How long was it before I realised I didn’t believe a word of Daisy Jones & the Six, a ten-part series based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Taylor Jenkins Reid? The answer is: not very.
I looked at the British actor Sam Claflin, who for the purposes of playing an American rock star called Billy Dunne across more than two decades must sport various different blow-dries, and I thought: I don’t buy any of this. You’re not a rock star. You don’t look like a rock star, and you don’t sound like a rock star, and, actually, nor do any of the other members of your pretend band. And because of this, I don’t remotely care why you split up in 1977, at a point when you were, apparently, the biggest act in the Western world.
The band in question is also called Daisy Jones & the Six, and it comprises four guys, one of whom is Dunne’s grandpa of a brother, Graham (Will Harrison), and two women: Karen (Suki Waterhouse), who’s on keyboards, and Daisy (Riley Keough), a singer and songwriter of (supposedly) rare genius. The series takes the form of a mock biopic. Until now, we learn – now being 20 years later, which would put it at 1997 – the story of the Great Split has, whisper it, never been told. We then flit between various talking heads – the band, looking weirdly not a day older in spite of their wild rock and roll lifestyles – and the main action, in which we see how they got together in the early Seventies in Pittsburgh and in LA, and follow them on the road to international fame, mild debauchery and (presumably) major creative differences.
To be honest, the last part is hard to imagine, for the simple reason that their creativity isn’t wholly apparent to me. This, of course, is the basic problem with fictional rock bands: their songs, written to order, are never much cop. Only the Monkees pulled that one off. Bland and dirge-like, those in Daisy are written by Marcus Mumford, Jackson Browne and others, and yes, an album is coming.
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Daisy Jones & the Six are obviously – kind of, sort of – based on Fleetwood Mac, but knowing this only makes the thing less credible (especially if you watched the BBC’s amazing 2019 profile of Christine McVie after she died last year). What is complex – addiction, say, or marriage – is made to seem simple here, and vice versa; the band, talking to camera, is ludicrously articulate as well as preposterously good-looking. Around every last amp lies a cliché: see a trailer, for instance, and you can bet your scratched copy of Rumours Billy will be having sex with a groupie inside it, and that his bewildered young pre-fame wife is about to discover this.
But the script – and perhaps its producers, Reese Witherspoon among them – is also a bit worried by the era’s woeful sexual politics, an anxiety it duly addresses with a little light retrospective wishful thinking. Daisy is a plucky feminist, her Donna Summer-esque friend Simone (Nabiyah Be) is a lesbian, and everyone in Laurel Canyon (where the band live) looks like they’re in a Holly Hobbie story, even if they are smoking weed all day long. (The clothes are so gorgeous, and I was so bored, I was finally compelled to visit a fashion website where I frantically searched “crochet tank” and “Victorian high-neck blouse”.)
I think this is a bad show, complacent in all its slickness. If it’s a fictional Seventies band you’re in the mood for, I recommend Cameron Crowe’s 2000 film Almost Famous (Stillwater’s songs aren’t great, either, but everything else is perfect). Not even Keough can lift it – and she is rather marvellous as Daisy, the band’s latecomer and the one who will transform its fortunes. She can really sing.
As I watched her, I thought of how life must have buffeted her (she is Elvis Presley’s granddaughter, was briefly Michael Jackson’s step-daughter, and you can Google the rest). Is this her secret? Is this why she’s able to make herself a still point in every scene, the one person who effortlessly draws the eyes and the ears, if not the mind? I don’t know. But she’s utterly wasted here, mired in predictable tour-bus histrionics and Claflin’s luxuriant hair.
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This article appears in the 01 Mar 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Mission