The problem with making a TV show inspired by Fleetwood Mac is that if the fictional band is less interesting than the real deal, the whole project starts to seem pointless. Why mythologize a fake band when the history of the real one is richer and more epic?
This is the shadow that haunts Daisy Jones & the Six, Amazon Prime’s adaptation of the 2019 Taylor Jenkins-Reid novel of the same name, which premieres this Friday. The show chronicles the rise and fall of a rock band — also called Daisy Jones & the Six — based in Laurel Canyon in the 1970s. The members struggle with drug addiction and internal drama, but from this emotional maelstrom, they produce a beloved album, embark on a sold-out tour, and become “the most famous band in the world.”
It’s basically the story of Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 album Rumours, which they created during the turbulence of a triple breakup afflicting all five members of the band, four of whom were in relationships with one another. But in the story of Daisy Jones & the Six, only two people really matter: lead singers Billy Dunne (Sam Claflin) and Daisy Jones (Riley Keough). They write most of the songs, do most of the drugs, and fuel most of the drama. The rest of the Six is decorative. There are a couple of toothless subplots: Bassist Eddie (Josh Whitehouse) is perpetually bitter about Billy’s success, and keyboardist Karen (Suki Waterhouse) and guitarist Graham (Will Harrison) fall secretly in love. But the show revolves around Billy and Daisy’s wearisome love-hate, will-they-or-won’t-they dynamic. They are twin artistic souls, but they can’t be together because of Billy’s wife Camila (Camila Morrone). They understand each other the way nobody else can, but they also resent each other for it.
Why mythologize a fake band when the history of the real one is richer and more epic?
Or so the show tells us. The mockumentary format, which mimics the novel’s structure as an oral history, is a reliable storytelling crutch. In confessionals, the former members of the band, now middle-aged, dutifully explain what was important about the previous scene, or what will be important about the next. When Billy and Daisy write a song together for the first time, Karen reports, “I remember having this feeling like nothing would ever be the same again. It was obvious that they made each other better…until, of course, they didn’t.”
This melodrama is consistent with the tone of the novel, which declares in the first two pages, “It doesn’t get much more obviously broken and more classically beautiful than Daisy Jones.” In trying to raise the stakes of this fictional band, both the book and the show make a lot of grandiose claims about how compelling the characters are. But this self-reflexive hype feels increasingly empty as the story fails to live up to its own projections.
For supposedly star-crossed lovers, Billy and Daisy have very little chemistry. There are a few genuinely erotic moments in the show, like when Billy and Daisy fight from 3 inches apart, glaring at each other with barely tethered self-restraint. But most of the time, they seem rote and disconnected, two lukewarm bodies that happen to be in the same room. And for world-class rockers, they deliver cringingly stiff performances.
The actual songs are, thankfully, not bad. “Look at Us Now (Honeycomb)” might even be catchy. Keough is clearly a gifted vocalist, and her throaty alto has a warm, almost Southern twang that carries echoes of her grandfather, Elvis Presley. If the songs can sometimes be obvious — the lyrics “You regret me and I regret you” stand out as uninspired — it’s at least fair to remember that Fleetwood Mac could be corny too. But Daisy Jones & the Six’s utter lack of stage presence sucks the air out of the music. Billy, who early in the show is compared to Mick Jagger for his vivid, undeniable star power, rarely does anything more interesting onstage than sticking his tongue out — although, once, in a state of heightened emotion, he plays his guitar vertically. Their costumes are lackluster, too. Billy typically resembles a mannequin displaying Uniqlo’s business casual basics, while Daisy always looks like she’s recreating a Coachella Pinterest board on a college student’s budget. She has the gaping bell sleeves of a classic Stevie Nicks look, but none of the unruly textures or layers; her gauzy robes are a poor imitation of Nicks’ kitschy, witchy flair.
As for Billy and Daisy’s romance, it’s a shame that the story never leans fully into the spectacle of them getting together. Billy spends the whole series pouting that he loves his wife, while Daisy spends it denying that she loves Billy. This shared emotional constipation is supposed to be the root of their transcendent connection, but it feels less like a love story than an adolescent spat. At least the Fleetwood Mac folks had affairs and got divorced! Billy and Daisy kiss exactly two times, and the second time, Billy only does it because he thinks Camila has already left him. Then Daisy tells him to go get her back.
For a story about rock musicians living at the height of hedonism, Daisy Jones & the Six is bizarrely prudish and pro-monogamy. Billy redeems himself by choosing Camila over Daisy at the climax of the final episode, but their marriage has already atrophied so much, after years of Billy pining after Daisy, that it seems pointless to reunite them. Why not let Billy and Daisy have their pent-up sex and force all the characters to reckon with a more complicated grief? Why make Camila the long-suffering saint and perpetual cuckold when she could be something more interesting?
For a story about rock musicians living at the height of hedonism, Daisy Jones & the Six is bizarrely prudish.
One reason the show is so preoccupied with Camila’s goodness is that the documentary turns out to be the project of Julia Dunne, Billy and Camila’s daughter. After Camila’s death from a terminal illness, presumably cancer, Julia is trying to understand her mother’s life through the story of her father’s career; the show’s sentimentality flows from Julia’s perspective. But Camila is also the foil who reifies the deep appeal of being Daisy Jones. Camila is so good she’s boring, while Daisy is the messy starlet, beautiful and broken, irresistible despite her many flaws. By the end of the show, Daisy wins it all. Not only is she a rich, famous, successful artist, and not only is she still alive, but Camila’s dying wish is for Billy to “give Daisy Jones a call.” After everything, Daisy even gets the guy.
Daisy is excruciatingly self-victimizing and, in her own best friend’s words, “a real selfish bitch.” She is a classically clueless, over-privileged white woman, one who grows up filthy rich and stunningly beautiful, but who still believes she deserves everyone’s sympathy because she’s lonely and self-destructive. The rest of the characters in Daisy Jones & the Six believe this too, and by virtue of this collective fantasy, Daisy Jones becomes the story’s role model: a woman who can be as cruel and narcissistic as she wants with total impunity because she’s gorgeous and gifted enough that everyone will adore her anyway.
It’s annoying, but it is completely consistent with the rest of the show’s perspective: that bloated self-importance makes up for a fundamental blandness of plot or personality. Daisy Jones & the Six is relentlessly impressed with itself, but under all its swagger is a predictable melodrama that pales in comparison to the history it rips off. ●