There’s a world of difference between letting book readers imagine a hit song for themselves and convincing TV viewers that a song they can actually hear is an era-defining smash. Such is the gap Daisy Jones & the Six must bridge on its journey to the screen. While turning the pages of the 2019 novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid, fans—over a million and counting—could simply sub in the sounds of Fleetwood Mac, the band that clearly inspired the tempestuous, drug-fueled, ’70s-set saga of Daisy Jones’s titular group. For the adaptation now streaming its first three installments on Amazon, the cast and crew have turned the fictional, Rumours-esque Aurora into an 11-track album viewers can judge for themselves, with songs interspersed throughout the series’ 10 episodes.
Daisy Jones & the Six is the first of Reid’s wildly popular books to make it to air, though it won’t be the last. After starting out in romance, the writer has made a specialty of stories drawn from Hollywood history. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, a BookTok sensation, riffed on movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor; Carrie Soto Is Back follows an elite tennis player coached by her own father, echoing Serena Williams and the Academy Award-winning King Richard. Evelyn Hugo is set to become a Netflix movie, while Daisy Jones follow-up Malibu Rising will be adapted for Hulu. (Reid herself cowrote One True Loves, a feature based on an earlier book arriving in theaters later this spring.) But for this initial adaptation, a process that began before Daisy Jones even had a publishing house, Reid wisely teamed up with Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, a production company that’s perfected the science of making bestsellers (Little Fires Everywhere and Where the Crawdads Sing) as addictive to watch as they are to read. Part of the strategy is vertical integration: Witherspoon selected the novel for her monthly book club, helping build the audience that’s already rocketed Aurora to the top of American iTunes.
As a book, Daisy Jones is structured like a faux-oral history, working in points of view across its kaleidoscopic cast of characters. Daisy herself is a native Angeleno from a privileged, unfeeling family; as a teenager, she starts frequenting the Sunset Strip—first as a groupie, then as an aspiring singer-songwriter. A record producer ends up pairing the Six, a band from Pittsburgh, with Daisy for what’s meant to be a one-off collaboration. But when Daisy has such obvious creative chemistry with front man Billy Dunne, the resulting act blows up. As do, in a less positive sense, their personal lives. The band is a supernova that burns bright and short, disbanding for good after a Chicago show in the late 1970s.
As a show developed by (500) Days of Summer duo Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, Daisy Jones adjusts the oral history into a pseudo-documentary, with aged-up actors commenting on their characters’ younger selves. The devices don’t have the same effect. An oral history emphasizes the subjectivity of each player’s perspective; a TV show, give or take a Mr. Robot, has to offer some semblance of objective reality. The production and costume design, both reflective of a Bezos-level budget, work overtime to immerse us in a Laurel Canyon of long-haired hippies and late-night jam sessions. But the abrupt cuts to the talking heads only undermine that effort, taking us out of the action for anodyne observations (exhibit A: “There’s the right thing to do, and the right thing to do for yourself.”) that aren’t worth the detour.
Daisy is an elusive figure on the page, a musical savant who crash-lands in others’ lives like an asteroid. Daisy Jones & the Six anchors her to Riley Keough, an actress whose credentials are impeccable in some ways (she’s the granddaughter of Elvis Presley), and less so in others (she isn’t a musician by training). Thanks to some smokey eyeshadow, flowing hair, and even flowier caftans, Daisy’s resemblance to Stevie Nicks is even more unmistakable in the flesh. But as a woman whose impulses are always spiraling out of control, Keough’s Daisy is oddly tame, especially given her past roles as chaos agents like the antagonist in Zola. She never feels like enough of her own person—rather than a pastiche of real-life ones—to fully convey her troubles and triumphs. The many scenes of Daisy snorting cocaine or scrawling down lyrics could be taken from any number of biopics—and a few parodies of the same.
The same issue applies to the songs Daisy writes with Billy (Sam Claflin), a smoldering sad sack who struggles to do right by his wife Camila (Camila Morrone) and their young daughter. The sheer expense of Daisy Jones & the Six extends to its soundtrack, a greatest-hits compilation that runs the gamut from Lou Reed to the Rolling Stones. Such syncs are flexes, but also self-defeating ones, constantly holding homages like the Six’s breakout single “Look at Us Now (Honeycomb)” up against the real deals. When Fleetwood Mac themselves make an aural appearance late in the season, it’s almost masochistic. Even with modern-day stars like Marcus Mumford and Phoebe Bridgers pitching in on songwriting, it’s impossible to evaluate their work on its own terms. These would-be earworms are good enough, but the show they’re asked to carry wants to invoke the all-time greats.
Over time, Daisy Jones & the Six turns into a kind of rock-and-roll Forrest Gump. The show isn’t content to just capture the excess of superstardom, complete with a Lester Bangs–like journalist tagging along on tour and an overworked manager played by Timothy Olyphant in what appears to be an Andy Warhol wig after having been run through the wash. Through Daisy’s friend Simone (Nabiyah Be), we also get a glimpse of disco taking shape in Black, queer clubs in downtown New York. And when Six bassist Eddie (Josh Whitehouse) happens to catch a punk show on the road, he has a vision of his own obsolescence imbued with 20/20 hindsight. It’s a lot to pack into a season, and adds to the feeling we’re watching a lightly dramatized Wikipedia page instead of a specific story. Completism tends to favor breadth over depth.
In her sessions with Billy, Daisy preaches the virtues of letting the messiest, most ambiguous parts of oneself show through in the work. There are moments when Daisy Jones & the Six takes its own advice, many of which involve the love triangle that forms between Daisy, Billy, and Camila. Camila, a photographer with a creative career in her own right, gets to be more than just a wronged woman; Billy, once the sole face of his band, resents Daisy’s undeniable contributions as much as he respects them. All three are most fully realized when they’re at their most conflicted and without easy solutions to their problems.
For the most part, though, Daisy Jones & the Six embodies the surface-level stereotypes it claims to abhor. A secondary romance, between keyboardist Karen (Suki Waterhouse) and Billy’s brother Graham (Will Harrison), sets up a simplistic choice between domesticity and artistic ambition. And as the band approaches its unraveling, Daisy Jones & the Six presents its heroine with a choice between happy mediocrity and tortured greatness. While compellingly rendered in certain scenes, on the whole it’s a dichotomy we’ve seen many times before. To convince us Daisy and Billy’s union is one of a kind, Daisy Jones & the Six relies on commonplace cliché. It’s a love song at no risk of sticking in your head.