Lena Dunham introduces finance grads to the full-on banking world in new drama Industry

Streaming on Neon from December 2nd, HBO series Industry follows a group of young graduates looking to find their place in the cutthroat world of international finance in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis. Liam Maguren caught the first three episodes and praises Girls-creator Lena Dunham for directing and crafting money-hungry, status-obsessed Millenials that you want to keep watching.

You didn’t need to be an expert in penny stocks to enjoy the hell out of Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. The sight of Leonardo DiCaprio snorting coke off a prostitute’s bum crack let everyone know this wasn’t a dull 101 in stockbroking. Rather, it was a mudslide into the cultural cesspool that Jordan Belfort’s get-rich-quick environment created—one that proved both fun and frightening.

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HBO’s latest coming-of-adulthood show Industry carries that same energy on a more modern, grounded level. While there are no drug-powered work orgies as per Belfort’s offices, there’s still a lot of rooting and intoxication swirling around the lives of these core twentysomethings as they try to make their status known in the financial world.

Pitting professional responsibility against youthful irresponsibility is a bit like giving a toddler a high-impact nail-gun for Christmas—something awful’s bound to happen but it makes for some damn fine suspenseful drama. And who better to direct naive, money-hungry, status-obsessed Millenials than Girls creator Lena Dunham?

Helming the first episode, Dunham sure knows what makes her generation tick (a “tick… tick…” that leads to a “boom” for one poor character in this pilot). With everyone out to prove themselves but only limited space in a lucrative London-based bank, we get to know the core cast pretty quickly by what they’re willing to do to make themselves (or break themselves) in this industry.

For Hari (Nabhaan Rizwan), that means working around the clock next to a pile of Red Bull cans while his more measured colleague Gus (David Jonsson) shakes his head and gets a manageable night’s sleep. Yasmin (Marisa Abela) lays on the positivity way too thick and Robert (Harry Lawtey) puts on his best Ted Baker for his first day, only to be compared to a nightclub bouncer. Meanwhile, American transfer Harper (Myha’la Herrold) stands out simply by being great at her job, but even her head-down-mouth-shut approach gets slammed by her superior.

There’s no winning for these newbies, only different levels of losing. Fortunately, under Dunham’s detailed direction, their recognisable douchiness is weighed evenly by their admirable determination to work bloody hard for their position, giving everyone an underdog quality that you can stand by. But how hard is too hard in this industry?

Anyone who’s experienced workplace burnout will instantly connect with their plight but the demands for perfection in this business are just god-damn ridiculous. An incorrect font can destroy a career. Forgetting croutons in your boss’s salad can lead to a public shaming. One young chap gets his pocket square ripped off his shirt presumably because pocket squares are for nerds—and there’s nothing nerdy about crunching big numbers if there’s a dollar sign next to them.

It’s a bloody stressful environment. That’s where the rampant rooting comes in.

Unlike the early sexploitative days of Game of Thrones, the many hook-ups in Industry feel necessary to the show’s illustration of this particular culture and generation. Stress is high, time is sparse, and single-use sex is a simple swipe away, so it feels completely natural for these characters to reap these benefits with friends.

But in a business that views “friendships” as an asset, will that soulless attitude bleed over to their actual relationships? Or can their sense of human decency remain outside the office? For some, they will grow into that caring and responsible adult. For others, refer back to the toddler with a nail-gun analogy.

Inevitably, it all feeds back to this international bank’s toxic culture—one that Industry examines with a superbly sharp script. While workplace bullying is an obvious example of egos running wild, the coded language of experienced employees is more telling.

“Good optics” is professional speak for pretending like nothing’s wrong. “Overtaking steps” is another way of saying something’s definitely wrong. “Reevaluate” means to change something that went wrong. Most important of all, the word “wrong” doesn’t exist in their vocabulary, and everything is always fine if not fantastic. And if an employee forgets that, terms like ‘mindfulness’ and ‘work/life balance’ display mockingly on work computer screens like a Mad Butcher banner at a fried tofu festival.

And then there’s Eric, Harper’s boss played phenomenally by Ken Leung. He isn’t so much a product of his environment as he is a battle-hardened soldier fighting against it. Holding a wooden baseball bat like a stress ball, he is 100% about business but not necessarily about business culture, and while he has no problem being a hardass on Harper, he recognises her talent and genuinely wants to aid her.

“Do not forget how this feels right now,” Eric says to Harper during an elating moment where she scores her first massive trade. It’s a warm exchange coming from a mentor that, up until that point, seemed so cold. He then follows up with: “Why is there a ring in your nose? Are you cattle?”

In this industry, you’ve gotta keep up appearances—sorry, good optics.