A far cry from HBO’s other youth-centered show (that would be the visceral and brazen “Euphoria”), HBO’s newest attempt at catching the Gen-Z zeitgeist, “Industry,” hews closer to the short-lived “How to Make it in America,” both in treating the professional and sexual lives of 20-somethings as semi-interesting dramatic fodder, and in terms of quality, as the two shows are (or were, in the case of “America”) workmanlike and, ultimately, forgettable. Tracking five recent college graduates as they navigate the high-stakes financial world in London, “Industry” is hyper-specific in showcasing the trading floor, no surprise given co-creators Mickey Down and Konrad Kay previously lives in finance. But if the characters are interesting when they are yelling banking-jargon across the room from each other, they remain thinly sketched outside of the office, leading to an interchangeable roster of attractive actors, falling in and out of bed with each other, with little to no stakes.
In the four episodes screened for review, Down and Kay’s drama flirts with the moral and economic quandaries inherent to a profession that demands complete indoctrination, as the grads attempt to make a name for themselves at Pierpoint & Co. But, too often the show regresses into “Skins” quarter-life edition. The show follows American transplant Harper (Myha’la Herrold) as she navigates what is essentially a post-graduate internship, replete with “Wall Street’-esque speeches about the failure rate and long hours in the program from mentor Eric (Ken Leung – the best part of the show, by far).
Besides protagonist, Harper acts as an interloper, with fraudulent credentials buoying her chances to climb through the class-based hierarchy. Yet those dramatic stakes are essentially nullified by mid-way through the season, neatly wrapping up the only sustained dramatic stakes of the show. Further, Down and Kay are frustratingly vague in doling out backstory, alluding to Harper’s childhood in poverty, but never filling in the blanks. All five of the graduates are often reduced to type, as the creators refuse to contextualize their lives. Yasmin (Marisa Abela), the daughter of wealthy parents in Notting Hill, is clearly dealing with control issues, as she teasingly asserts dominance in her flirtation with fellow grad Robert (Harry Lawtey), but is passive in her actual relationship with her freeloading “journalist” boyfriend. Further, Robert’s roommate Gus (David Jonsson) is perhaps the most thinly sketched, having few characteristics outside of an affair with a young male Vice President in the company, who is still in the closet and has a serious girlfriend.
The show is at its most interesting when dealing with the make-it or break-it mentality of stock-trading. An inherently cinematic, but nevertheless morally vague, profession, as Harper and her cohort attempt to woo clients and close deals, none of the recent graduates question the ethical quandaries espoused by Eric, who comes across as a relatively more grounded version of Gordon Gekko. Those looking for a deep dive into the problems of free-market capitalism will find nothing new here, as the characters are too busy trading and screwing to stop and think about economic malfeasance.
Brief references to Trump-era isolationism and the Brexit notwithstanding, “Industry” is strangely conservative and ahistorical in presenting reform in an industry that has, for the most part, adopted a laissez-faire attitude. In episode four, as Yasmin attempts to contextualize her work experience to a new round of soon-to-be graduates, she’s questioned on the inherent sexism within the industry. Yet she adopts the viewpoint of a boys-club that can change from the inside, belittling the college student in the process. “Industry” takes on the same posture, failing to interrogate the morality of the profession. In some ways, that’s an unfair criticism to level at the show, as Conrad and Kay are much more interested in showcasing young professionals at various stages of undress than exploring the ways that unregulated capitalistic enterprises give rise to conservative social and political ideology. Yet with their previous professional background, Kay and Conrad liter the show with financial-babble. For the uninitiated (including myself), “Industry’ is oddly hyper-specific about its chosen field and borderline cliché in how it treats those who work there.
Lena Dunham, who directs the pilot, brings the strongest visual eye to the screened episodes. A late-act death in the pilot, that’s telegraphed for the entire runtime, seemingly reorients the groups dynamic, but the remaining three episodes essentially tread water, giving out hints of character backstory, but never really building towards something cogent. Perhaps these narrative side-roads, including Gus’s affair, Harry’s hard-partying, and Yasmin’s sexual adventures, will loop back around in the latter half of the season, but after halfway through, you end knowing only vaguely about these characters lives and caring little if they succeed or not. Only Harper is semi-fleshed out, even if the writers often reduce her to an insatiable drive to prove herself because of her upbringing.
“Industry” is by no means a failure, but it’s nevertheless thematically streamlined, eschewing the moral murkiness that demands viewing during our era of peak-TV. The show is heavily reliant on the specifics of the financial world but, ironically, could be interchanged with any other stressful profession. More interested in exploring the rotating bedfellows of entry-level workers, “Industry” has little to actually say about the industry that it showcases. [C]