It’s no secret that the investment banking world is one of the most intense, competitive industries to exist. Those who find success often obtain wealth beyond their wildest dreams and constantly shoulders with the elite. To thrive at a top firm, you have to have thick skin, sharp negotiation skills and know the fine art of conversation. Obviously, it’s a place where very few are well suited for.
Created by Konrad Kay and Mickey Down, Industry is a stressful experience about young people trying to make it. Laced with sex, partying, drugs, and relationship woes, the series, at times, is a soap opera with a bit more money involved. In its first season concurrently on HBO and HBO Max, Industry is a show that peeks behind the iron curtain of the rough and tumble, high-stakes universe of entry-level finance employees (dubbed “graduates”) at the prestigious Pierpoint & Co in London. The graduates are given a trial at the company, where they are forced to prove to be indispensable to the higher-ups.
Of the new crop of hopefuls, there’s a standout by the name of Harper Stern (played skillfully by Myha’la Herrold). A Black American woman from a lower-income background, Harper has an insatiable hunger for success and a hell of a lot more to prove than her upper-crust counterparts. As the series’ main focus, Industry follows Harper’s ascent at Pierpoint & Co, and the lengths she’s willing to go to break the glass ceiling. Ruthless and oftentimes blatantly unlikeable, Harper narrowly maneuvers her way in and out of financial disasters and transactional social situations. She even harbors a monumental secret, one that would be detrimental to her tenure at the firm.
From its pilot episode (directed by Lena Dunham), Industry is a pressure cooker. It rarely allows time for personal platitudes but gets straight into the anxiety-inducing financial firm. In its opening scenes, Harper sits across from a stone-faced Senior Manager Eric Tao (Ken Leung), who analyzes her every word during an interview. Harper, stoic, states that she wrote a paper about the “Moral Case for Capitalism,” which she states was 8,000 words. Later on, there’s an opening assembly where the graduates are immediately alerted that they may not all remain in the coming months.
Aside from its fast-paced meetings with deep-pocketed big wigs and multi-million dollar deals, the show’s main dramas are the relationships and convoluted interactions between the graduates. Alongside Harper exist other young and hungry graduates. There’s the antsy and over-eager Hari, (Nahbaan Rizwan) Yasmin, (Marisa Abela) the posh rich girl who wants to prove herself, Robert, (Harry Lawtey) the handsome and slick-tongued slacker, and Gus, (David Jonsson) Robert’s wealthy and ambitious roommate dealing with a multitude of major company issues. On top of that, some of the show’s most endearing moments occur between Eric and Harper. With their shared backgrounds as American working-class people of color, Eric becomes Harper’s biggest champion at Pierpoint & Co, although he is the most unlikely.
For those outside of the banking industry, Industry’s financial jargon may not be comprehensible, but at times, it makes up for that with the soap opera that goes on between the attractive and fiery youngsters. Throughout the episodes, there’s always the “Will they? Won’t they?” dynamic going on between lovers, friends, enemies, coworkers, you name it. Harper likes Robert, but Robert has his eyes on the unavailable but flirtatious Yasmin (Whose boyfriend is a wishy-washy journalist). Gus is having a secret affair with another office graduate (Will Tudor). From the beginning, there’s tension and petty relationship squabbles, as you would expect at any place where your entire life revolves around your work. Meanwhile, the graduates deal with their fair share of racism, classism, and sexism at the firm. In one moment, Robert asks a rhetorical question: “Are we cunts?”
While Industry has the capacity to openly criticize the shortcomings of the finance industry, it merely slaps it on the wrist. It doesn’t quite glorify capitalism, but it doesn’t condemn it either.
Unfortunately, the writing of Industry hits these issues on the surface but doesn’t allow them to marinate. There’s a horrible tragedy in the series pilot that sets the tone for the show, yet it’s merely sidestepped the remainder of the episodes. With the pilot, we’re led to believe that Industry would make a grander statement, but it merely fizzles out.
As the show’s lead, Harper’s story is intriguing, but her past details are only surface level. We’re allowed to know that she doesn’t have the same glossy background as her peers. However, Harper’s motivations and dark secrets are often mentioned in fleeting conversations and sometimes never brought up again. Cunning and driven to the point of no return, there’s more than meets the eye to Harper’s desires and actions. It’s the same with the series’ supporting characters. None are given a chance to be likable enough. Is there anyone we can truly root for?
Certainly, it would be great to know more about Gus and how he’s navigated his life as a privileged Black man. Yasmin deals with sexism as she’s not being taken seriously by her superior, as she’s forced to be the “Salad Girl.” Lastly, there’s Robert, who comes from a working-class background, but his charm and wit allow him to woo monied clients…and his female coworkers. There’s even the show’s semi-villain, Daria (Freya Mavor), who attempts to thwart Harper’s progress at Pierpoint. Not much is known of her either.
Perhaps there could have been more time spent learning about the main characters as opposed to raunchy sex scenes and gratuitous drug usage…not unless you’re OK with at. On the plus side, Industry is still an entertaining show that provides a win for representation on screen. Unlike the rest of HBO’s fare, Industry allows space for mostly little-known actors to emerge among a little covered industry. Its characters are complex and often morally grey, but should that really be an issue? It depends on your perspective. However, Industry’s stress-inducing nature is not the best for bingeing. When you watch shows, you want to escape, but Industry pulls you into its drug-fueled high. Maybe that’s a good thing. Either way, it’s an investment that’s worth your time.
ALL EIGHT EPISODES OF INDUSTRY ARE NOW AVAILABLE TO STREAM EXCLUSIVELY ON HBO MAX