29 Mar I SEE, YOU SEE: MARCH (SUPERSTORE AND INDUSTRY)
I love newsletters! Before the pandemic, my inbox received only two types of emails: (1) promos that I would immediately send to trash because I literally have no income and unsubscribing is a lot of work and (2) rejections from jobs I’d forgotten I’d applied to. In essence, it was cluttered by a batch of sad little messages reminding me of sad things. These days, it seems like everybody has a newsletter. Oh, the joy I get from that swoosh sound my phone makes when I get the notification! My fingertips feel electric as I wade through the junk to get to my prized emails. Notably, Hunter Harris (formerly of Vulture) has a newsletter and it! is! great! If you like to read as I do, New York Magazine’s literary critic Molly Young has a newsletter called “Read Like the Wind” and I’ve succumbed to her recommendations probably a dozen times.
Just this week, I was reading a recent dispatch from one of my favourite current authors, Brandon Taylor who wrote about a new literary “genre”, the Millennial Novel. These books are often described as sharp and incisive, but Taylor argues that they have the semblance of sharpness and incisiveness because of their minimalist writing style, inflexible characterization, and thematic content. Using Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends as an example, Taylor writes that Rooney “is invested in tracing out the after pulses of capitalism and gender and systems of power. But not investigating those systems directly.” Taylor isn’t saying that this is bad, but rather that we should call it like it is instead of prescribing adjectives that have little to do with the work itself.
The tenets of the Millennial Novel aren’t merely constrained to the publishing world; they’ve seeped into our screens as well. Industry (Crave + HBO), at first glance, or even first watch, seems to somewhat fit within this mould. We follow a group of first-year sales and trading analysts at a British bank, Pierpoint & Co., as they navigate a difficult and demanding workplace. Harper Stern (Myha’la Herrold), an American transplant from some unknown college in upstate New York, acts as the audience’s placeholder and our guide into Pierpoint’s inner workings.
Unlike other workplace dramas that are relatively tamer, the world in which we enter is laden with sex, drugs and horrible people in a way that’s both shocking yet unglamourized. Stylistically, the show is simple and unadorned. The characters are designed using broad strokes, we’re unable to pin down their motivations. The flaws of their system are discussed directly, and money is both an object of desire as well as a character on the show. On the whole, this has the makings of a Millennial Novel, but whereas some works may lack the incisive qualities to truly challenge our perceptions of the world, Industry pushes decidedly farther.
The creators, Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, aren’t bent on moralizing its characters; nearly everyone is painted with a brush of sympathy, even the most despicable of the lot. And when I say despicable, I mean it’s truly an awful group of people. There’s a sensitivity on display, sure, but it’s also a bloodthirsty battle to the death. Reduction In Force (RIF) is coming, the day where each of the analysts has to pitch themselves in front of the entire bank, having to quantify their value in order to keep their jobs. With this looming over everyone’s heads, there’s an automatic tension.
Industry is relentless in its pragmatism. No one is rewarded for their fleeting moments of good behaviour and drugs like 2C-B are easier to come by than praise at work. At each turn, the characters are confronted with decisions that can make or break their careers, but it always comes at a cost. Whether it’s destroying your body with experimental drugs, debasing yourself in front of clients you’re courting, or driving yourself to do things you’d never thought you were capable of, I kept asking myself whether it was worth it— the money, I mean. As we delve deeper and deeper into Harper’s world and better understand the political machinations abound at Pierpoint, money really does seem to be the only benefit of putting yourself through this.
Banking provides the perfect backdrop to discuss, to generalize, greed and power. The Pierpoint trade floor is a pressure cooker. Yet the problems we see Harper and her coworkers struggle with—I’m not entirely sure we can call Rob, Yasmin, and Gus her friends at all— aren’t isolated to banking. Amy Sosa (America Ferrera), faces similar, if not the same, issues as Harper does on Superstore (Netflix). Ferrera portrays a floor manager at Cloud-9, the big-box warehouse that employs her and the rest of the cast. Amy may not be managing hundreds of thousands of her client’s dollars in what essentially is a digitized slot machine, but the stakes are just as high.
Superstore is genuinely a delight. I can’t remember the last time I binge-watched five seasons of a show this fast. It must’ve been years ago in high school when I had ample time to waste and no real pressing issues. Superstore made me forget my priorities, eating up huge chunks of my day, as I fell in love with the hilarious cast, the zany plots, and meticulously detailed inside jokes.
I find that sitcoms often struggle in their later seasons to deliver something new and exciting. The jokes are flatter, the character arcs plateau, and, quite frankly, a bore to watch. Thankfully, Superstore falls far from this trope. As we become accustomed to the characters, the setting, we see dramatic shifts in the stakes of the show. The overarching plot of seasons four and five centers on the Cloud 9 staff’s attempts to unionize and the show’s energy is propelled forward because of it. As certain characters—I won’t name who— gain more power in the workplace, it’s interesting to see how the potential introduction of the union blinds them to problems that once consumed their lives. Now being able to comfortably afford rent and the peace of mind that comes with more cash, they truly understand the difficulty of the situation. Try to unionize, and everyone might lose their jobs. It isn’t that they’re less sympathetic to the plight of their coworkers, but rather that they are trying to protect them from what they see as a worse outcome. It’s far more interesting to watch someone wrestle with what they think is “good” or what they think is “the right thing to do” than seeing everything in black and white.
It’s genuinely a shame that Superstore’s sixth season is also its last. Being cancelled is one thing but being cancelled and not being able to accurately carry out your vision due to extreme circumstances (i.e. a global pandemic) is another. Not only was this season revealed to be the last we’d see of Superstore, but it was cut short entirely, a meagre 15 episodes instead of the usual 22. For a show that was pitch-perfect, from its chemistry to its production, it’s disappointing that it won’t be able to give its audience and the team that worked so tirelessly to bring it to life a proper send-off.
I’m worried I’ve jumped off the deep end here, analyzing these shows with too close of an eye. But they’re fun! Oh, they’re so fun! They dropped the last five episodes of Industry all at once on a whim (the previous three had been aired weekly) and I stayed up to a stupidly late hour to watch. I’ve never felt this kind of adrenaline rush while watching a show. Nothing really shocks me anymore; I’ve watched enough TV that I’ve unfortunately become desensitized to half the shit I see on screen. But Industry is different. I felt like I was at the Roman Colosseum, jeering as if I was the one getting ketamine blown up my asshole at the office Christmas party to please a client. Superstore elicits the same kind of delight—well, maybe not the exact same—but the consistency with which the cast continuously delivers laughter is a talent unparalleled by almost every other sitcom I’ve watched.
Whenever we see capitalism being discussed, especially in the Millennial Novels featured in Taylor’s newsletter, it’s easy for characters to say, “I’m a Marxist,” and move on, giving the author an easy way out of actually criticizing the current state of society in a meaningful way. Condemnation is offered, yet insight is neglected. But it never really is that simple. Both Industry and Superstore contend with the realities that capitalist structures present to those who struggle beneath them. Obviously, giving up your morals in the pursuit of money is bad, that’s a concept that’s easy enough to digest. But when has a decision ever really been that easy? Being greedy is bad, sure, but money is essential to survival. We can’t just discount money theoretically by exclaiming, “Money isn’t real!” It is real and unfortunately, it is important. Whoever said money doesn’t buy happiness was definitely rich. Watch either Industry or Superstore (or both!) if you need any confirmation.
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