Few shows have captured the experience of being a young person in a cutthroat workplace quite like “Industry.”
The HBO drama centers on a group of bright-eyed graduates entering the shark-infested waters of investment banking and is one of several Emmy contenders, including HBO Max’s “It’s a Sin” and Netflix’s “Emily in Paris,” that explore the boundaries between the personal and the professional, as well as between a playful work environment and a deeply toxic one.
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Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, the creators of “Industry,” admit they struggled to capture the naivety and excitement of the main characters in early drafts. It wasn’t until a “great note” from Casey Bloys, chief content officer at HBO and HBO Max, that the pair realized what was wrong.
“He said, ‘You guys are writing characters in their third act. You might be in the third act of your life comparatively to them, but you need to remember the excitement of what it felt like for you at the time,’” recalls Kay.
That note made the writers delve deeper into their own experiences of being chewed up and spat out by the banking world when they were in their 20s in order to fuel the struggles of Harper (Myha’la Herrold), Yasmin (Marisa Abela), Rob (Harry Lawtey) and Gus (David Jonsson).
“I think what we ended up with was a balance between the youthful exuberance and anticipation of starting a job, and the crushing realization that this job is going to cost a lot more than you bargained for,” says Down.
In “Emily in Paris,” the titular character played by Lily Collins seizes on what she believes is the opportunity of a lifetime in the form of a job at a venerable Parisian marketing firm. However, she also moves to a less-than-friendly environment. Her boss gives her the coldest of shoulders and doubts her abilities, and one of her colleagues makes sexually inappropriate comments almost every time he comes across her.
But both Emily and the characters of “It’s a Sin,” Russell T. Davies’ limited series about the AIDS crisis, are able to make the best of their potentially exploitative work surroundings.
Davies reveals that the story of Colin (Callum Scott Howells), who is sexually harassed by his elderly boss, is based on a real person who experienced something similar and was meant to showcase the kind of workplace that was rife with “a repression, a darkness, an old-fashioned closetedness.”
“But even though there’s problems in that workplace, Colin loves it. There’s real expertise, there’s real knowledge. I loved researching that place and the idiosyncrasies.”
Davies adds that he wanted Colin’s seedy boss to juxtapose the positive relationship he develops with colleague Henry (Neil Patrick Harris).
“I wanted his boss to be a way into seeing that lovely system, that informal mentorship of older gay men caring for younger gay men,” he says. “That was even more important back then than it is now because we weren’t as out. There was no internet to help you and fewer clubs and less of a social life if you were as closeted as Colin.”
There are moments in the first season of “Industry” in which similarly positive mentor relationships threaten to emerge. However, as with so many other young people entering the workplace, the bright young things at Pierpoint & Co. soon realize success can come at a terrible cost.
“Seeing them climb the ladder obviously has the salacious, backstabbing stuff, but it’s also the more grounded experience of the way hierarchies work,” Kay says. “It’s something that’s so built into these institutions.”
Down adds: “There is a cost to success in this world. The cost is that you cannot show vulnerability, which is what allows you to basically form a basic human relationship with someone. If you’re not allowed to do that, you become an isolated shell. The question we’re asking is, is it worth becoming an isolated shell of hardness to be successful?”
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