'Daisy Jones & The Six' let me down, and I am not taking it easily
Sex, drugs, and rock & roll. This is the foundation of Amazon’s new television series “Daisy Jones & The Six,” based on the novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid. The show, set in the characteristic '70s haze, follows the rise and fall of a rock band that is loosely based on the story of Fleetwood Mac. Starring Sam Claflin as band leader Billy Dunne and Riley Keough (Elvis’s granddaughter) as the titular Daisy Jones, the world of this series has caught the attention and adoration of many. For fans of Reid, '70s rock music and fashion, and Finnick from the "Hunger Games," Daisy Jones was a highly anticipated release. As someone who falls into all three of those categories, I can say that I was mildly disappointed in the show’s execution. Here’s why.
I read the novel “Daisy Jones & The Six” a few years ago. I had previously picked up Reid’s other bestseller “The Seven Lives of Evelyn Hugo” and was transported. Reid has a talent for creating fictional characters who seem so real that you feel like you could make a quick Google search and find them credited on some of the most influential movies and music of the past 50 years. The show captures this convincingly realistic fiction style well.
It begins in our beloved Pittsburgh, where Billy Dunne and his brother Graham start a band with some of their high school friends. The Pittsburgh shoutout gave me a good first impression of the series, especially the odes to Giant Eagle and steel mills that are characteristic to the city we all call home. However, this rosy lens was quickly shattered when the story shifted to the formation of the band. Billy is played by Sam Claflin, who is currently 36 years old. His character ranges in age from about 18 through 28 over the course of the show. Claflin, typical to people in their mid-30s, has some smile lines around his eyes and very obviously does not look like an 18 or 19-year-old. Of course, this is a minor detail, but it made me feel disconnected from the youthful hope and naïveté that are essential to Billy’s character in the beginning of the story.
After the band forms, they make the life-changing decision to move from humble Pittsburgh to bustling Los Angeles, the hub of the music scene. There, they use their scrappy wits and charm to secure a spot playing gigs at a dive bar aptly called Filthy McNasty’s. The band, now called The Six, get a record deal and go on a tour that falls apart due to Billy’s alcohol addiction. While trying to pick up the pieces from their tour disaster, we are launched into the crux of the story. The Six’s manager suggests that they try collaborating on their new song with the one and only Daisy Jones, who has been cultivating a music career of her own during this time.
This development leads us into the main plot of the series and we are rewarded for our long wait with lots of dramatic conflict between the two firecracker personalities of Daisy and Billy. One unique aspect of this series is that its release was accompanied by the release of the album that Daisy Jones and The Six write, record, and perform in the show. This album, “AURORA,” is available for us to listen to — and I must say, it is very impressively done and catchy. The vocals and instrumentals are done by the actual cast members who were put into a weeks-long “band camp” to prepare for their roles as actual band members. I do admire this feature of the show. Reading the book, I remember not being able to imagine the songs that Daisy and Billy wrote because they were just words on a paper. But the well-crafted melodies written by a variety of musicians including Phoebe Bridgers and Marcus Mumford work to bring the band alive and authentically carry that addictive quality found in the drama of the story and characters. I think that the songs are delightful, especially the powerhouse vocals from Keough, and have been listening to them on repeat since the series came out. A few of my favorites are “Let Me Down Easy,” “Kill You to Try,” and “The River.” All are certainly a labor of love from the team that went into creating them, and this is palpable in the music.
Despite thoroughly enjoying the finished product of “AURORA,” I found the portrayal of creating the album in the show to be lacking. First of all, the process of writing the album only spans about three episodes. Billy and Daisy are shown experimenting with lyrics and learning how to compromise on their ideas, but only for a few songs on the album are we given the motive or the meaning of the lyrics. In this way, I felt that the series missed out on the depth that the book includes. And while this is probably a result of the limited space of a TV mini-series, I thought the omission of an explanation of all the songs on the album that made the band a world-wide success left me unsatisfied.
The aesthetics of “Daisy Jones” are what drew many to the series in the first place. On the contrary, I believe that the makeup and costumes looked just a bit too curated to be realistic to the time period and Reid’s writing. Every character’s makeup is carefully done even if it is supposed to look messy, and their outfits were obviously chosen by a stylist team. I think this could have been overlooked if not for the blatant commercialization of the Daisy Jones “brand.” In the weeks after the show’s release, I was bombarded with advertisements about Daisy Jones collections from major fashion and beauty brands. The fact that the arrival of these ads was almost simultaneous with the series being unveiled to the public suggests that this was one of the motives of the series — to create revenue based on fans’ desires to be just like Daisy Jones. This commodification of media rubbed me the wrong way and felt like some marketing scheme to launch a carefully planned new fashion craze.
Overall, “Daisy Jones & The Six” missed the mark for me. I really wanted to love it, and I did enjoy some aspects of it like the music and the setting. But mostly, it was an oversimplified version of the novel that worked to capitalize on its audience. This does not sully my opinion of the novel or Reid’s other works, though, which I do recommend that you check out. In the meantime, I will continue to listen to “AURORA” and pretend that this show lived up to my expectations.