Industry (2020) review: This Life meets Billions

I don’t know what it is about stories that focus on investment banking, but I kind of dig them. Which is weird, considering I generally loathe the whole banking and finance industries and what they stand for. Yet I like shows like Billions. Perhaps because they’re character studies about greed and the relentless pursuit of power – like Scarface. Yeah.

Anyway, I’m already going a little off topic. Back to my review…

Industry (2020) is an HBO-BBC co-production that focuses on a group of sexy graduates trying to forge their fledgling careers at a London investment bank called Pierpoint & Co. This first season is eight episodes and, thanks to favourable reviews, HBO have renewed it for a second one.

Yasmin (Marisa Abela) and Harper (Myha’la Herrold) at work

It was scripted by Konrad Kay and Mickey Down, both ex-investment bankers. They spent four years writing the show, pouring their own experiences into it – which really come across, in terms of the detail and authenticity of particular scenes. For example, (spoiler) a shocking finale in the first episode one of the graduates dies after barely sleeping for three days. This sets the stakes for the world. (Sadly, this is all too real.)

In terms of the cast, our main players are: Harper (Myha’la Herrold) a Black woman from New York who has talent in spades, yet lied about her credentials to land the job; there’s Yasmin (Merisa Abela), a posh and privileged Londoner who speaks Arabic and Spanish, yet doesn’t get taken seriously – somewhat seen as just a pretty face around the office. There’s Robert (Harry Lawtey), a good-looking lad from a working class background – not the smartest graduate to go through the process, but he parties hard and he’s good at schmoozing clients. And finally we have Gus (David Jonsson), an Oxford graduate and Old Etonian who studied classics – he’s Black and also gay. Two things that represent barriers for him in any industry, but particularly within the macho world of banking.

Robert (Harry Lawtey) and Gus (David Jonsson) at an office party

All our main characters play to their strengths to get ahead. They hustle, cut corners, put in oh-so-long hours, do drugs and get drunk with clients, they flirt, fuck, and fully embrace the capitalist rat race with wild abandon.

Yet if this was just about the dog-eat-dog world of banking it wouldn’t appeal in the way that it does. At its core it’s about young people finding their place in the world – trying to discover who they are. In many ways Industry most closely mirrors ’90s show This Life. There they were young lawyers, here they’re bankers – yet both shows have characters that are smart and hedonistic, both focus on a tight-knit group of people that live, work and party together. Also both shows have characters that either have sex with each other, or fantasize about having sex with each other.

It makes for juicy stuff.

Which is probably where Girls‘ Lena Dunham comes into it. She directed the first episode and set the tone for what followed. Which is a show that oozes style and looks slick and glossy, like Billions (and perhaps as cutthroat), yet keeps the story firmly focused on the humanity of the characters, how flawed and fallible they are – in particular Harper (who I’d argue is the lead) and Yasmin. That said, the show also ensures Robert and Gus get enough to do to keep us interested in them as well.

Which brings us to season two. There’s no release date for this yet, but it may turn up towards the latter half of 2021, so watch out. Expect the show to more or less pick up where it left off in the first season, exploring how all the characters develop as they continue their fight to the top.

In the meantime, if you’ve not seen season one, watch the trailer then the show. I recommend it.

By Mikey P

Freelance editor, writer and podcast creator by day. Spoken word poet and screenwriter by night.

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