Creators of banking drama Industry talk about their gendered version of the City

After Konrad Kay and Mickey Down created the banking drama Industry in their late twenties, they became two of the youngest showrunners HBO has ever had. Their depiction of Gen Z graduates being ritually humiliated and betrayed was based on their own failure in the city; the first series, which aired in 2020, won praise from critics and bankers. Down heard that the chairman of a major bank had summoned his global head of human resources to demand that the show be somehow taken down.

Still, Kay and Down had a “dissonant reaction” to the success. They felt that the series had failed to subject their characters to any real tests of morality; it also lacked a central storyline. Harper, the spellbinding protagonist played by Myha’la Herrold, “was doing interest rate trading here, she was dealing with this client here, it wasn’t very related,” Kay says. Down is more brutal: the series was “a mess”.

Thus, the second series tries to give the stock market the same common thread as a sports or action film. “We were a little scared that we wouldn’t be able to write it,” says Kay. There’s less novelty in seeing finance accurately portrayed on screen – though what other drama shows an alpha male cutting his nails at his desk? – but there is more narration (as well as, oddly, a brief appearance by your correspondent).

The plot revolves around maverick American investor Jesse Bloom, nicknamed “Mr Covid” for multiplying his money by 200 times during the pandemic. We’re told that when the pandemic hit, Bloom bet stocks would fall and went on to CNBC proclaiming the apocalypse, causing stocks to plummet. He then took the profits and bought back shares at a low price. It sounded so much like hedge fund titan Bill Ackman that HBO lawyers stepped in, insisting that Ackman was being referenced as a separate figure who “followed” Bloom. Bloom, played by Jay Duplass, goes in search of another big business, which turns out to involve health care.

Screenwriters: Konrad Kay and Mickey Down

The show remains compulsive-watching, even though the characters, like those in other HBO dramas Succession, can seem like horrible people, even to each other. In the first series, Yasmin (Marisa Abela), one of the most likable characters, takes it out on Harper for being “a bit of a jerk”. By the second series, she achieved acceptance: “We’re all jerks, aren’t we? So let’s lean on it, yeah? Did these bad people get into finance, or did finance make them bad? “It’s a central issue on the show and we talk about it constantly,” says Down, who left the bank after a year. “When you hear people say they’re terrible, you’re like, ‘This is us! These are composites of people we know!’

Industry majors in two Fs, one of which is finance. As for the other, it’s hard to know who hasn’t slept with whom. Does the writing team debate how much sex to include? “There’s no debate, everyone agrees there should be a lot,” laughs Down, despite his own stepfather telling him he’d like a button to switch to. through. The amount of sex and drugs is meant to illustrate the retarded development of the characters. “All of the characters, to avoid having to ask tough questions about their identity, personality, and their own insecurities, they chase the next time they can rush,” Kay says. A private wealth manager is mistaken for a sex worker because of her behavior, which makes her point.

Industry has been criticized for its characters’ lack of introspection. The trading floor of the fictional bank, Pierpoint, is arguably even more claustrophobic in the second series: young bankers often seem to have no friends or family to steady them with, their colleagues are their only company. “The salesman’s lie is that your colleagues are not your competition,” as billionaire Bloom puts it.

When sometimes a character insists that “it’s just business”, they protest too much – because their whole identity has come to revolve around the trading floor. Yasmin, wanting to prove herself as a private banker, ends up trying to enlist her wealthy father as a client. Harper trades an office father figure, her boss Eric, for another, Bloom. This series delves into the back stories of graduates. But part of the realism is that these characters don’t spend hours discussing their emotions or motivations; if they had, they wouldn’t have gotten their jobs in the first place.

What Down and Kay excel at is keeping the show contemporary: from the weirdness of returning to the office to the rut of establishing status (“I was actually talking to your boss.”). Industry is not Succession – the budget presumably doesn’t have a zero – but the dialogue exudes the same clever cynicism: ‘I think less of you than of climate change’; “No one reads this email. It gets denser than Dostoyevsky and less fun.

A man reads the Financial Times at the table of a posh cafe

Jay Duplass as Jesse Bloom, reading a renowned business newspaper © Bad Wolf/HBO/Nick Strasburg

Some financiers will love this gendered vision of their reality, others will nitpick. Writers are aware of their own shortcuts. “Rishi is a really good example of a character who is totally unrealistic, in the sense that he’s a market maker, he’s a prop trader, he basically trades every commodity under the sun, he seems the source of all liquidity in the market,” says Kay. “There is no Chinese wall. Pierpoint does not appear to have an equity division. Of course, there are things you need to compress.

But he insists that the fundamental truths are there, for example in the way bankers approach their customers and, within the bank, how shopkeepers treat salespeople. There are “lines in the sand” in terms of accuracy. A dramatic Harper swap at the start of the second series is legally possible, even if it seems unethical. “It’s kind of the gray area that we always want the show to be in.”

It has now been a decade since Kay and Down have worked in the city. Neither is financially in the right mind today. Down managed to lose money on the GameStop meme stock: “I bought the plunge, and it went down again. I realized that a) I don’t have a brain for it, and b) I just shouldn’t invest in anything that requires me to check on a phone, because I become obsessed with it. But the pair had “a very, very good consultant” on the second series, who doesn’t want to be named, “but is still very active in the industry and is quite high up. He provided us with a lot of information.

A dynamic in Industry Is New York seeking to impose control on London (“You could say London drinks too much and leaves too soon. But none of us say that,” a US envoy told the office). HBO also sent Jami O’Brien as executive producer to “keep” Down and Kay. Is it actually a representation of the television industry – the struggle between the writers, the BBC and HBO? “There’s an unconscious analog,” laughs Down.

Ultimately, however, Industry remains the creation of two men who were chewed up by the City and did not lose their sense of humor or their desire to compete in the process. “It’s amazing the leeway [HBO] give us. Amazing,” says Kay. “They usually tell us, ‘Do it. After fucked up.'”

On BBC1 and iPlayer in the UK later this month and on HBO Max in the US now