Early in Daisy Jones & The Six, a character describes the eponymous band's history as "the same old rock 'n' roll tale." His words are an accidental indictment. The excess that defined '70s-era fame has been documented and dramatized to the point of cliché, a line this well-made Prime Video series can't avoid crossing. There are daddy issues, mommy issues, substance issues, creative issues, romantic issues, and power issues, all coalescing around a stylish group whose biography looks a lot like that of Fleetwood Mac.
Daisy Jones' 10 episodes (the first three premiere March 3) hew closely to the best-selling Taylor Jenkins Reid novel on which they're based. Using the dysfunctional "Go Your Own Way" act as inspiration, Reid wrote about a male-fronted sextet who added an enchanting female lead and lit up the rock world. They hopped in and out of one another's beds, aired the dirty laundry publicly, and topped it off with mounds of cocaine. If Daisy Jones & The Six isn't the precise story of Fleetwood Mac, it's the broad strokes of pretty much any popular ensemble from that decade — or at least the ones mythologized in Behind the Music and tell-all memoirs. What distinguishes The Six is that they were a one-album wonder, unable to separate artistic pursuits from interpersonal drama.
The book's oral-history format lends itself naturally to the show's rock-doc imitation, replete with pithy talking heads and intimate backstage footage. Both achieve a ticklish middle ground, too compelling to dismiss but not vivid enough to validate their redundancies. And yet both depict something most nonfiction accounts can only describe: the vulnerable intricacies of songwriting, particularly when done by two people figuring out whether what they're writing is actually a latent expression of their love for each other.
Those people are smug, strapping Billy Dunne (Sam Claflin) and troubled, beguiling Daisy Jones (Riley Keough). Daisy, a hard-partying wunderkind who joins The Six at the behest of a producer (Tom Wright), is the Stevie Nicks to Billy's Lindsey Buckingham. Several bandmates orbit their star power, including the guitar-playing brother (Will Harrison) stuck in Billy's shadow, each wrestling with their own resentments and romances as they record their blockbuster debut, Aurora. In the show even more than the book, Daisy and Billy dominate the narrative. The fact that the latter has a wife (Camila Marrone) he also adores means the pair's hot-and-cold relationship is never straightforward.
It's hard to think of a better choice for the title role than Keough, not least because she's the granddaughter of Elvis Presley. More importantly, she has a magnetism best suited for confident firecrackers, as seen in Starz's The Girlfriend Experience and the movies American Honey and Zola. Somehow, Keough is curiously bland here. There's not enough to signify that this singer is the person to take this band to these heights, especially because the music we hear The Six make isn't as electrifying as it should be. The chemistry between Keough and Claflin has more to do with immaculate cheekbones than unbridled sensuality.
I suspect Keough's temperance has something to do with the architecture of the book and the show. An oral history can be a propulsive template for recounting a juicy saga, but it has limits: Readers can't know what sources won't say. Adapting an oral history, fictional or otherwise, provides a chance to flesh out details. But the Prime series, developed by frequent collaborators Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, whose credits include (500) Days of Summer and The Disaster Artist, is stubbornly faithful to Reid's novel. The whole thing lacks a certain crackle, its sepia palette begging for literal and figurative color. (Most episodes are directed by The Spectacular Now's James Ponsoldt or TV veteran Nzingha Stewart.) Timothy Olyphant's ostentatious scarves can't do all the heavy lifting.
Maybe Daisy Jones & The Six's ultimate hurdle is the inundation of middling documentaries about rock icons and pop darlings that have come out in the last several years. Most of those tell the same old rock 'n' roll tale, too, stories of rises and falls, indulgences and indignities, lust and loneliness. They're almost always entertaining, but at a certain point you wonder what else the music industry can tell us about the people who inhabit it. To see a made-up version hit those same beats, however intermittently enjoyable, feels like hearing an old song the radio won't quit spinning.
Premieres: Friday, March 3 on Amazon Prime Video
Who's in it: Riley Keough, Sam Claflin, Suki Waterhouse, Tom Wright, Timothy Olyphant, Camila Morrone, Will Harrison
Who's behind it: Scott Neustadter and Michel H. Weber (creators); James Ponsoldt, Nzingha Stewart, and Will Graham (directors)
For fans of: Almost Famous, Behind the Music, rock docs
How many episodes we watched: 10 of 10