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In one of their very first arguments, Billy (Sam Claflin) bristles at Daisy (Riley Keough) reworking the lyrics to the song he’s just written. From his perspective, it’s fine as the straightforward declaration of love that it is; from hers, it’s missed potential to dig deeper. To Billy’s great irritation, their producer Teddy (Tom Wright) sides with Daisy. “You wrote a good song,” he tells Billy. “Not a great one.”
Daisy Jones & The Six, Amazon’s adaptation of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s bestselling novel about a fictional band in the 1970s Los Angeles rock scene, is a good show, not a great one. There’s much about it worth celebrating, especially for readers who’ve long dreamt of seeing these characters brought to life and listening to their hit album Aurora for real. But somewhere in the process of trying to deliver exactly what’s expected of it, the story loses its sense of urgency and rawness — which is to say, its rock ‘n’ roll spirit.
Daisy Jones & The Six
Cast: Riley Keough, Sam Claflin, Camila Morrone, Suki Waterhouse, Will Harrison, Josh Whitehouse, Sebastian Chacon, Nabiyah Be, Tom Wright, Timothy Olyphant
Developed by: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Daisy Jones & The Six‘s ten 45-minute episodes chronicle the birth and rise of its titular group, which isn’t exactly Fleetwood Mac but is clearly inspired by Fleetwood Mac, and specifically by the personal turmoil of their Rumours era. Here, the main players are lead singer-songwriters Daisy and Billy, whose mutual attraction both fuels and threatens their creative work; Graham (Will Harrison), Billy’s loyal brother and guitarist, who harbors a longstanding crush on no-nonsense keyboardist Karen (Suki Waterhouse); bassist Eddie (Josh Whitehouse), whose resentment of Billy goes back to the Six’s earliest days; and drummer Warren (Sebastian Chacon), a genial party animal who mostly remains above the fray.
What the series lacks in edge, it makes up for with crowd-pleasing fidelity. Creators Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber preserve not only the plot but the oral-history format, translated here as documentary-style interviews with the central figures conducted 20 years after their implosion. Above all, they manage to capture Daisy’s electric energy in Keough, who carries herself with rock-star swagger worthy of her real-life lineage. Opposite such a bright star, Billy can’t help but seem low-key — though Claflin’s never been more appealing than he is here, channeling some of Billy Crudup’s dirtbag energy from Almost Famous.
Though the sparks between Claflin and Keough aren’t quite as instantaneous as the dialogue might have us believe, James Ponsoldt, who directed the first five episodes, does a fine job of building their chemistry over time. His camera captures every nuance of the actors’ facial expressions, from the twinkle in Daisy’s eye that suggests she’s always in on the joke to the symphony of shame that plays across an older Billy’s face while he confronts one of his most painful memories. We can see the exact moment in their first songwriting session when Billy goes from being annoyed by his new collaborator to being irretrievably in love with her.
That attention to detail carries over to the enviable costumes by Denise Wingate and location work that captures Sunset Strip institutions like the Troubadour and the Whiskey-A-Go-Go in all their glam-grimy glory. The soundtrack is a meticulously curated collection of the period’s defining music, from Patti Smith, whose “Dancing Barefoot” serves as the show’s opening credits theme, to The Rolling Stones, whose “Shine a Light” plays over the finale’s end credits. And the original music attributed to Daisy and her bandmates is designed to fit right alongside those existing hits, with tracks produced by Blake Mills and written by the likes of Phoebe Bridgers, Marcus Mumford and Jackson Browne — though truth be told, they’re more fun to watch performed onscreen with meaningful gazes and white-hot glares than they are to listen to on their own.
For all its specificity in certain areas, however, Daisy Jones & The Six is surprisingly careless about others. Often, the missteps seem rooted in an impulse toward glossiness over authenticity: the supposedly run-down home that still looks downright Instagrammable, the rags-to-riches progression that sees the characters going from worrying about money constantly to never thinking about it at all seemingly overnight. Most noticeably, the series barely bothers to age its characters up for the 1990s scenes, which takes away considerably from the poignancy of seeing older, wiser souls reflect on the follies of their youth.
Then there’s the show’s treatment of the characters who are in the sextet’s orbit but not directly involved with their work. Billy’s girlfriend Camila is apparently so essential to the narrative that Camila Morrone, the actor playing her, is third-billed in the credits. Yet in all her screen time she comes off less like a person than an ideal of a supportive girlfriend with little to do beyond gaze adoringly at her man. (Even the career she’s vaguely mentioned as having — photographer — mostly seems to involve looking at Billy.) If she has one single friend outside Billy and his crew, we never hear of them; if this bothers her at all, we never hear about that either.
Daisy Jones & The Six tries harder with Daisy’s best friend Simone (Nabiyah Be), granting her a totally separate subplot about her own rising music career and romance with her creative collaborator, Bernie (Ayesha Harris). They’re exciting in their own right, and were the series intended as a broad overview of the music of the 1970s, her storyline would be an invaluable perspective on the burgeoning disco scene of Black and queer New York. But it makes for an odd fit within a narrative that’s otherwise laser-focused (and purposefully so, as the closing moments of the finale reveal) on the interpersonal drama between Daisy, Billy and the rest of their ensemble.
Rather than expanding this universe, the detours into Simone’s storyline do more to spotlight its limits. It becomes easier to imagine the more sweeping saga this could have been — one better equipped to capture the broader zeitgeist of the ’70s, or more curious about the other acts and movements coming up on the scene — which in turn makes it more obvious how insular the story actually is.
As Billy sagely observes, however, “History is what happened, not what almost happened.” In other words, this is the Daisy Jones & The Six we got. It may not be an earth-shattering, era-defining original like Aurora supposedly was. But it plays like a pretty solid cover of a tune we’ve heard before.
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