There’s this moment in Daisy Jones & The Six where Daisy (Riley Keough) and Billy Dunne (Sam Claflin) are arguing. Over what almost doesn’t matter – a rhyme in the third verse of a new song, an accompanying piece of instrumentation, the choreography ahead of a concert, cover art for an album, anything and everything and nothing – and probably wouldn’t narrow it down anyway. But after Daisy storms out, and Billy stops to catch his breath, the camera pans round the recording studio and for the first time it becomes obvious that there was someone else in the room throughout the entire shouting match.
In 1979, Daisy Jones & The Six were the biggest band in the world. They’re on the cover of Rolling Stone, their music is playing on every radio station, their album Aurora is sold out everywhere. They’re about to play their biggest concert yet, a sold-out arena in New York with hundreds of thousands of people in the crowd. In short, they’re on top of the world. By 1999 – or thereabouts – 20 years have passed since Daisy Jones & The Six last performed together. For some of them, it’s been nearly that long since they last spoke.
Daisy Jones & The Six charts the stratospheric rise and sudden fall of the band, from their humble Pittsburgh beginnings to that final show in New York. It’s structured like a Behind the Music style documentary, with older (and sadder) former members of The Six appearing from time to time as talking heads to offer their memories of that time, sometimes clarifying things but more often contradicting each other. Really, though, it’s the story of the band’s two lead singers, Daisy Jones and Billy Dunne. Neither is used to sharing the spotlight when they meet, but it’s the professional and personal tension between them that makes the band really work for the first time – and puts them on a collision course that’ll eventually derail the whole project entirely.
When they’re together, Daisy and Billy – and, more importantly, Keough and Claflin – are absolutely electric. They first meet in the third episode, and there’s a sense that, while the opening episodes are strong on their own terms, this isn’t just the moment where the band clicks into place but where the show does too. From thereon out, it spends a lot of time dwelling on – luxuriating in – Daisy and Billy’s songwriting processes, redrafting lyrics between arguments, the songs becoming the only way they can really speak to each other. “You two are so alike,” someone says. And they are. Too alike.
It’s a quietly well put together series, never really showing off but always rightly confident in its craft. James Ponsoldt and Nzingha Stewart, who direct half the series each, bring a lot to the all-important concert scenes, always managing to make a Daisy Jones & The Six performance seem like the coolest thing in the world; that final concert, helmed by Stewart, is nothing short of exhilarating. Even the talking heads documentary inserts – initially distracting, given what you might charitably describe as “subtle” efforts to make actors in their late twenties and early thirties look decades older – develop into something essential. (Also, in a minor, but surprisingly striking detail: Daisy Jones & The Six has noticeably skilfully-made ‘Previously On’ montages, so much better than its contemporaries that you wonder if that became a lost art without anyone realising.)
Where it falters, however slightly, is in a similar place to the band itself. Keough is a star, as Riverdale fans already know, and it’s difficult not to be enamoured with her and her performance as Daisy Jones; she makes the whole show better, pushing everyone around her to raise their game just to keep up. After a while, though, it starts to feel like other characters are being pushed to the margins by the show itself – most notably Billy’s wife Camila Dunne (Camila Morrone).
Morrone, playing probably the most difficult role of anyone in the cast, proves an early highlight in that stretch while The Six were still The Dunne Brothers, but soon feels like she’s been relegated a little too much to the background. The same is happening within the narrative, obviously, as Daisy and Billy get closer, and there’s still strong material there for Morrone – like Camila’s friendship with keyboardist Karen (Suki Waterhouse) – but nonetheless feels like somewhere along the way the show stops devoting quite as much space to someone that should be the beating heart of the thing.
Still, though. In those moments where it all clicks together – the roar of the crowd, sweat glistening under the spotlight, Keough and Claflin sharing the screen – Daisy Jones and the Six proves absolutely captivating. “It’s quite a feeling when it works,” remembers the older Daisy, speaking about the band but right about the show too.
Daisy Jones & The Six begins on Amazon Prime Video on Friday 3 March with its first three episodes. I’ve seen all ten episodes before writing this review. You can read more of our TV reviews here, and check out the rest of our Daisy Jones & The Six coverage here. You can also sign up for Amazon Prime Video here.
Don’t forget to subscribe to our weekly television newsletter, listen to our Screen Babble podcast, and follow us on twitter @NationalWorldTV.