As far as new series were concerned, little was as high on my 2023 anticipated list as Daisy Jones and the Six, which is based on a Taylor Jenkins Reid novel I’ve been raving about for years. It is the audiobook that got me into audiobooks, and for a couple of years, the first one I recommended to any friend asking for recs. The writing is so fun and the voice acting is so spot on that there are moments the reader forgets that it’s a fictional band. There are no songs in the audiobook, but you can almost hear them, and when you’re done with the book, you’re tempted to look up the characters on Wikipedia to find out what happened to them after the events of the novel.
The audiobook — read by, among others, Jennifer Beals, Benjamin Bratt, Judy Greer, and Pablo Schreiber — felt like the best-ever episode of VH1’s Behind the Music, which seems like it would be tailor-made for a television series. It’s celebrity gossip, music biopic, faux-documentary, and musical all wrapped together in the perfect streaming package. Casting Riley Keogh — the granddaughter of Elvis — as Daisy Jones felt almost too perfect, and bringing in Timothy Olyphant in a supporting role was icing on the cake. Hiring Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (Disaster Artist, Spectacular Now) to run the show was likewise an excellent choice — I’ve been big admirers of those two since (500 Days) of Summer.
Yet, for all that Daisy Jones has going for it, like so many movies and television shows before it, it fails to live up to the source material. The irony, alas, is that Daisy Jones and the Six was practically written as a television show. One might think it’d be a simple cut-and-paste job. It is clearly not. Whatever magic Taylor Jenkins Reid and that voice cast conjured up between the words doesn’t translate onscreen; and the energy and intensity of the page do not seep through the screen.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Daisy Jones and the Six is shot as a sort of documentary/biopic with talking heads discussing the rise and fall of a 1970s rock band. We learn at the outset that, on “October 4th, 1977, Daisy Jones and the Six performed to a sold-out crowd at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. They were one of the biggest bands in the world at the time fresh off their award-winning multiplatinum album, Aurora. It would be their final performance. In the 20 years since, members of the band and their inner circle have refused to speak about what happened … until now.”
Intriguing, right? It’s clear early on that it’s a story that was inspired by Fleetwood Mac and probably Stillwater, the fictional band in Almost Famous. Daisy Jones (Keogh) is a young singer-songwriter trying to make it in the business. Billy Dunne (Sam Claflin) is the lead singer for The Six, a semi-talented band struggling to break through. They essentially share a manager, Teddy Price (Tom Wright), who encourages them to perform together once. The ferocity of emotion between Jones and Dunne is off-the-charts. They hate each other, but there is magic in that hatred, a chemistry that would both fuel the band and be its undoing.
And that’s the thing about the series: When Keogh and Claflin are at each other’s throats, it comes close to living up to the novel. Claflin doesn’t do much for me (he looks like a young William Fichtner), but when the two are fighting, I get it. There’s a simmering energy that is hard to deny. Unfortunately, the two spend entirely too much time apart over the course of the first seven episodes, trying to avoid each other because they hate each other and knowing that their hatred is masking sexual chemistry. When they’re not fighting, the series struggles to keep things interesting: Billy goes through the traditional rock-star bottoming out before sobering up thanks to his loving and faithful wife Camila (Camila Morrone); Daisy spends a lot of time with her best friend, Simone Jackson (Nabiyah Be), an aspiring disco performer who is closeted; and there’s another romantic pairing in the band between Billy’s brother, Graham (Will Harrison) and the keyboardist, Karen (Suki Waterhouse), which frankly doesn’t have a lot of spark. It doesn’t help, either, that Billy is an asshole.
It’s a long series — the 10 episodes are as long as the 9-hour audiobook — which is part of the problem. There are at least two or three episodes of bloat. However, I’ll concede that once the fireworks start going off in episode 8, Daisy Jones starts to levitate. Is it worth sitting through seven hours of a fairly generic music biopic to get there? It would be if Timothy Olyphant were in it more often, but he’s only in it around the times when Daisy and Billy are fighting. I hate to say it because of my fondness for the source material, but the rest of it is middling, and that includes all of the songs, save for “Look at Us Now (Honeycomb).” Beyond that, it’s watered-down Fleetwood Mac/Allman Brothers that’s not nearly as good as the music we imagined while reading the novel.
Ultimately, that’s the problem with any adaptation, even one so clearly written to be adapted: Everything can be perfect on paper, but the alchemy that our own brain supplies cannot be replicated on film. It’s near beer — a similar taste, but none of the intoxicating effects. It’s a shame, too, because Daisy Jones finishes strong, but it’s a chore to get there.
The first eight episodes of Daisy Jones and the Six are streaming on Amazon Prime. The final two will be released on Thursday.