‘Daisy Jones & The Six’ Fictionalizes a ‘70s Rock Band to Play an Uneven Show

Amazon’s “Daisy Jones & The Six” is adapted from a particular kind of literary genre. The original bestselling novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid is an inventive fantasy written like one of those familiar “oral histories” about famous bands or films. In the spirit of David Mitchell’s “Utopia Avenue” or Salman Rushdie’s “The Ground Beneath Her Feet,” it’s a fun marriage of rock music and literature, allowing the reader’s imagination to conjure its world and sounds. Instead of playing around with the style of the book, this adaptation settles for a rather typical, mundane approach that struggles to justify itself. Reid’s inspiration for the book was the tumultuous relationship between Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. So many iconic bands have yet to be properly dramatized that we’re left wondering why we need to devote ten hours to this made up act that lacks edge. 

The structure of the show is a clunky duel of styles. Mockumentary interviews with the jaded members of Daisy Jones & The Six are intercut with the dramatic sections telling their story. So it is a TV drama with a mockumentary spliced in. It begins in the late ‘60s when Daisy, originally born Margaret (Riley Keough), felt alone in a home with a drunken, bitter wealthy mother. A natural for songwriting, young Daisy would wander Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip at night to check out bands like the Byrds and the Doors at the legendary Whisky a Go Go. Fate eventually brings Daisy into the orbit of a struggling band calling itself the Dunne Brothers, comprised of brothers, singer Billy Dunne (Sam Claflin) and guitarist Graham Dunne (Will Harrison), as well as drummer Warren Rojas (Sebastian Chacon), bassist Eddie Roundtree (Josh Whitehouse), and Karen Sirko (Suki Waterhouse) on keyboards. The group originates in Pittsburgh, before moving to L.A. just in time for the ‘70s and a music scene that will be defined by bands like Led Zeppelin. Once they include Daisy and find their defining name, fame awaits with everything else.

Film and TV have always struggled to capture a band’s essence, place in history and intimate stories all at once. The lasting successes, such as “The Temptations” and “The Doors” are few. Literature has always worked better, along with great music criticism, because the written word has the needed space to encompass what makes a song or artist special. That’s why Reid’s novel worked. As a movie the show struggles to find a worthy theme or reason for us to follow rock stars which never existed. A driving idea is needed. Cameron Crowe’s great “Almost Famous” endures because it’s about both music and a teen discovering journalism. HBO’s short-lived “Vinyl” attempted to define the memories of a particular era. “Daisy Jones & The Six” is rather timid in exploring both excess and the times. Set in the ‘70s, the band never seems impacted by the politics and social shifts of the time, which impacted so much of the decade’s art. Vietnam is an afterthought and the sexual revolution is reduced to the usual groupie action. However, the show should be commended for exploring the darker side of sexualized backstage culture in such scenes. Daisy is basically raped at 15 by an unnamed singer she sees at the Whisky, who takes her to his hotel room as if she were an object owed to him.

The series does have some good and engaging moments. It works best when it sticks to the artistic process, allowing the audience to be in the studio as producer Teddy Price (Tom Wright) looks through material, breaks down songs and pushes the band to find better material. When Daisy and Billy discuss a song during a recording session, there are wonderful moments where they genuinely explore what the lyrics are meant to express. Fans of the book will be happy to hear a quite decent rendition of “Look at Us Now (Honeycomb),” one of the invented tracks from the book, now turned into an actual single written and produced by Blake Mills, with Marcus Mumford working on some of the lyrics. They successfully create something shadowing Fleetwood Mac. It’s the first smash hit from the band’s debut, “Aurora,” which will also be released along with the series. Record label politics are also convincingly handled. Timothy Olyphant as tour manager Rod Reyes is hilariously scruffy and shady. 

What dilutes the rest of the series is its soapy tone that diverts from the edgier rock angle and artistic process, focusing instead on how once Daisy records a duet with Billy, they lock eyes and we know a forbidden romance will begin. Before achieving fame Billy was already dating suburban aspiring photographer Camila (Camila Morrone), who gets pregnant and is shocked to discover her ‘70s rocker boyfriend sleeps with girls in the tour RV. She sticks with him as he and the band strive for success, then the affair with Daisy begins and the show becomes about nothing else. Other members of the group are kept as musician clichés with a few moments of genuine humor. When the band receives their first royalty checks, they all recall the first items they purchased. A more serious Karen says, “I invested in the stock market, obviously.” The concert sequences are entertaining enough, filmed with a sunny look akin to the flashback scenes in “This Is Us.” Somehow, Daisy taking pills and a swig of whisky behind the amp is made to look more breezy than dangerous. The original songs are pleasant and the soundtrack goes for some better selections, like Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love,” than the usual repeat needle drops.

“Daisy Jones & The Six” is filmed with plenty of gloss and a strong cast. Executive producer Reese Witherspoon proves she has a good eye for material to adapt. The execution just lacks verve and bite. Artists that created bands like Fleetwood Mac had deeper levels, and lived in feverish times. Movies like “The Doors” or “The Rose,” or even the recent remake of “A Star Is Born,” can become unnerving while being exhilarating. On TV, “George & Tammy” truly captured a volatile relationship involving two talented artists, gripped by vice and powerful feelings. The difference is that George Jones and Tammy Wynette actually existed. Even the background music score in “Daisy Jones & The Six” is a tinkling, family-friendly dirge. The actors deliver and the original songs stand on their own, but the series needs more of a kick.

Daisy Jones & The Six” begins streaming March 3 with new episodes premiering Fridays on Amazon Prime Video.