'Daisy Jones & The Six' Series Review: Riley Keough & Sam Claflin Find Fame In Prime Video Drama
Alright, pack up your guitars and drums, it's time to rock n' roll. Musical drama Daisy Jones & The Six adapts Taylor Jenkins Reid's novel of the same name for a miniseries, following the highs and lows of stardom, battle of egos and vocal ranges. The Six is a five-piece rock band from Pittsburgh which relocates to Los Angeles in order to ''make it'' in the business, eventually crossing paths with mega-producer Teddy Price (Tom Wright) who has the idea to combine them with a promising songwriter and singer Daisy Jones (Riley Keough). Rest of the band consists of singer-guitarist Billy Dunne (Sam Claflin), bassist Eddie (Josh Whitehouse), guitarist Graham (Will Harrison), Karen (Suki Waterhouse) on keys and drummer Warren (Sebastian Chacon), with Billy's girlfriend Camila (Camila Morrone) also being heavily involved in their career.
The series follows the group's fast rise on the charts in the 1970s as both Daisy and Billy battle addictions and engage in heavy rivalry fronting the band, additional footage also being presented in documentary style with interviews conducted about 20 years later.
Writing of the show headlined by showrunners Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber occasionally shines very bright and the floor isn't too low either as it certainly has fun with your typical rockstar clichés but luckily doesn't commit too much in that kind of agony in one's existence. Song lyrics often come to the rescue as well as they manage to always tell something about characters and change dynamics. The one big problem here is actually the structure, specifically how the faux documentary informs it as those interviews don't let emotional or exciting moments to land as they should because we're constantly cutting to needless reactions and mumbling. It eats away the show's potential in multiple instances.
Those cutaways and changing faces are especially baffling because the cast is doing such a great job when it comes to the material taking place in the '70s. Part of that is musicianship on display but all of them can carry dramatic weight, notably Morrone and Claflin who make their relationship and almost what is codependency feel sincere and fluid, also being very truthful for the time period in that sense. I do assume, however, without being familiar with it that book readers might expect explosive romantic or sexual chemistry between Claflin and Keough or their characters which isn't really the case. Their tension is more primal, like a ruler versus conqueror, so some of the writing for their ''love language'' and ultimate fate can feel a bit forced, though the tension does explode when they're working with music.
Another big discrepancy in formats is shown by the series' production values; cinematography (by Checco Varese and Jeff Cutter) is rather exquisite in ''flashbacks'', not sacrificing too much of the stylish lighting even when it has to film multiple performers, deal with VFX for crowd scenes or use compositions that reflect the power struggle between Daisy and Billy. Cameras also manage to show all of the effort put into production design (by Jessica Kender) which balances glamour and nastiness which comes with living the high life. That's why it's such a shock when we see cold, unimaginative interview footage that not only feels too modern for the 1990s but is also horribly distracting because of the time jump and everyone looking almost exactly the same.
But you're here mainly for the music, right? Well, that's also a double-edged sword with most of it being wonderful. Perhaps it's good to mention that as someone who sings and plays all of the instruments that the band plays, the attention to detail is evident. There's just enough fake-it-til-you-make-it attitudes and wearing obvious influences (*ahem* Fleetwood Mac) on your sleeve to mix well with actors giving it their all, with a special shoutout to Chacon who truly rips on drums and challenges Claflin and Keough in showmanship. Both live and studio songs are extremely well recorded by production sound and music teams while songwriting compliments the band's arena visions by making big, easy-to-sing-along pop rock hits.
It's not a surprise that the show peaks when the music does as well, that peak being episodes five and eight (tracks featured are 'Let Me Down Easy' and 'The River', stunningly performed by the cast), while the valleys are meandering seventh episode and series finale. Sometimes there's repetition going on elsewhere too which is why it's a bummer to waste time in the documentary format because all of that time could've been spent on making sure viewers can differentiate songs that sound the same and seeing more of them being performed, written and produced (that is a process in which directors James Ponsoldt and Nzingha Stewart never get to explore character dynamics or Price's role). Don't bore us, get to the chorus, you know.
Daisy Jones & The Six had the potential to be a top five, top three, even top one charting series of the year because of its mainstream appeal and visual flair—though this might've been influenced by having watched so many TV shows forget lately that it's a visual medium first and foremost—instead it's just a ''should've been, could've been'', which is quite poetic considering what actually happens to the band members. Oh well, there's always music.
Smileys: Performance by a cast, soundtrack, production design, cinematography
Daisy Jones stars in... Cocaine Hair.