Series Review: “Daisy Jones & the Six,” Never quite “Almost Famous”

“Daisy Jones & the Six” is a buzzed-about show that’s been on everybody’s radar for a few months for the following reasons. Elvis’s granddaughter, Riley Keough stars as a singer-songwriter in a Stevie Nicks/Laura Nero early ’70s mold.

It’s based on a popular novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

And entertainment editors and most TV and film reviewers are mostly old enough to have a nostalgia for “Almost Famous,” and have a passing interest in “The Laurel Canyon Sound” of the ’70s. Are the kids listening to this music? TBD.

So it’s dated because we’re dated, and if I had to guess, I’d say the people who pushed the soundtrack of this series to the top of iTunes are some of the same folks familiar with the novel — old enough to get an AARP invitation in the mail.

To use another antiquated reference, that line Wayne used to Garth in a “Wayne’s World” sketch to describe Fleetwood Mac — “Classic ‘older brother’s band.” — still stings, and in this case, fits.

The series? Three episodes in, after The Dunne Brothers Band from Pittsburgh has renamed itself as The Six, taken its shot and been tripped up by drugs, sex and misbehavior on the road, lead singer/songwriter Billy Dunne (Sam Claflin) sums up the story thus far, and pretty much going forward as well.

“Same old rock’n roll tale.”

It’s the story of a band with multiple singers and a British keyboards player (Suki Waterhouse). So we’re invited to believe we’re seeing a version of the “Rumors” of Fleetwood Mac. But there’s a hint of Linda Ronstadt and The Eagles and Jackson Browne and maybe CSNY in the sound and the scene.

That “Fleetwood” connection is tenuous. And that rock singer fronting a dreamy, ’60s band that sonically resembles The Jefferson Airplane? The one who date-rapes rich girl/groupie/aspiring singer Daisy at a rock star party when she’s just 15? It’s just a coincidence that he’s a taller, dark-haired version of Marty Balin.

Well, he’s dead so he won’t sue over this dead ringer.

The 10 episode series follows the rise, stumble and rise again and abrupt break-up after a sold-out Soldier Field (Chicago) show in ’77, framed in a 1997 mockumentary, complete with surviving figures from their glory days answering off-camera (and off-mike, to make it “authentic”) questions about their history.

If this series is connecting with a younger audience, that may be because they have a passing familiarity with classic rock (The Dunne Brothers do Credence and Animals covers at prom and graduation parties), vintage California pop and rock and perhaps utter ignorance of the many films this show “borrows” from.

“Eddie and the Cruisers” and “Almost Famous” for starters, a bit of “The Rose” here, a touch of this or that there.

It’s broad enough to fold in a studio scene soul backup singer (Nabiyah Be) who will turn disco diva with a secret later in the series. She’s gay.

Here’s what we look and listen for in such enterprises, that spine-tingling moment when Queen figures out the chorus to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the first time we hear “The Dark Side” thrown together in rehearsal by Eddie and his Cruisers, Brian Wilson fanatically tapping into family and friends harmonies, and the theremin to create “Good Vibrations,” Aretha putting her special touch on “RESPECT” on screen, Carole pounding the piano because she feels “the Earth move under my feet” on stage.

There isn’t a tune here that provides that. Keough (“Zola,” “The Devil All the Time) and Claflin (“Peaky Blinders”) are pleasantly listenable under-trained singers, with him convincing enough as a tries-too-hard front man (in the early scenes) and Keough a natural born “go my own way” spitfire. The music and the band’s performances of it don’t provide the show with any sort of life.

The first few episodes jump right into forming the band, running away to LA where local lass Margaret is evolving into Daisy, a groupie with a notebook she writes songs in. So little of interest happens that when Timothy Olyphant shows up as a jaded road manager who might help them out, you get your hopes up.

Tom Wright, who’s been around since “Seinfeld” and “Barbershop,” plays a seen-it-all producer desperate to stay relevant by finding The Next Big Thing. He’s got the best lines, delivered with a jaded wisdom on an archived (faked) “Merv Griffin Show” appearance, telling the story of “discovering” Daisy, who didn’t want to be discovered or “shaped” by a producer, and thus stomps off.

“Sometimes the back of someone is the best way to see who they are,” producer Teddy Price intones, a line not given any sexual innuendo at all.

When the wary Daisy, facing the same sexism and outright harassment other early women of rock face in “Daisy & the Six,” rebuffs his strictly-professional entreaties again, he drops a quarter in the jukebox, Dusty Springfield launches into “Son of a Preacher Man,” and he tells the impertinent brat, “By the way, THIS is a song.”

He also drives the coolest car — a Maserati Sebring.

There’s enough musical archeology to all of this, the LA “Sunset Strip” scene with The Troubadour, recording studios and the like, the band’s first “stick together” vows after we’ve heard them stumble through “House of the Rising Sun,” to keep some folks interested.

But what this series, with several episodes directed by the gifted writer (not here) and director James Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now”), immerses us in is the soap opera, the photographer/lover/wife (Camilla Morrone) Billy falls for, bassist Dunne brother Graham (Will Harrison) falling for the sexy, sophisticated Brit keyboardist.

And that, friends and music fans, isn’t all that and isn’t remotely as sexy or sordid as the “real” Fleetwood Mac saga. Nor is the soundtrack, I might add. Want to hear a great recreation of that general era, just after Janis? Spotify “The Rose” or buy it on iTunes. That Bette Midler could bring it, break you up with a laugh or break your heart.

There’s little that passes for any of that in “Daisy Jones & The Six.

Rating: TV-MA, drugs, sex, etc.

Cast: Riley Keough, Sam Clalfin, Camilla Morrone, Suki Waterhouse, Will Harrison, Nabiyah Be, John Whitehouse, Sebastian Chacon, Timothy Olyphant and Tom Wright.

Credits: Created by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber based on the novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid. An Amazon Prime release.

Running time: 10 episodes, @44-50 minutes each.  


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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