Content Warnings: Mentions of addiction, drugs, spoilers for Daisy Jones & The Six
Daisy Jones & The Six stormed onto Amazon Prime early last month with big expectations. Adapted from the popular Taylor Jenkins Reid novel, the show was produced by Reese Witherspoon, and led by Riley Keough (Zola) and Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games Franchise, Me Before You). It follows the titular band through their sharp rise to fame in the 70s and their premature dissolution as rock and roll icons, and whilst it does make some big swings—grappling with love, addiction and stardom—most of these shots miss their mark.
We track the band’s rise and fall through one of rock’s foundational decades. Billy Dunne (Claflin) and his brother Graham (Will Harrison) start a band with two of their friends, and slowly make their way to LA, alongside Billy’s girlfriend and eventual wife Camilla (Camila Morrone). The show itself looks fantastic—the production and costume design are impeccable and does a convincing job of immersing you in the time period. After a couple of episodes of trying to break into the market, the band’s manager Teddy Price (Tom Wright) lines up a collaboration with Daisy Jones (Keough)—a free-spirited, strong-headed up-and-comer—who immediately clashes with Billy. The tension might be avoided; however, the song they make together quickly skyrockets to number one, and from there, the band must find ways to continue making good music whilst also staying sane and navigating their relationships with one another (inspired, obviously, by Fleetwood Mac).
Whilst the premise is enticing, the show overlooks a fundamental part of what might make this story interesting; it skips over the bulk of the struggle. When Teddy finally allows the band to play for him, it suddenly cuts to an interview a decade later of him saying the band knocked his socks off. We see none of the performance. Soon after, we’re told in a voiceover by Billy the hardship the band had to endure under Teddy’s guidance the first few months they worked together, before cutting to the end of all that hardship and Teddy rewarding them with the chance to record an album. Despite talk of the band’s gargantuan fame, we see none of their interactions with the outside world or direct comparisons of their lives before and after success. The show skims pivotal moments in the band’s life; we’re privy only to the consequences of them, which mean nothing. Crossing a finish line is null and void if you don’t run the marathon before it.
Moreover, the constant cutting to the band’s future interviews feels like a lazy means of adaptation. I know the book is told entirely in an interview format, featuring conversations with the characters recounting their days in the band, but it doesn’t translate well onto screen. The interviews unnecessarily interrupt the storytelling in the main timeline and try to tell us things rather than just show them, which makes it feel like the show doesn’t trust us to work things out on our own.
Billy acts as the band’s spiritual and literal leader, and as much as I do love Sam Claflin (recovering Hunger Games enthusiast here), he is woefully miscast. He feels way too old for the role (more than ten years older than his onscreen wife), and he lacks a natural charm a '70s rockstar needs. He doesn’t hold the necessary presence that could convince me he’s the biggest heartthrob in the world. There’s no real sex or swagger in his performance; there’s an abundance of passion and grit, but it comes off mostly as desperation.
Riley Keough, however, is fantastic. She encapsulates Daisy Jones’ free spirit and yearning for fame perfectly and feels like a big star. She also has a remarkable voice (she is Elvis’ granddaughter, after all), and runs vocal laps around Claflin. She holds a certain presence that exudes confidence and bravado—my eyes were glued to her whenever she was on screen.
The greatest dynamic is between these two. As they say to one another in the show, they’re mirrors; both reflect the worst of each other. It’s frustrating at times to see Billy get angry at Daisy for doing all the bad things he’s already done—using too much to numb herself, fleeing the band before a big tour, exercising too much control over the band—but it’s fascinating to watch.
However, the focus on the protagonists left a lot to be desired for the supporting characters. While the essence of the show should be about a found family, Billy and Daisy’s despair takes centre stage and leaves their relationships with the rest of the band members, and the other band members with one another, underdeveloped.
We barely know anything about the drummer Warren, bassist Eddie is often pushed aside, and neither ever really has full conversations with Daisy or Billy. Even Graham seems to lose any screen time with Billy after the first couple of episodes, and they’re brothers. And whilst keys player Karen and Graham’s relationship is great, and Camila is undoubtedly a scene stealer every time she’s on screen, there’s no real sense of chemistry between the entire band. By the end of the show when all these relationships dissolve, it doesn’t feel like the narrative climax it should, because the strength of those relationships wasn’t really all that sturdy in the first place.
Characters and plot aside, this all could have worked for me—very well might have—if it just chose to embrace the very core of the story: the music.
An entire album of original songs was made for the show. Could I tell you if that album is good? Maybe some of the songs are. I can assume so, knowing that artists like Phoebe Bridgers and Marcus Mumford helped to craft the album. But most of them are barely used.
‘Look At Us Now (Honeycomb)’ is a great bop—scream at the top of your lungs in the car with the windows down kind of fun—but it’s given no space to breathe as a hit in the actual show. There’s an enormous build-up to it at the end of the third episode, in which Billy and Daisy collaborate for the first time, but we only get a rough recording of the final chorus when they finally sing together. The show was more concerned with defining rock’n’roll by gratuitous drug use and performative costumes than actual rock and roll. I wanted to see full performances of these songs to fall in love with them, to see the band as one cohesive entity and make me want to stream them when the credits rolled. But all I ever got were scraps of a verse or chorus and an overlay of someone being interviewed jarring the listening experience.
The show is at its best when we do actually get to see the band put their hearts and souls into the music and hear the payoff. At the end of Episode Five, we finally get a performance of ‘Let Me Down Easy’, and it’s awesome. All of the band are at the top of their game. It feels for a moment like the show might have found its groove, but it’s not enough. We’ve been sold something great but it’s never truly delivered.
Overall, I couldn’t really root for the band’s success because I didn’t think they deserved it. I loved Daisy, but I despised Billy. I loved the music, but I didn’t get enough of it. It was fun to watch them succeed, but it never really felt hard fought for. The whole show feels emblematic of an actual nascent rock band; they might sound good, sure, but they don’t have anything to say. Daisy Jones & The Six had the potential to be really great—if only they managed to find their voice.