Daisy Jones & the Six Review | As Reliable as a Backing Track

by Andrew Parker

Awash in cliches, highly predictable, but easily watchable, the limited series adaptation of Daisy Jones & the Six should please the novel’s legions of fans while offering few surprises for anyone else. Daisy Jones & the Six, based on the runaway bestseller by Taylor Jenkins Reid, is another one of those projects that works best if you’ve never seen anything remotely like this before in your life. It’s a blueprint standard story about sex, drugs, family, rock and roll, the wild 1970s music scene, and ill fated romances. If you have seen or ready anything dealing with these things before, Daisy Jones & the Six will be lightly entertaining, but largely devoid of originality. If this is you’re first time venturing into such territory – as I assume many of the novel’s readers likely are – then this might seem pretty novel.

In the late 60s and early 70s, Pittsburgh brothers Billy (Sam Claflin) and Graham Dunne (Will Harrison) start putting together a rock band. Frontman and songwriter Billy always sees the band as a viable career to be taken seriously, doing everything he can to take their albums and live shows to the next level. They have a solid enough line-up musically – Graham on lead guitar, Eddie Roundtree (Josh Whitehouse) on bass, Warren Rhodes (Sebastian Chacon) on drums, eventually adding a female member, Karen Sirko (Suki Waterhouse) on keys – and Billy has a certain amount of stage presence, but they’re missing that extra something to make them a complete package. Enter Daisy Jones (Riley Keough), a hard partying, flighty, but unquestionably talented singer-songwriter who turns a featured verse on one of the band’s biggest tunes into a full time slot in their line-up. At first, Billy wants nothing to do with Daisy (and honestly, vice-versa), but there’s no denying their success as a tandem.

There’s plenty more to it than that, but such is the general idea of Daisy Jones & the Six. There wouldn’t be a full ten episode series if there wasn’t more, but I would also argue that this adaptation brought to life by screenwriting duo Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (The Spectacular Now, (500) Days of Summer, The Disaster Artist) is still far longer than advisable. The first three episodes of Daisy Jones & the Six is chock full of slow moving set-up that introduces the stock list of two-dimensional characters in almost too great of detail. Billy is serious damaged goods; Daisy is fun-but-dangerous damaged goods; both of them are selfish to an extreme; Graham is a hopeless romantic with a crush on Karen; Karen has been let down by bands before and hopes this one will turn out differently; Warren loves to have fun and not take anything seriously; Eddie has a chip on his shoulder and wants more credit than he gets. Billy has a wife – named Camilia (Camila Morrone) – and a young daughter who’ll be put through the emotional wringer as a result of his fame and struggles with all the vices that go hand in hand with that. Billy and Daisy will have brushes with success, but neither will be complete without the other.

It takes absolutely forever and a day for Daisy Jones & the Six to get to the point where everything starts coming together, which is something that works better in book form than it does in an adaptation. On screen, such slavish faithfulness to well worn material amounts to almost three full hours of gear grinding before the show can spark to life. This plodding out of the gate isn’t helped by the fact that the series is framed as if it were a documentary, where the band members are giving their first interviews since the band broke up following a stadium show in Chicago twenty years prior. The show cuts back and forth between the interview portions (where some of the actors look younger in the more “modern” footage than they did in the portions of the film set during the 70s) and a look back at the previous years as if everyone was experiencing a mass flashback. The structure of this doesn’t entirely work, because it’s known from the very opening frames that everything is going to end badly for all parties involved, and all the viewer can do is wait for each of the individual shoes to drop. But this is also case where the cliched nature of Daisy Jones & the Six works to its advantage because it’s nothing if not up front about its reliance on such tropes.

By about the halfway point, each episode of Daisy Jones & the Six starts to come together nicely, but there’s still a lot of filler to be found, and almost everything works out exactly as one probably expects. There will be in-fighting, doomed romances, Billy and Daisy will discover they’re more alike than either would care to admit, and success will take its toll on all their egos. There are some interesting things to be said in the margins of Daisy Jones & the Six – particularly with regard to sexism within the record industry and the treatment of female talents – but most of this is a straight-forward, non-divergent rise and fall story. Your investment in this show rises and falls on your ability to pretty much forget about any other similarly themed story about rock bands made in the past, while buying into a will-they-or-won’t-they romance between two self-destructive, ego driven people (while also forgetting the dozens of other popular, contemporary books that are also based around similarly toxic couplings).

On the whole, it’s easy to see why Daisy Jones is listed so highly above the rest of the band, both in the title and in the story. She’s a fascinating character played with stunning detail by Keough. At one point a character astutely points out that “even in shambles, Daisy was a powerhouse,” and that’s exemplified with note perfection by Keough, who refuses to let the character come across as a bipolar stereotype with an unspoken death wish. Keough is both the brains and the brawn of the show, rightfully commanding every frame that she’s in, demanding attention and getting it. Building a show around this character might be cliched in itself, but it also comes together effortlessly because of Keogh’s tenacity. Daisy Jones is interesting.

The Six, and everyone else in their orbit, aren’t terribly interesting. It’s not the fault of any of the performers playing these characters. Claflin is a solid hand who has great chemistry with both Keough and Morrone. Waterhouse brings a good amount of warmth and kindness, quietly emerging as the unsung and often unseen hero of the band. Tom Wright puts in the show’s second best performance as the record label executive who gets the bright idea to put Daisy and The Six together, acting as a father figure and go-between for the duelling, oft feuding singers. Timothy Olyphant pops up for a bit here and there as the band’s beleaguered tour manager, and he’s as reliable as ever. Billy is treated like a big deal, but he’s also written like a laundry list of rock star cliches, making him a completely unsurprising character to follow. Everyone else is treated like filler and window dressing, with their characters following through on their expected arc without deviation and only minimal fanfare while the main protagonists are off dealing with their bigger issues. 

This tendency to cast everyone who isn’t Daisy or Danny as an afterthought is especially disappointing in the case of Nabiyah Be, who stars as Daisy’s one time roommate and closest friend: a struggling back-up singer who wants to step out into the limelight. This character allows the viewer a chance to see a lot of the same issues of record industry sexism filtered through the lens of a queer black woman in the 70s disco scene. That’s a story that hasn’t been done before on quite this scale and deserves a larger platform, but unfortunately it’s never given room to properly take root amid all of the other done to death white rock band cliches. It’s admirable that Be’s character is given almost a full episode to tell their story, but it comes so late in the game that nothing is being forwarded by that point, and it’s clear Daisy Jones & the Six is just stalling for time instead of trying to do something genuinely interesting. Plus, half of the episode is still devoted to the character in relation to Daisy’s mounting issues, so it isn’t even that progressive or groundbreaking. If ever there was a character in an otherwise forgettable series crying out for a solo spin-off, this is it.

On a technical level, Daisy Jones & the Six nails the proper vibe, even if it’s still overly reliant on episodes ending on shameless cliffhangers set to iconic needle drops. The costuming and production design are top notch. Everyone in the band credibly looks like a musician and not merely actors playing dress-up. It’s gorgeously shot, and each episode is well directed (with Neustader and Weber enlisting their Spectacular Now director James Ponsoldt to helm half the series). Most importantly for something based around a fictional chart topping band, the music from Blake Mills is pretty great, with “Look at Us Now (Honeycomb)” and “Let Me Down Easy” in particular emerging as fully qualified bangers that would work just as well outside the context of the show.

Throughout the entirety of Daisy Jones & the Six it was a struggle to meaningfully invest in any of this.  There might be plenty of people out there who’ll eat this sort of thing up, but as a bit of entertainment, it’s purely superficial, passive, and overly familiar; like a Hallmark movie that actually bothered to inject a fair bit of genuine darkness into the material. The elements are all there, and everyone is trying very hard, but the show itself is underwhelming and only comes to life in fits and starts. It ends very strongly, offering up the only two episodes that are top to bottom great to close things out, but it’s not always worth the effort to get to that point. It’s a lot like a pop song. It’s made for the most basic of entertainment value and for a crowd that just wants to hear a hit. There’s a market for it, but don’t expect it to be everyone’s cup of tea.

Daisy Jones & the Six starts streaming on Prime Video starting Friday, March 3, 2023, with the release of the first three episodes. New episodes will arrive every Friday through March 24.

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