A show about investment bankers, unless it’s some kind of expose documentary, is a tricky sell. As a collective, bankers are not viewed with much affection. Most of us don’t fully understand what they do, other than make lots of money, and the only time we really hear about them is when their antics have led to some form of economic calamity. Industry doesn’t need you to like its characters. It just wants you to be compelled by them. It succeeds brilliantly on that front. A little bit This Life and a little bit Mad Men, with just a hint of Skins, Industry has the potential to be a classic.
The show’s primary characters are a group of recent graduates joining the London investment bank Pierpoint. They’re all competing for a small number of permanent jobs and all have different reasons for joining: Robert (Harry Lawtey), seems your traditional banker type: arrogant, flash, probably uses the term ‘alpha male’; Yasmin (Marisa Abela) is a rich girl trying to prove she’s not just an heiress; Gus (David Jonsson), is so driven he plans to be Prime Minister by 55; Hari (Nabhaan Rizwan) views the prospect of failure as so calamitous that he never leaves the office; and Harper (Myha’la Herrold) has come from America to find a better life, and not told anybody she lied about her qualifications.
They’re in a world where success is binary. If you’re making money, they love you. If you’re not, what’s the point of you? There’s no need to understand more about banking than that. These people might be dealing in enormous amounts of money, but their work lives look anything but luxury. Sitting at lumpen computers, bathed in artificial light that turns everything grey, and with the constant background noise of trilling phones, the act of making people super wealthy seems a grim slog. These scenes have a tense, sweaty feel. You’re only ever one bad decision away from losing thousands, even millions, and most of your colleagues are waiting for you to fail.
It’s little wonder that when the work day is over, they all go wild. As this group lets of steam, with loads of alcohol and drugs and a lot of sex (practically everyone’s got naked by the end of episode four), Industry finds their humanity, messy and frequently twisted as it is. The characters, created by ex-bankers Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, are extremely well written, with intriguing complexities. There are odd edges to all of them. Yasmin and Robert have a strange flirtatious relationship, which he’d gladly consummate, but she goes a bit Christian Grey on him, subjecting him to sexual mind games, which he is only too happy to play. Without the bigger boys at the office to impress, Robert is surprisingly gentle and kind.
Harper, who seems like she’s going to be the nice one, keeps showing flashes of overbearing arrogance that make her difficult to trust. Gus, who seems initially the least likeable, is rendered heartachingly vulnerable by a secret closeted boyfriend who refuses to leave his girlfriend. With every episode, Industry builds empathy for these people by showing us more and more of how broken and fragile they all are. In their cheap suits and with other people’s money, they’re playing at being grown ups, and not always very well.
In the four episodes we were given for review, Industry builds the foundation for a story that could go in any number of directions, with plenty of rich characters established and more, barely glimpsed, waiting on the edges. It makes the world of banking look deeply unappealing, but makes it very fun to watch others suffer through it.
‘Industry’ airs on BBC Two this Tuesday November 10