Even at its most frustrating there’s something intoxicating about a high-energy office. The palpable stress of your colleagues mixed with your own anxiety creates an aura of greatness, even if it’s only an illusion. For a period of your life you can believe you’re part of something bigger than yourself, and if you push just a bit further, you can become even more successful than those around you. It’s that addicting self-destructive toxicity loop that HBO’s Industry perfectly captures.
Created by Mickey Down and Konrad Kay and with its first episode directed by Lena Dunham, the eight-episode series examines the world of finance from a perspective we’ve rarely seen before. Instead of following the confident and manipulative leaders at the top of the food chain, Industry sets its sights on the bottom. The drama follows a group of young graduates who have been hired by Pierpoint & Co, a prestigious London investment bank. But there’s a catch to their success. Even though they’ve already been hired, there are only a limited number of permanent positions available. Industry revolves around watching these young professionals scratch, scheme, and hustle their way to the middle.
It’s difficult to precisely place this steamy drama in the world of finance. During some moments Industry feels like a love letter to grifters and con artists as it celebrates the elaborate lies of its dynamic protagonist Harper (Myha’la Herrold). Other times it stands as a dissection of the work first, live later mentality that has come to define millennials. Still others the drama feels like an intentionally messy yet sexy exploration of the connection between ambition and sensuality. But no matter what hat Industry is trying on, it’s always addictive.
The hunger of each of Industry‘s characters is so obvious and varied, you want them to succeed and earn their permanent position at Pierpoint & Co. For the headstrong and confident Harper, gaining a full-time job means proving that she belongs to a world that’s closed off to outsiders. And as a mixed race American women without a college degree, everything about Harper screams outsider. For the affluent Yasmin (Marisa Abela) it would mean proving to her family and herself that she’s something more than a pretty rich girl. A permanent position to Gus (David Jonsson) is the middle finger he’s looking for, validation that ignoring his personal life and his ex’s feelings was worth the sacrifice. And the white, British, middle class Robert (Harry Lawtey) has nothing to prove, confident by his very position in life that he belongs and deserves this job. It’s this very arrogance that may be his downfall.
Yet as your root for these hustlers, their actions are so gross you also crave failure. Every time someone is chewed out for their apathy or penalized for speaking out of turn, it triggers a rush of schadenfreude. It’s a pleasure that lasts until you remember that these ambitious jerks are supposed to be our antiheroes.
But it’s that very back and forth that makes Industry so much fun. This workplace and its employees are so callous, so singleminded you want to see them trip over their own inflated egos not once but a dozen times. You want to see them rise from the ashes of their own mistakes and try to make it, even if doing so will make you hate them just a little bit more. You perversely want to see them throw away valuable friendships and romances for a company that no-so-secretly hates them even as you both know doing so is a mistake. After all, isn’t that what a capitalist underdog story is all about?
The first episode of Industry premieres on HBO Monday, November 9 at 10/9c p.m.
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