Prime Video’s traditional take on “the biggest rock band in the world’s” rise and fall succeeds on the back of strong performances.
There’s something to be said for doing the usual thing very well. Sure, we all love to be surprised, to see something new or unique. But the stories we know? The beats we have memorized? There’s an art to making those fun, interesting, or exciting instead of stale. That’s the kind of skill Daisy Jones & The Six has in healthy supply.
The series, developed by frequent collaborators Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, is adapted—faithfully but with a few smart tweaks—from the Taylor Jenkins Reid novel of the same name. It’s 1997, although it feels like it could just as easily be yesterday, except for the characters’ evident age. Members of the band Daisy Jones & The Six are speaking to an unseen interviewer about their ascendance to rock gods in the seventies before abruptly calling it quits in 1977. The group’s—and a few other connected people—exploration of their past repeatedly returns to the volatile chemistry of band founder/frontman Billy Dunne (Sam Claflin) and late addition/frontwoman Daisy Jones (Riley Keough).
As noted above, the verisimilitude of 1997 is…limited. The subtle signs of aging are well-done, but almost nothing about their clothes or the brief looks at settings confirm the date. The flashbacks don’t feel as “anytime,” but still slightly time-shifted. However, a closer look suggests this is intentional.
The band itself does seem to exist in a time bubble, a bit out of step with the present. On the other hand, forays into the “outside” world include encounters with New York’s burgeoning disco scene and early punk club shows. The era is correct. Only success and self-involvement protect the band from its trappings.
It all suggests a subtle argument. Wisely, it is not one Daisy Jones & The Six ever comes out and says—save for one character’s temper tantrum. Nonetheless, it quietly suggests there’s more danger to the Six than their own members. Yes, those interpersonal dynamics were fatal. Without them, though, the Six were likely still doomed. They were the last of a dying breed that didn’t see the future coming yet.
Trends in music aside, though, the band certainly did their damnedest to implode before disco, punk, and new wave would do the job. Billy is a married father who shipwrecked the band’s first chance at success and now clings to being “good” for his bandmates, his wife Camila (Camila Morrone), and his young child. He is both terrified of and drawn to Daisy’s talent and her self-destructive tendencies, including the addictions he so enjoyed. She, in turn, is impressed by his talent and hungry to pull out his obvious darkness.
There’s an art to making [the familiar] fun, interesting, or exciting instead of stale. That’s the kind of skill Daisy Jones & The Six has in healthy supply.
Backing them is the resentful Eddie Roundtree (Josh Whitehouse), who is musically talented enough to lead a band but lacks both Billy’s songwriting skill and charisma. Graham (Will Harrison) is Billy’s younger brother who got into music to find love and now finds it the one thing preventing him from getting the real thing. Karen Sirko (Suki Waterhouse) has spent her life band-hopping, a woman in music with talent, saddled time and again with mediocre men. Finally, there’s the drummer Warren Rojas (Sebastian Chacon), who, in classic drummer tradition, is happy to pretend he’s just happy to be there.
What they go through is also in the classic tradition. Drugs! Booze! Sexually available fans! Sex within the band! Jealousy! Kindly mentors like producer Teddy Price (Tom Wright) and tour manager Rod Reyes (Timothy Olyphant, just perfect)! Whether in fiction like Almost Famous or A Star is Born, re-creations such as Bohemian Rhapsody or Rocketman, or Behind the Music-style documentaries, viewers have seen it all before. There are few surprises if you have even a passing familiarity with the genre.
So it all comes down to the performances. Thankfully, the actors deliver. Claflin has never been better. Plus, thanks to good makeup work, he realistically embodies both young rock god and still very handsome middle-aged former superstar. So often, the scripts wisely step back and let the actor charismatically act aggrieved. For whatever reason, that appears to be Claflin’s wheelhouse.
His frequent scene partner, Keough, has to go consistently bigger but does so in a way that gives others room to play off her. She especially excels in the “present day” talking head scenes, interacting with the camera with a knowing playfulness. Her ping-ponging between anger and sadness in the flashbacks towards the series end edges towards wearisome, but she gets enough moments that break those extremes up. Of course, it helps that she rages exceptionally well. A late phone call with her mom ends up a particular highlight.
Also great in the present-day sections is Waterhouse. In fact, she’s so excellent in those segments, this critic wanted just more of her, period. Chacon is good throughout, but the moments where his character lets his true feelings come through—a scene protecting Daisy, a quiet confrontation with Whitehouse—stand out. Overall, there isn’t a bum performance in the bunch.
That’s the story of Daisy Jones & The Six. It’ll never surprise the viewer, but what it does, it does well. It’s the album you know isn’t the best in your collection, but you also know you’ll always enjoy.
Daisy Jones & The Six starts climbing the charts March 3 on Prime Video.