Daisy Jones & the Six review – not even Elvis’s grandkid can save this 70s rock’n’roll saga
Taylor Jenkins Reid’s bestseller Daisy Jones & the Six is a beautifully controlled depiction of the exuberant rise and chaotic fall of a 1970s band – fictional but very much reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac. It captured the glamour, the hedonism, the freedom, the joy of unleashing talent and the agony of addiction, all the while building an acute psychological portrait of each character and – even more impressively – the cross-currents between them all. Love, resentment, creative and sexual tension, insecurities and monstrous egos collide, rebound and send shockwaves back into and beyond the group, compounding their mistakes but also creating the alchemy that gives rise to great music.
It is a book made for television – even down to the way it is structured, as the members of the band are being interviewed for a documentary 20 years after they broke up – and the rights were duly snapped up by Reese Witherspoon. The result is a glossy, 10-part Prime Video adaptation, developed by writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber, and directed by James Ponsoldt. They have kept the style and glamour – everyone and everything in it looks ceaselessly gorgeous – but failed to repeat Jenkins Reid’s great feat, which was to make you care about this group of talented, fortunate people who couldn’t keep themselves together enough to succeed for long, and who damaged an awful lot of people in the fallout.
It is a rags-to-riches-to-slightly-less-raggy-rags story. Four childhood friends in Pittsburgh, including brothers Billy (Sam Claflin) and Graham Dunne (Will Harrison), form a band in the hope of escaping their home town. With the addition of Karen Sirko (Suki Waterhouse), poached from another band and an unrequited love interest for Graham, they make it to LA and are on the brink of stardom when Billy’s addictions overcome him and he enters rehab. When he gets out, their manager, Teddy Price (Tom Wright), puts them with his new discovery, Daisy Jones (Riley Keough), a beautiful, charismatic singer-songwriter with a slightly effortfully fiery spirit and anachronistic feminist awareness (present in the book but bumped up here). The chemistry she has with frontman and co-lyricist Billy is enough to propel them to nationwide success, while sowing the seeds of their doom.
The first two episodes are fun, as we track the band paying their dues in dingy clubs while Daisy hones her craft, befriends “disco pioneer” Simone Jackson (Nabiyah Be) and learns how treacherous the business can be. She has songs poached after playing them in private to unscrupulous boyfriends and is expected to aspire no higher than being a muse to men.
Although the series gains more heft after Billy gets out of rehab, and more torque once Daisy arrives, Daisy Jones & the Six never properly comes to life. It’s all a little too slick and sanitary. Perhaps such projects are always doomed by the impossibility of creating a fully credible, Fleetwood Mac-standard band for television. What can be evoked on the page is a much trickier proposition on screen. The charismatic and talented Keough (who also trails clouds of fascination for the viewer by being the granddaughter of Elvis Presley) and Claflin have put in months of work with vocal coaches, and the Six’s songs were created through collaborations with Grammy award-winning producer Blake Mills and musicians including Phoebe Bridgers, Marcus Mumford and Jackson Browne. But despite all that, it’s still hard to suspend disbelief.
It remains fun, however, especially if your tolerance for artistic egomania is high. I happily watched to the end, but it is the book I will return to.
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