‘Industry’ on HBO is already too sure of itself

Sunday, November 15, 2020 - 5:04pm

NOSELL

HBO

Have you ever wanted to sympathize with the ambitious men and women who trade stocks like Pokémon cards and know the world’s economy like the back of their hands? Me neither. But “Industry” on HBO is going to try anyway. 

The new financial drama is set at the highly competitive Pierpoint & Co. in London and follows a group of college graduates vying for a permanent position at the firm. Pierpoint & Co. is the kind of place where the new staff orientation includes the “Look to your left, look to your right. One of you won’t be here in a few weeks” speech. The workplace is a brutal and unforgiving place of worship for those who dream of wealth beyond measure.

Harper (Myha’la Herrold, “Modern Love”) is a SUNY Binghamton grad who may not have the transcript to back that claim up. Robert (Harry Lawtey, “City of Tiny Lights”) is a posh, smug party boy trying to kiss up to the indifferent executives in charge of his fate. Hari (Nabhaan Rizwan, “1917”) pops pills and downs dozens of Red Bulls to keep up with the demanding workload. Each of the show’s protagonists represents a unique segment of the next generation of young professionals.

Faced with a high-stress and high-risk workplace, the up-and-coming capitalists are forced to reckon with the realities of a job in a cutthroat, controversial field. “Industry” presents an HBO-style look into the sex, drugs and complete lack of rock ‘n’ roll at the world of finances. The cast of “Euphoria” could easily sub in for the youthful and stoned faces of Pierpoint & Co.’s newest employees.

“Industry” is the long-awaited response to pop culture’s most iconic question about the world of finance: Is greed good? Harper and Hari are not Gordon Gekko or Jordan Belfort; the show’s inclusion of a racially and economically diverse cast of characters would suggest that the era of the straight white man is over, even in the most fiscally conservative of places. This idea, however, may be too optimistic.

The series doesn’t shy away from discussing the seedier elements of white collar life, but it’s hard to root for financial sharks, even if they have nose rings or vape pens or relatably difficult backstories. It hamfistedly attempts to tackle issues like race and sexual assault but uses those serious topics as ploys to gain sympathy for characters without appropriately addressing their emotional weight. In some ways, “Industry” wants to balance hope for a new generation with skepticism of their field. Despite its best intentions, the premiere, directed by HBO alumna Lena Dunham (“Girls”), falls into the trap of aspirational capitalism. 

The end goal of every character is ultimately to make money or acquire success in a more abstract sense. Harper celebrates a work victory at the Shangri-La Hotel and triumphantly takes selfies with her room service and scenic view of London. Wealth may be lightly critiqued by the show, but “Industry” cannot escape the pervasive belief that equality is only achieved when you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get the material things that you have been denied. The show leaves little room for the possibility that there is no justification for the existence of places like Pierpoint & Co. 

Unfortunately, these places exist in abundance and are usually the ones calling the shots. I once met a political consulting firm owner who had started his own business and became a prominent figure in D.C. He proudly told me his interns participate in a “battle royale” debate in order to prove themselves as worthy of being hired. “Industry” would see this practice as horrifying, but it would still be happy to put it on TV for your amusement. Whether you choose to be an eager spectator of this fight is up to you.

 

Daily Arts Writer Anya Soller can be reached at anyasol@umich.edu.


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