Daisy Jones & The Six–Mockumentary looks good but lacks strong story

Review by C.J. Bunce

The new series Daisy Jones & The Six may leave you feeling beat-up, battered around, and strung out.  That’s mainly because it’s way too long, like watching a ten-hour rock concert of a band you don’t particularly like.  It’s not the players, it’s the lack of a single, solid “That Thing You Do!”–the memorable song from the rousing fake music biopic of the same name–or more than a trickle of interesting, passing fun moments.  Based on a coming-of-age novel about cookie cutter rock star addicts, it’s a plain vanilla drama that takes an idea that’s been done–a band mockumentary like This is Spinal Tap–and clothes it in the 1970s.  Only it strays from the format.  Like much on streaming services today, the series could have been better edited into a two-hour movie.  But the biggest takeaway may be that it shows that it’s difficult to write good songs and stories, let alone fake it for a ten-hour show.  Oddly enough, another streaming series right now is showing how it’s done.

First, if you’re basing your band on Fleetwood Mac (according to interviews), why make it about brothers?  That’s the BeeGees–and that would have been something to see, either a biopic or a mock version.  The two women in this band actually take a backseat to the guys.  It’s as if the showrunners realized the only character with any character development in the story is lead singer/founder Billy Dunne, and newcomer Daisy is only there as an ornament, and so they use this as a showcase of actor Sam Claflin, who is compelling in the role and gets to put life into the rock star at different places in his career.  Maybe it’s the title, maybe because Daisy Jones actress Riley Keough was so interesting in Logan Lucky and other roles, but shouldn’t the story be about the rise and fall and rise again of Daisy Jones?  Keough doesn’t get enough to work with and barely a chance to shine.

As a coming-of-age heroine, Daisy leaves little for the younger set to emulate.  (Is it even really a coming-of-age story–as advertised on the novel–if the star is in her thirties?).  Daisy is stoned in practically every scene except the interviews for the mock-doc “filmed” 20 years later (that older character, and her journey to success, should be the focus of the documentary).  Every action she takes in her younger years is designed to hijack her future.  When she’s singing–the thing we’re told Daisy really wants–she is angry, like she’s fighting with the songs.  It’s hard to blame her.  The songs lack the simplicity of 1970s Southern rock, the kind of music Tom Petty was cranking out.  The only time the lyrics and music mesh is early on when Claflin, who sang the songs for the series along with Keough–looks like he’s copying Petty’s voice.  The songs are filled with Petty’s signature “bad booty” tunes, which fit the non-stop dissonance and dysfunction of the band.  (It might have worked better to use some of his actual B-sides or less familiar songs than start from scratch).  The only piece of the band emulating Fleetwood Mac is Daisy’s Stevie Nicks-esque stage dancing.  But with endless-running sentences-as-lyrics like a Sondheim musical, none of the songs has a real rock ‘n’ roll vibe.

You get the feeling there is something more that Keough can deliver as an actor, singer, and performer, and the fact she’s Elvis Presley’s real-life granddaughter means viewers are waiting to see a bit of Elvis come through there, fairly or unfairly to her.  But the songs aren’t musical, and the lyrics seem like they’re in an odd key that requires a more smoker or whisky voice to sing, when the actress clearly sounds like she has a normal voice in real life.  The songs aren’t catchy or memorable, and Keough is left to screech to get the high notes.  It just doesn’t work.

Keough isn’t the only one who doesn’t get a chance here.  Some promising actors don’t get to showcase their talent like they should.  Josh Whitehouse is Eddie Roundtree, the bass player who is in love with Billy’s wife, and he’s the most charismatic of the band, but he gets only a slight plot thread.  Billy’s brother Graham is the lead guitarist, played by Will Harrison.  Harrison is the only actor who looks like he’s 20 years older in the interviews, and he gets a decent subplot where he’s in love with keyboardist Karen Sirko, played by Suki Waterhouse.  Waterhouse doesn’t get much to do other than brood, and we barely see her playing the keyboards.  All we know is she is driven to be a rock star.  Like Daisy, drummer Warren Rojas, played by Sebastian Chacon, is stoned for the series, dissociated from reality, only to win the drummer lottery and marry a movie star.  They all do their best with stock CW series-type roles.  Another character, a singer friend of Daisy’s, Nabiyah Be’s Simone Jackson, is a tangent character, ultimately a shoe-horned role that distracts from this band’s biopic.

Behind the scenes of the band, three characters help keep viewers coming back for more.  Camila Morrone as Camila Dunne, Billy’s eventual wife, stands out more than the star, Daisy, simply because she has more to do in the story.  Of the story’s love triangle, Camila is the only character who gets to exhibit human emotions.  Tom Wright (who sci-fi fans will recognize for playing Star Trek Voyager’s infamous Tuvix) is “legendary producer” Teddy Price, the only character that feels authentic to the era, style, and industry.  The Mandalorian’s Timothy Olyphant, the tour manager, only gets to shine toward the end of the series, despite a goofy wig to make him look young for most of the show.  The best of the 1970s can be seen in the cars, but costume designer Denise Wingate’s selections feel right, too.  The episode directors lean on 1970s hit songs, which highlights the contrast between real hits and attempts at hit songs for the mockumentary.

Fans of rock biopics like The Buddy Holly Story, La Bamba, The Doors, What’s Love Got to Do with It, Ray, and Bohemian Rhapsody can search out those tidbits pulled in for the fake version, like the obligatory stint in music mecca Laurel Canyon.  Which brings us to the other band mockumentary series streaming right now.  That’s The Muppets Mayhem, now on Disney+, and yes, that series about Muppets gets more right about seizing nostalgia and making a show about a classic rock band.  Keep coming back to borg for our review of that series.  It’s also notable that the Elvis Presley movie Elvis (reviewed here) came out in the same year.  That movie shows another way to get a music biopic right.

Daisy Jones & The Six is a difficult series to binge-watch–you may get that post-concert headache–so watch it over time.  It drags and meanders like many TV dramas.  Hopefully we’ll look back on this series later after the actors’ careers take off–the actors do their best with a weak story and script.  Stream all ten episodes of Daisy Jones & The Six now here on Prime Video.

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