Whew. I made it! The final two episodes of the 10-episode mini-series Daisy Jones & The Six dropped this week, and I blasted through them. And overall, despite some misgivings, I have to say that this is a series well worth watching.
I read the book by Taylor Jenkins Reid years ago when it was released, and absolutely loved it. (See for yourself, here). So I was both incredibly excited and incredibly nervous to hear that it would be adapted as a TV series. Excited, because I loved the story. And obviously, nervous — what if they ruined it???
Now that Daisy Jones & The Six — the series — is a reality, I can safely say that it works… mostly. The show captures the rise and fall of this (fictional) legendary 1970s rock band — a band that called it quits right at the pinnacle of their success.
Talking just about the show for a moment, the series has documentary-style interviews framing the main action. Right from the start, we learn that Daisy Jones & The Six (the band) played a stunning concert in Chicago in 1977, then never performed together again. What happened, and why, is the driving question of the series.
Various band members and associates are interviewed in the late 90s, looking back on their memories, but these brief clips are used to bookend the main action, where we actually see the events unfold in the 60s and 70s.
As the series opens, Billy and Graham Dunne are high school students living in the Pittsburgh area, playing rock and roll in their garage with a few friends, and ultimately deciding to try to make it as the Dunne Brothers band. After playing weddings and local gigs, they hit the road in pursuit of the music world’s promised land, LA, along with older brother Billy’s new girlfriend, Camilla.
Success is slow to arrive, but Billy, as lead singer, displays rock star charisma early on, and they play more and more gigs, although still not quite breaking through to the stratosphere of rock success. Once they land a record deal, they change their name to The Six, and launch their first tour — with success, but with a devastating effect on Billy and Camilla’s personal lives.
Meanwhile, we also meet Daisy, the ignored daughter of a wealthy, narcissistic LA couple. Left to her own devices, Daisy finds solace in music, and by her early teens, is hanging out by the stage doors of clubs and bars, making her way into the sex, drugs, and rock and roll scene at much too young an age.
Eventually, Daisy and The Six are brought together by their mutual producer, and magic happens, although not without resentment and complications. From there, it’s inevitable that Daisy and The Six will join forces, and it becomes clear that Billy and Daisy have a chemistry between them that goes way beyond the music they create.
Okay, enough synopsis…
The series really captures the vibe of the 70s music scene. Supposedly inspired by the music as well as the behind-the-scenes drama of Fleetwood Mac, Daisy Jones & The Six rocket to stardom, but with huge emotional cost. There’s all the pills, speed, and coke you’d expect, and the drama between the band members stays at a high pitch throughout.
I was skeptical at first about the musical aspect of the show. It’s a show about rockstars, but those rockstars are played by actors, not musicians. And yet, what they achieve is really impressive. There’s no air guitar or lip syncing here — every bit of music is performed by the cast, and they do it convincingly. Not every number is a huge hit, and the comparison to Fleetwood Mac means they have a very high bar to meet — and the show doesn’t always succeed in showing why these songs, this album, this band became so huge.
As a whole, the show gets better and better from episode to episode. Maybe I just became more invested, but it also felt like the cast start to really inhabit their characters more and more as the story progressed.
As for the cast, the age factor is problematic in the early episodes. We meet Billy and his friends as teens, played by a younger set of actors, but the main cast takes over when the characters should still be in their early 20s, and that was hard to swallow. Billy is played by Sam Claflin, who’s definitely talented and brings Billy’s inner demons and outer showman to life so well — but the actor is in his mid-30s, and just looks out of place as a younger Billy. I tried to ignore it, but it was uncomfortable — it works much better in later episodes, when the band has more years of hard living under their belts.
Riley Keough is terrific as Daisy, although again, much better in the later episodes. With the Daisy character, she doesn’t come across as quite as much of a hot mess as she’s supposed to be in the first third or so of the series. It’s only later, as she becomes more and more of a disaster, that she becomes truly fascinating.
BOOK & SHOW SPOILERS AHEAD!!
In terms of comparisons to the book, I don’t think the series stands up quite as well in a direct comparison. I can’t judge how well it works for people who haven’t read the book. For me, I decided to do a re-read before the show aired, which was quite probably a mistake. With the story so fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help comparing each major beat of the series to how it was presented in the book, and that got in the way of my being able to just watch and enjoy it for what it is.
The most glaring change is the presentation of the Billy/Daisy/Camilla dynamic, which in the series, is a pretty clear love triangle. Billy loves his wife and the stability she represents, but Daisy is his creative soulmate, and possibly more. Billy and Daisy connect through music and have a chemistry that they both deny in different ways. In the book, nothing actually happens between Billy and Daisy, and ultimately, Camilla steps in to send Daisy away, basically doing her a kindness by telling her not to keep hurting herself through loving Billy, when Billy would never, ever leave his family for her. In the series, however, Camilla is hurt and angry, the confrontations are between Camilla and Billy, and Billy comes much closer to destroying his marriage and giving in to both his addictions and his need for Daisy. (It’s a good story, but was hard for me to watch because I kept thinking about how the book depicted the crisis).
(Camilla’s behavior in general is very different in the series from how I perceived it in the book. And we might argue that she’s too good to be true in the book, but I was disturbed by some of her actions and choices in the show, which from my perspective seem out of character.)
There are plenty of other differences, but mostly in smaller pieces of the puzzle. At the start, I was disappointed that the lyrics to the songs had changed — the book includes lyrics to all the songs written by Billy and Daisy. Still, in terms of the series, I had to admire the creativity. Obviously, the book provided lyrics without music, so the series producers brought in teams of singers and songwriters to create the music, and gave these creators the freedom to write new versions of the songs that worked for them, while keeping the underlying themes and messages.
END OF SPOILERS
The music is actually quite a lot of fun, once I eased up on the comparisons and let myself enjoy it. I think it’s somewhat hilarious that the album Aurora by Daisy Jones & The Six is a real thing that exists… and no, I haven’t purchased it, but that doesn’t mean I’m not tempted!
A little clip for your viewing/listening pleasure:
Now that I’ve reached the end, I can’t quite get the story or the songs out of my mind. I’m very tempted to start all over again from the beginning — with a second viewing, I think I’ll be able to focus much more on what’s on the screen in front of me without the mental distractions of comparisons to the book.
So, bottom line — do I recommend the TV version of Daisy Jones & The Six? Yes, most definitely. It’s a bit uneven, not necessarily successful in every single episode, but overall, it delivers that rock story and emotional messiness that the trailer promises, and the talented cast really sells it all.
Have you watched Daisy Jones & The Six? If so, what did you think?