When you start a new TV show you’re plunged into a new world. Often that world is familiar, the crime drama with all its tropes, the family drama with the relatable characters at the centre, but occasionally TV takes you into a world you’ve not seen before. Industry, another co-production by the BBC and HBO takes a deep dive into the world of high finance in a fictional bank in London.
The characters here live and breathe their work. The immediate focus in the new intake of fresh-faced, straight out of university brood who act as our guide into this cutthroat take no prisoners world. Firstly there’s American Harper (Myha’la Herrold) who skillfully handles the interview process that is designed to destabilise even the most confident of interviewees. She’s on the toilet in the first episode when she overhears two female colleagues gossiping about her, “It’s impossible to compete with her narrative, everything’s aligned for her. She went to a shit uni, she’s black and that’s two ticks in the box”. What Harper lacks in fancy degrees—she’s a SUNY Binghamton grad in a sea of Oxbridge alums, she makes up for in skill, resourcefulness, and a trauma-induced drive to succeed. “I think mediocrity is too well-hidden by parents who hire private tutors,” she tells her interviewer and soon-to-be-mentor Eric (Ken Leung). “I’m here on my own.” She’s also a 22-year-old in a pressure cooker, so being “here” involves a lot of ill-advised substances and sexual escapades. An encounter with client Nicole (Sarah Parish) makes her particularly uncomfortable, but that coupled with a tragedy that befalls the company towards of this first episode pushes Harper to the front and forces her to empower herself. She may not feel that she belongs in this world, but she’s going to make sure that the world knows she’s there.
The first episode, directed by acclaimed US comedian Lena Dunham, introduces the rest of the key players. Eger-to-please Yasmin (Marisa Abela), arrogant Gus (David Jonsson), and anxious Hari (Nabhaan Rizwan). The group is given the familiar speech from this kind of show, about how everyone needs to look to their left and then their right because half of them are going to drop out of such a pressurized environment.
Hari particularly takes this to heart. A fellow state school graduate, he confides in Harper that his colleagues barely talk to him because of his education they view him as beneath them. He only does this in a deeply hungover state. Hari’s determination to rise to the top manifests itself differently than Harper’s. He hardly ever leaves the bank, choosing to sleep on his coat in the toilets in a desperate attempt to get ahead and be noticed.
Drugs are the office’s lifeblood, powering employees through 16-hour days and ensuring they don’t waste the remaining eight on wasteful luxuries like sleep. The hierarchy is made up of awful people. These are people you’d hate to work for, people who throw you under the bus rather than nurture you. First-time creators Mickey Down and Konrad Kay (who went into investment banking after graduating from Oxford and before breaking into entertainment) throw a lot at you in this first episode. They treat their audience the same way they treat their new characters. We have to learn how this world works as Harper and her colleagues do. And if I’m honest, I can’t say I grasped everything. I’m not entirely confident I understood a lot of it. However, when this first episode ended, with a shot of a powerful Harper surveying the capital’s skyline, I realised I’d become drawn in. I wanted to see what happened to these awful people! Industry feels like something I’ve not seen before and in an age where we’re bombarded by new content, I’m always on the hunt for something refreshing that can take me places I’ve not been to countless times before. It might alienate, but if you can stick with it, there’s a chance it can develop into something special.
Industry Continues Tuesday 9.15pm on BBC Two.