Sam Claflin and Riley Keough star in Daisy Jones and the Six, the ten-part mock-doc-drama on the biggest rock band that never existed. Read James Harvey’s review of the Prime Video series.
Daisy Jones and the Six, the opening card of Prime Video’s latest original miniseries tells us, were once one of the biggest rock bands on the planet. Their multi-platinum selling album, Aurora (which arrived on streaming services yesterday) won a shedload of awards. In 1977, they played to sold-out crowds in a tour across the US. Since both band and album are completely made-up, by far the greatest achievement of the show is that that idea doesn’t seem completely ridiculous.
Based on Taylor Jenkins Reid’s bestselling novel and starting roughly in the late sixties, the rise and fall of Daisy Jones and the Six isn’t too far-removed from anything we’ve seen before. Scrappy underdogs grow up in Pittsburgh, get famous, discover cocaine and fall apart.
The music, then, is the main original attraction. Though Reid’s novel included the lyrics to the whole Aurora album, the likes of Phoebe Bridgers and Marcus Mumford have been brought in to add the necessary musical juice, and the result sounds pretty authentic. Part Fleetwood Mac, part… Actually, it’s very Fleetwood Mac. The variety on display is impressive, though, even if being limited to a single album means we get a little tired of ‘Regret Me’ sixth time round before the series ends.
The story also starts off well. Action cuts between dramatized footage of the band in its heyday and talking head interviews (nominally 20 years later, though slightly distractingly, an off-screen discovery seems to have cured human ageing in the interim). The setup allows for a few entertaining perspective changes, even if hearing characters’ internal monologues is less necessary here than in the book, where actors can show most of that off themselves.
And though the overarching tale is a traditional one, there’s still a lot of joy to be carved out of it. The production design captures the period feel immaculately without resorting to flared jeans and dodgy wigs. Episodes two and three in particular show off the seventies Californian music scene with such depth it’s hard not to stop and marvel at. And, like all underdog stories, sometimes it’s comforting to just see a familiar tale told well as the band find a label, and their feet, in the rock’n’roll world.
From roughly the fourth episode onwards, though, the story’s focus shifts. That’s when the two story lines (Daisy Jones and The Six weren’t always one unit, you see) converge, and the whole thing turns into more of a will-they-won’t-they romance between lead singers Daisy (Riley Keough) and Billy (Sam Claflin). Again, it starts well: the two leads’ first meeting has enough firecracker chemistry to fuel the live musical scenes for the entire series.
Even as it progresses, the romance is absolutely fine: the problem is it’s not very rock’n’roll. Sure, Daisy does a lot of drugs, they argue, Billy’s wife, Camila (Camila Morrone) gets a bit cross. But there’s none of the gritty, uncomfortable moments we’re used to seeing in the lives of real musical icons. As a portrait of the music industry, it comes across a bit sanitised, too much like a thousand other YA romances and a million other love triangles. When the original setup already borrows liberally from real-life material, that’s a bit of a problem.
Being a complete story rather than a music documentary, of course, there’s the temptation at the end to tie up all the loose threads into a nice big bow. Unfortunately, that only drives it further from the talking heads format it copies. For a show which so meticulously captures the music and tone of its seventies showbiz setting, it’s a shame the plot doesn’t manage the same. Daisy Jones and the Six is a stylish, well-researched show with a cracking soundtrack. It’s just not quite messy enough.