draws to a close. It’s little surprise when one eventually does.
Industry isn’t afraid to tackle the issues du jour, with the young grads a portrait of intersectionality. Race, class and gender inform all of the major plot strands, with the Me Too movement and Black Lives Matter casting long shadows. At times, it all becomes a bit much it’s not that these are handled clumsily, exactly, but it all feels so written, the screenwriter’s pen dangling inches above the screen, their motivations apparent in each line of dialogue.
The best moments are the ones that escape this stultifying authorial presence: the overhead shots bankers craned over their Bloomberg terminals; the depressing, glass-walled meeting-rooms; the terrible, sticky-floored nightclubs that young bankers are inexplicably drawn to (shout out to Revolution circa 2013); the aforementioned shots of people milling around the City.
These shots will feel real to people who have spent their working lives in the Square Mile. Hopefully the characters can bed in over the full eight episode run, becoming less walking plot points and more a part of the world they inhabit.