For a brief time in the ‘70s, Daisy Jones and the Six was the biggest (fictional) band in the world. Viewers tuning into the new Prime Video show of the same name will know as much early on, because the band members tell us, again and again in the show’s rock doc framing device, that they were on top of the world. It’s a verbalization that the show confuses for legitimacy, as the adaptation of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s 2019 novel turns out to be a try-hard drama that never reaches the level of greatness it aspires to.
Like the novel, the series follows the members of a Fleetwood Mac-like band that came together on an almost cosmic collision course in the ‘70s. A group of guys headed up by supposedly charismatic perfectionist Billy Dunne (Sam Claflin) scrape together a meager-but-cool musical existence as The Dunne Brothers, before their lives are changed when their record label shoves them together with another big personality: Daisy (Riley Keough). A party-hard groupie turned singer-songwriter in the book, the new series presents Daisy as a girl who’s not like other girls: her peers come to shows to hook up or get high, someone points out to her, but she’s there for the music.
Daisy is a bright spot in a series that mostly doesn’t work: Keough imbues her performance with shades of sadness, joy, self-destruction, and self-possession. When the series isn’t following a disjointed Behind The Music-style format and walking a trope-heavy path toward its underwhelming conclusion, it’s diving relatively deep into a few fascinating topics. One of them is Daisy’s position as a beautiful, talented white woman in the music industry: the series deftly demonstrates how often men in her life attempt to shove her into a box labeled “muse” or “pretty face” or “girlfriend.” Everything Daisy does is in bristling response to her lifelong underestimation, and it’s a dynamic that remains interesting throughout the show’s ten-episode run.
Not much else in the show is as attention-grabbing as it means to be, though. Especially in its earliest episodes, Daisy Jones and the Six is excruciatingly formulaic. Potential future in-laws scold Billy over the dinner table for not having a more traditional career path. Daisy’s mother, a cartoonishly absent figure of neglect, catches her singing and insists that no one wants to hear her voice. The Dunne Brothers move to LA’s Laurel Canyon with nothing but a van, a couple of guitars, and a dream. In a post Walk Hard and Weird: The Al Yankovic Story world, it’s hard to take in some of these paint-by-numbers scenes (which are much less cliched in the source material) with a straight face.
Daisy Jones does considerably better when it leans into the music at its core. The show doesn’t hedge its bets when it comes to turning Reid’s songs into the real deal, and it reimagines more than one of the novel’s key hits. While the music in Daisy Jones doesn’t always sound particularly rock and roll, it is emotive and extremely catchy, made in real life by an impressive slate of collaborators that includes Phoebe Bridgers and Marcus Mumford, according to Billboard. “Look At Us Now,” the anthem that’s been heavily featured in the show’s ad campaign, is a catchy, soaring anthem, while a song that’s meant to convey the angst of the central duo’s creative relationship, “Regret Me,” has authentic ‘70s vibes. Claflin and Keough appear to lend real vocals to the tracks that also make them feel sincere.
Unfortunately, the show can’t quite rise to the challenge of sincerity laid out by its source material, which is at its core about the unglamorous but important adult decisions that come with marriage, creative partnership, and sobriety. A whole lot of Daisy Jones and the Six feels slightly too fake, from the wigs that band members don for interviews set years after the band’s collapse, to the supposedly crackling and undeniable tension that we’re meant to see building between Billy and Daisy. The supporting band cast includes Suki Waterhouse, Will Harrison, Sebastian Chacon, and Josh Whitehouse. While all of them do well in the ‘70s-set scene, the choppy edit of the retrospective framing device makes the group seem largely stiff and awkward.
Other supporting cast mates, though, get more time to shine than they did on the page. Tom Wright plays music industry veteran Teddy Price as a weary-but-wise mentor, while the always-welcome Timothy Olyphant pops up as a tour manager. The show rewrites the story of Daisy’s best friend Simone, a disco star played warmly by Nabiyah Be, for the better. And Camila Morrone skillfully pulls off the series’ biggest challenge, playing a character who (on both the page and the screen) narrowly side-steps the nagging-wife-at-home trope to become the surprise heart of the story.
Fans of classic rock and stories about fame and creative collaboration may get swept up by Daisy Jones and the Six if they want to, but I can’t count myself among them. It’s an adaptation that all but begs for us to see its fictional band’s story as game-changing and oh-so-special, but the end result is a series that’s so focused on playing its self-important tune that it often misses the beat entirely.