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Prime Video's Daisy Jones and the Six Turns a Complex Novel Into Standard-Issue TV

The adaptation makes massive changes that don’t pan out.
  • The cast of Daisy Jones and the Six (Photo: Pamela Littky/Prime Video)
    The cast of Daisy Jones and the Six (Photo: Pamela Littky/Prime Video)

    In its final episode, Daisy Jones and the Six — Prime Video’s limited series about a fictional, Fleetwood Mac-adjacent ’70s rock band — finally comes alive. As the titular group plays a major concert, the collision of their lust, resentment, addiction, and talent threatens to blow up the stage. The stakes are high, the emotions are wild, and the songs are catchy. The only downer is that it takes nine interminable hours for this jolt to arrive. Before that, the show meanders through so many trite conflicts that it makes rock ’n’ roll seem more boring than church.

    It didn’t have to be this way. Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who wrote The Disaster Artist and 500 Days of Summer, adapt the series from the sensational novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Her book enthralls for two reasons. One is that she uses the oral history format, telling the story of Daisy Jones and the Six by compiling quotes from various band members, family members, journalists, managers, and crew guys. This not only helps her give every character a distinct voice, but also allows her to thread intrigue into a straightforward story about a band’s rise and fall. When her characters discuss the day they recorded a song or even named the band, they often remember things differently, and Reid places their conflicting quotes next to each other to disrupt our sense of the truth. In the final section, she also uses a short, profound chapter to change how we perceive the bias in everything that’s come before. It’s dazzling work, and it’s all the more impressive because her structure enhances the book’s emotional impact.

    The series, meanwhile, is a structural mess. Most of the episodes are straightforward depictions of how the free-spirited singer-songwriter Daisy Jones (Riley Keough) crosses paths with the volatile Billy Dunne (Sam Claflin) and eventually joins his band, The Six. As band members bicker, sleep together, threaten to quit, and do too many drugs, the scenes play out like they would in any cookie-cutter drama. When Daisy and Billy argue, it inevitably turns sexual. When Daisy impulsively marries a man she meets on vacation, the countdown begins to the expected scene where she stares at him with hatred, realizing he can’t understand her vibe. And when the band plays music — the series features original tunes by the songwriter Blake Mills — we get standard shots of the musicians looking at each other and smiling, aware they’ve got hits on their hands. Anyone who’s seen Empire or Nashville can just imagine those shows in beaded vests and know exactly how this goes.

    But in a nod to Reid’s format, the action is occasionally interrupted by Behind the Music-style interviews with the major characters, 20 years after Daisy Jones and the Six play their final show. However, Reid’s entire novel mimics an oral history. That’s the milieu of the story, so it never feels like an intrusive gimmick. Here, it’s always jarring when the series leaps forward in time, particularly because the writers save all the juicy moments for the traditional scenes set in the ’70s. That reduces the interview segments to filler, with the actors saying banal things like “It never happened that way” or “I always loved her.” At least a dozen times, they simply laugh or snort, like they’re taping a canned reaction shot for a reality competition series. These bits add nothing of substance to the storytelling, because the characters are never describing anything important or feeling any particular emotions. In a telling detail, the interview conceit sometimes gets dropped for half an hour or more, which underscores how inessential it is to comprehending Daisy, Billy, and the rest.

    And about those characters: The other remarkable thing about Reid’s novel is how idiosyncratic she lets everyone be. Billy’s wife Camila — played in the series by Camila Morrone — reacts to her husband’s substance abuse and infidelity with a complex blend of empathy and grit. Reid lets her speak at length about her choices and her values, and it makes her as surprising and contradictory as a real person.​​ The same goes for Daisy, who avoids narrative cliches about beautiful, troubled women by frankly describing her views on everything from motherhood to making art. It’s like this for everyone in the book, even the ones who only appear for a few pages.

    The show rewrites these people into predictable types. Billy’s relationship to Daisy becomes a will-they/won’t-they saga, and Camila responds like a boilerplate, frustrated wife. A rock journalist in Reid’s novel has a lovely, empathetic passage about not wanting to report on anyone’s pain, but the same character in the series almost licks his lips at the prospect of covering Billy’s drug habit. This gins up some tension and lets the actors growl a few things at each other, but it excises the complexity.

    This might explain the curious blankness of the performances. All the actors seem to float above their roles, delivering lines and making expressions without conveying passion. This is especially apparent in the interview scenes, but even in moments when they’re arguing or kissing or snorting cocaine, the light never comes on behind their eyes. Until the finale, that is, when the band’s on-stage fighting is contrasted with its need to impress a screaming crowd of fans. There’s also a revelation about the video interviews that finally gives them emotional stakes. In this context, the cast wakes up, and Claflin especially imbues Billy with a moving sense of regret. It’s enough to make the rest of the show sound even more out of tune.

    Daisy Jones and the Six premieres March 3 on Prime Video. New episodes Fridays through March 24. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Mark Blankenship has been writing about arts and culture for twenty years, with bylines in The New York Times, Variety, Vulture, Fortune, and many others. You can hear him on the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.

    TOPICS: Daisy Jones & The Six, Amazon Prime Video, Camila Morrone, Michael H. Weber, Riley Keough, Sam Claflin, Scott Neustadter