Industry (HBO/BBC Two) is the kind of thrillingly fresh series that only comes along once every few years, a drama that makes its rivals look tired and uninspired. It took me a while to get used to it. Compared to the usual lacquered sheen applied to everything from Hustle to Roadkill, it has a rough grading, and there’s an icy tinge to the photography. This is a grey, washed-out London, where it’s always raining somewhere. It feels apt for the version of the city it depicts, a global financial centre of long days and longer nights, a tough and unforgiving place where if market misfortune doesn’t destroy you, your bosses, colleagues and competitors surely will.
Written by two former bankers, Londoners Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, the eight-part series follows a group of graduates as they embark on their first jobs at a fictional investment bank, Pierpoint & Co. Although it might look open, the trading floor is a claustrophobic place, and so are the flats, bars and Ubers the staff hang out in after work. It’s a world measured by a single metric. If you make money for the firm, nothing else about your behaviour matters. If you don’t, nothing will save you. It’s a charter for hedonism, but also for bullying. Lena Dunham directs the first episode, and the rapid-fire contemporary dialogue shares something with Girls, without its sense of sisterhood.
Aside from Informer’s Nabhaan Rizwan, who plays the workaholic Hari, and Game of Thrones’ Will Tudor as the analyst Theo, its young cast are mainly unknowns, including the star, Myha’la Herrold, in her first major acting role. She plays Harper Stern, a young black woman from New York trying to make it in a London world where the old boys network still rules.
The first episode opens with snippets from job interviews, as she and her new colleagues make the case for themselves. There’s the Libyan-Israeli Yasmin (Marisa Abela), the black gay Etonian Tory, Gus (David Jonsson), and his powder-loving flatmate, Robert (Harry Lawtey). They’re all smart, but smartness alone isn’t enough. Harper is lucky to have a – seemingly – kind mentor in Eric (Ken Leung), but she is running away from secrets back home.
Herrold, Jonsson and Abela stand out, but it’s an excellent and admirably diverse ensemble. There’s plenty of swagger and braggadocio about these bright young things, and none of them are straightforwardly likeable, which makes it all the more impressive that we end up rooting for them as they embark on this most maligned of careers. Leung and W1A’s Sarah Parish, who plays a middle-aged financier, lend familiarity to the older generation, but on the whole the casting serves as a reminder that it’s possible to make engaging television without “bankable” stars.
One early review described Industry as a cross between Billions and Skins, but to my mind it’s closer to a millennial Mad Men in its depiction of young people whose entire identities are built around work. Most of the characters reveal a capacity to surprise, and the banking dialogue sounds plausible to the non-expert ear without sliding into incomprehensibility. No doubt real banks are duller than this, but the clothes, conventions and contempt have the ring of verisimilitude. A special mention to the techno-infused soundtrack, which has the jittery energy of the Safdie brothers’ Uncut Gems and helps build the pressure-cooker atmosphere.
Industry won’t be everyone’s bag. There’s a lot of sex and drugs and some of it verges on gratuitous. Even the softer characters are hard, mocking each other for their clothes, undermining them in front of the bosses and working them into the dust. Sometimes it’s very funny, but at other times it’s plain cruel. Underneath the spiky and unfamiliar exterior, though, is a beguilingly original series that ought to mark the launch of several major careers, not least those of its creators, barely into their thirties, for whom this is a precocious debut.
Industry begins on HBO on Monday 9 November and BBC Two on Tuesday 10 November
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies