Industry: is the BBC’s banking drama This Life for a new generation? | Television & radio

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Industry: is the BBC’s banking drama This Life for a new generation? | Television & radio

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When the banking drama Industry blared on to our screens earlier this month, one name towered above all others. The first episode was directed by Lena Dunham which, when coupled with its workplace setting, led to a flurry of lazy it’s-Girls-meets-Mad-Men comparisons.

But as the series wears on – and the entirety becomes available to stream today in the UK and the US – this is looking less and less accurate. Sure, Lena Dunham is involved, but only as a hired hand. This is not her show. And there is none of Mad Men’s languid style here, either. Industry is a show where people hurry through their tasks under the glare of unforgiving strip lights. You cannot imagine anyone ever having an Industry theme night, for example, unless looking stressed to the point of exhaustion suddenly becomes aspirational.

Which isn’t to say that Industry stands on its own, though. In fact, its closest cousin may have been staring us in the face all along. In the right conditions, with a decent tailwind, Industry may just become the next This Life.

The surface level details are all there. Industry is an ensemble series about a group of youngsters who are still in the first, viciously ambitious, phase of their careers. There’s lots of sex, drugs and haircuts that will become extremely questionable within the next five to 10 years. There is a soundtrack that seems quite cool now, but will probably be excruciating when you try to show it to a younger generation somewhere down the line. It’s all there.

Now that the big grabby gimmick of episode one – spoiler: a man literally works himself to death – has been nudged to the background, Industry has had a little time to open up and become more of a character piece. Episode two centred on a long work meal where tensions and commonalities were gradually worked out, and the sequence represented the series at its best so far. Not least because it gave the cast room to shine.

Every single person who appears on screen is powerfully arrogant, selfish and blinded by ambition

And, really, if we’re going to press ahead with the This Life comparisons, then the cast has to be front and centre of the conversation. Industry is packed with the sort of young, photogenic newcomers who all have the potential to be catapulted into superstardom. And, like This Life before it, half the fun of watching involves guessing who’ll go on to be the biggest star. The smart money would be on Myha’la Herrold, as she is the closest thing the show has to a lead, but the rest of the cast is packed with talent. David Jonsson is great. Will Tudor is great. Marisa Abela is phenomenal. Maybe they’ll all make it big – but then that’s what everyone said about Ferdy from This Life.

Characters you can bank on ... Marisa Abela and Harry Lawtey as Yasmin and Robert in Industry. Characters you can bank on … Marisa Abela and Harry Lawtey as Yasmin and Robert in Industry. Photograph: BBC/Bad Wolf Productions

But the main similarity between This Life and Industry is that you could easily retitle both shows as Look at This Bunch of Massive Arseholes without changing a word of the script. We know that everyone on This Life was a bell-end, because the most joyous parts of the series came whenever anyone got punched in the face. But, even by those standards, Industry comes across like a malfunctioning dickhead heatmap. Every single person who appears on screen, without exception, is powerfully obnoxious: arrogant, selfish and too blinded by their own idiot ambition to see that they’re being sold a toxic lifestyle. It’s gruelling.

Obviously, this may all change in later episodes – like Succession, we may end up feeling weirdly protective of the most awful characters – but for now watching Industry is like watching a webcam stream of an Apprentice-themed chemsex party. Especially now, in a year we’ve mostly spent outside the sort of toxic office environment that the series revels in, you’re just really eager to grab the characters by the shoulders and urge them to work from home for a bit. Wear a jumper. Make some Super Noodles. Stroke your cat. Work isn’t everything, you nimrod.

And this, more or less, is how any sensible person would feel watching This Life in 2020, too. Hopefully at least one of the Industry people will end up getting punched in the face before the end of the series, just to cheer everybody up a bit.

Industry is available now on BBC iPlayer in the UK and HBO Max in the US

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