If you’ve been on BookTok or Book Twitter in the last three years, you’ve heard of Daisy Jones & the Six. The Taylor Jenkins Reid novel follows the rise and fall of a fictional 1970s rock band which draws heavy inspiration from the interpersonal dramas behind Fleetwood Mac and The Civil Wars. Since its publication in 2019, the book has attracted a huge fanbase, one that grew seemingly exponentially as the TV series based on the book hit Amazon Prime over the past month.
Like the book, the show is framed as a documentary set years after the band’s dramatic breakup. The explosion was born of a myriad of simmering tensions— most prominently the fraught love triangle between lead singer Daisy Jones (Riley Keough), frontman Billy Dunne (Sam Claflin), and his wife Camila Alvarez (Camila Morrone). The show plays out in parallel timelines as we simultaneously watch interviews with the older versions of the band members reflecting on their careers with plenty of conflicting accounts and withheld truths to keep things interesting, alongside the real story of the band.
The music scene of Los Angeles in the 70s is fertile ground for aesthetics and storytelling, but the show’s attempt to capture the sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll underbelly of the era falls short. Twitter has been rife with jokes about the actors’ chronic “know-what-an-iPhone-is face” or far-too-perfect teeth, and these memes touch on the truth. There’s a gloss of “cleanness” Daisy Jones & the Six never manages to shake; even when we’re watching Billy and Daisy respectively fall down the messy roads of addiction or seeing the band let loose at substance-fuelled post-show parties, the danger never quite feels real. The show launched a clothing collaboration with Free People, and this turns out to be an apt metaphor for its version of the 70s overall. It’s an attempt to capture the aesthetics of the era without really embracing the grittier, darker elements that define it — there are a lot of flared jeans and shag haircuts, but the show’s creators can’t quite replicate the novel’s deft distillation of the era. A lot of the heaviest-hitting scenes, for example, the pivotal moment in Episode 2 where Billy at the rock bottom of his spiral into addiction, misses the birth of his daughter, feel toothless and lacking in the gravitas they had in the book.
All that said, what truly made the novel so propulsively compelling was the romance —the exact brand of multifaceted, morally ambiguous rollercoaster of angst that Reid has long-succeeded in hooking her readers with. And it is here, happily, that the show boasts one of its strongest selling points. I’ll admit to some skepticism during the first two episodes, which followed Billy and the band (first called The Dunne Brothers, later The Six) in parallel to Daisy as they navigated their respective music careers ahead of their collaboration. From their oeuvres of work, it’s clear that both Claflin and Keough are fine actors in their own rights, but neither one of them immediately blew me away. Attempts to pass a 36-year-old Claflin off as the teenaged Billy were, rightfully, questioned, and while Keough tapped into the free-spirited boho energy of Daisy easily enough, she didn’t immediately exhibit the acerbic edge that Daisy has in the book.
The only standout performance from the get-go was Morrone’s Camila, immediately magnetic, empowered, and easy to empathize with as Billy’s wife who fights like hell not to let her husband’s spiral take her and her family down with it. My fears were forgotten, however, as soon as the band and Daisy meet for the first time. Billy’s brother Graham (Will Harrison), and their other bandmates —cool-girl Karen Sirko (Suki Waterhouse), easygoing Warren Rhodes (Sebastian Chaco), and the perpetually embittered Eddie Roundtree (Josh Whitehouse) —look on in trepidation as their manager Teddy Price (Tom Wright) forces his most promising charges to work together, resulting in a tense, combative, but ultimately explosive first duet between Daisy and Billy.
The chemistry sets the screen ablaze straightaway. It’s not that any of my earlier qualms are resolved —they’re not— but they are much easier to ignore when the central dynamic is so addictively compelling. The depths of the mutually destructive, mutually obsessive equation between Billy and Daisy aren’t plumbed as thoroughly as they were on the page, but it’s hard to care about that when you’re watching, breathlessly, as they invade each other’s personal space and cuss each other out while leaning close enough to kiss. Billy’s conflict between loyalty to his wife and the magnetic connection he shares with Daisy feels flattened compared to the book, but again, no complaints from me because Claflin has turned “making tortured eyes at a woman across the room like you’re the only two people there” into an art form. You swoon, gasp, and holler. Frankly, it’s just highly entertaining television and sometimes, that’s all a show needs to be.
An unfortunate byproduct of the electrifying love triangle at the show’s heart is that the rest of the cast is left a little washed out in the glare. They’re not without their moments. The romance that develops between Karen and a yearning Graham is sweet, if a little overshadowed. Warren and, on occasion, an ever-snarky Eddie earn a good chunk of the show’s laughs. The show even attempts to pad out storylines that the book glossed over. Eddie pines after Camila, offering another layer to his years-long resentment of Billy’s spotlight-hogging; Daisy’s friend, Disco star Simone Jackson (Nabiyah Be) gets more focus on her own career and love story. But there are just too many people and not enough screen time for any of their arcs to be explored fully.
If anything, the best encapsulation of Daisy Jones & the Six is the music. Ahead of the premiere, Amazon released Aurora, the album that the band releases in the show. It’s written by a slew of professional musicians (ranging from Marcus Mumford to Phoebe Bridgers), performed by the actual actors of the band who trained to sing and play their instruments for real, and has topped streaming charts since its release. In the world of the show, it’s meant to be a transcendent, culture-defining release that occupies the same place in the Taylor Jenkins Reid universe that Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours does in ours. As a result, it’s struck by the same pitfall that often comes with any art about art. Narratively, the work is supposed to be extraordinary, so it quickly becomes obvious when it’s actually just….okay. The record is catchy and inoffensive but won’t exactly be sweeping the Grammys. And yet, once you’ve watched the soapy montages of the simmering romantic tensions that went into its fictional creation, it’s hard not to let it grow on you. Soon enough, you’ll find tracks like ‘The River’ and ‘Look at Us Now (Honeycomb)’ are as good to scream along to in your car as any others. Neither the show nor the album ever manages to shed their bright, clean patinas enough to really explore the angst they depict in any real depth. But I defy you not to be hooked by the journey anyway.
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