With streaming services keeping us booked and busy throughout lockdown, it’s easy to forget about the string of gems available on terrestrial television. While you might not always be able to binge the entire show in one go, the quality of the series often makes the episodes worth the wait, which is certainly the case for HBO’s new Gen Z drama Industry, airing weekly on BBC2.
Following a group of recent graduates at a top-tier investment banking firm in London, Industry delves into race, class, gender and sexuality, all while focusing on the one great equaliser: a talent for making money. With just six months to prove why they should be offered full-time positions in their departments, the five graduates are ruthless and determined, fuelled by hunger and personal ambition (plus a few other things).
At the centre of the story is Harper Stern (Myha'la Herrold), a young Black working-class woman who moves from the US to the UK to work under the guidance of Eric Tao (Ken Leung), Pierpont & Co’s MD of CPS (that's 'cross product sales' to you). She’s obviously the most gifted of the bunch but it’s clear that in a workplace riddled with boys' club hierarchies, she won’t get by on talent alone and her looks, education and attitude are all pulled into question within the first two episodes.
Her peers predictably get off more lightly, including sesh-gremlin Robert (Harry Lawtey), who thinks a few drinks with the big boys is all he needs for a successful career as a trader. Similarly, his roommate and Eton/Oxford alum Gus (David Jonsson) seems fairly confident in his position at the company, seeing the placement as a necessary stepping stone towards his eventual job as prime minister.
Equally privileged fellow grad Yasmin (Marisa Abela) experiences a different office culture from the boys, being forced to do the daily salad run and fill in sexist surveys by her misogynistic boss. In a similar vein, former state school attendee Hari (Nabhaan Rizwan) faces extreme scrutiny from his line manager, resulting in him sleeping in a toilet cubicle overnight to maximise his work output.
While the show offers an illuminating look at the financial world, it’s the immersion in these characters' lives that makes it worth watching. From casual cocaine use to Skype sex, the series focuses on the intimate parts of their lives outside the office hierarchy, which at times are a lot more complicated than foreign exchange.
Though the series tries a little too hard to be sexy (midnight cunnilingus on your mum’s kitchen counter, anyone?) the Made In Chelsea-esque relationship drama does add spice. Jumping between romanticised shots of luxurious London restaurants and the suffocating existence of the trading floor, the series see-saws between the glamour and the grimness of the British banking business.
For graduates watching the show, the narrative will likely feel both comforting and distressing, training a spotlight on the expectations associated with career progression as well as highlighting the spectrum of emotions young people experience during their first jobs. The opening episode is directed by Girls' creator Lena Dunham and the series does have an elevated, Hollywood feel but it manages to peel back the sheen with realistic performances from the young cast.
So, why watch the show now? At a time when many people are working from home, it feels strangely satisfying to watch office politics played out on screen. Covering everything from microaggressions to the ins and outs of the graduates' dating lives, Industry gives an illuminating and realistic view of the business world – helped no doubt by the fact that the show's writers Mickey Down and Konrad Kay are themselves former investment bankers.
Though the story does delve into serious subject matter, it’s the complicated relationships and insight into corporate City life that keeps you invested as the series unfolds. Shown through the eyes of the young people, Industry lands somewhere between a dramatised version of The Apprentice and a Gen Z version of Skins, which, while not for everyone, makes for an interesting ride. Just make sure you get your financial jargon up to scratch before tuning in for the next episode.
Industry is airing on Tuesdays at 9.15pm on BBC Two and is available to stream on iPlayer soon after.