Ed Fernandez takes a look at the new BBC drama series.
Industry is a programme that somehow manages to keep you entirely distressed while you watch it, and yet you crave every sweet second. If someone five weeks ago had told me a programme about graduates at a finance company could be such a potent adrenaline hit, such a nerve-inducing infusion of lust, lies, and liquidation, I would have never believed them. But Industry pulls off nothing short of an eight-hour emotional rollercoaster; this is a series that can make a trade call or a heavy night out shake you with the same intensity as Game of Thrones’ Battle of the Bastards. Like Skins thrown in the washing with Uncut Gems, every episode of Industry will see you riding waves of intoxicating anxiety that eventually become so tall they outright drown you.
Not a single performance in Industry misses the mark. I could have believed I was watching reality television at several points. The characters are wholly organic and collide with a messy, imperfect chemistry that always threatens to lead to an explosive dramatic flashpoint. You never know who will betray, befriend or seduce whom next. One of the absolute highlights of the series’ writing is in the relationships between the various desk-heads and their assigned graduates. The initially warm and free-wheeling Eric Tao (Kenneth Leung) oversees Harper Stern (Myha'la Herrold). While at first Tao seems like a safe haven for Stern amongst the stormy seas of the office, their relationship quickly becomes uncomfortable, and you can never quite decide if Tao is manipulative or just misunderstood. The rest of the cast evoke the same mixed feelings – refusing to play the role of outright protagonist or antagonist.
This is Industry’s core strength: no character is good or bad, they’re all just people thrown into the crucible of a spartan workplace. We’re not shown the world of business from a cynical angle that would render it soulless and inhuman. Rather, our viewpoint into this often-unforgiving world is, sometimes all-too uncomfortably, human. It is this human centre from which everything great about Industry blooms: its enticing performances, its moments that make you gasp out-loud and its addictive sense of creeping dread. Ultimately, the show could not be a more accurate depiction of the human condition today. Industry traps viewers in a labyrinth of phone screens, financial jargon, sex, drugs, office politics, broken relationships, and just about everything else that distresses the young inhabitants of the western world.
That being said, to label Industry as a series about any one thing is a disservice to everything it achieves. It is a morally grey, politically aware, and visually euphoric masterclass in modern television that, much like the various drugs consumed by its characters, will hook you then leave you with a sense of sharp withdrawal.
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