Stars: Myha’la Herrold, Marisa Abela, Conor MacNeill
March 2020 was a cultural inflection point for the world, and TV was no exception. We’re seeing a greater divide between shows produced post-COVID that are, perhaps, too timely (like Netflix’s Social Distance and NBC’s Connecting…) — and shows produced pre-COVID that might have been timely when they were shot, but now feel as current as a cave painting (like Fox’s NEXT).
Created by Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, HBO’s Industry was designed as an almost voyeuristic, but still realistic, look at the machinations at a London investment firm, complete with insider tidbits aplenty. Instead it plays as a COVID-free fantasy about a bunch of young people who work on a much-too-crowded trading floor and spend their evenings at much-too-crowded, sweaty nightclubs. Nobody sleeps.
Nobody has time for hygiene. Everybody is hooking up all over the place. There’s an abiding sympathy for characters trying to afford mind-boggling rents in Notting Hill. Throw in a relentless use of unexplained financial jargon and watching Industry is like crash-landing on a distant planet. It’s borderline science fiction, which is odd since the first episode was directed by Lena Dunham, whose aesthetic and narrative M.O. tends to be more along the lines of “chaotic-realistic.”
You know what’s odder still? This disconnect probably works to the show’s benefit. The more seriously you take Industry, the less satisfying it’s bound to feel. The more you can detach it from reality and accept that it’s essentially a series about twentysomething capades with a “first job” backdrop — like a kinkier version of Freeform’s The Bold Type — in which characters occasionally blather about currency exchanges and shorting stocks, the less distracted you’ll be by the fact that you’re basically beholding an expensive London-set Petri dish.
Our main characters are graduate trainees at London’s Pierpoint & Co, “the world’s preeminent financial services institution.” It’s a program designed to milk them for their youth and vitality — a program that only half of them will complete, according to Ken Leung’s Eric Tso, a senior advisor of sorts. Providing point-of-entry innocence is Harper (Myha’la Herrold), a scrappy American whose academic credentials seem sketchy to the snooty pool of Eton/Oxford/Cambridge grads.
Her British contemporaries include Yasmin (Marisa Abela), validation-starved and more monied than Harper, Robert (Harry Lawtey), who really can’t be described as anything other than a “fuckboi,” and Hari (Nabhaan Rizwan), who begins the series living at his desk and popping pep pills, which is never a good sign.
In the office, the newbies experience, racism and homophobia, as well as relentless backstabbing and double-dealing. Outside of the office, they let off steam with meaningless and manipulative mind games, and strive to cover up secrets from their pasts, which are myriad.
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I’m not sure there’s a single character in Industry who isn’t on the brink of physical or emotional collapse, yet they’re all still up for light BDSM, public boinking and anonymous app-based encounters — almost all preceded or followed by smoking something, popping something else or imbibing several somethings.