Daisy Jones & The Six? What an insult to Fleetwood Mac

Forgettable songs, dodgy chemistry and a Spinal Tap (without the lols) mockumentary format – this one's all filler, no killer.

Amazon Prime’s Reese Witherspoon-backed ten-episode series Daisy Jones & the Six, adapted from the novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid, is the latest show in a long line of screen adaptations that attempt to capture the electric spirit of a band at the tenuous height of their (often gory) glory. But how do you step into the shoes of the gods and goddesses of rock?

‘What would you do if you couldn’t play music anymore?’

So asks fictional filmmaker Marty DiBergi, as portrayed by real-life director Rob Reiner in sublimely ridiculous, seminal rock mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap. To which drummer Mick Shrimpton, played by actual Atomic Rooster band member Ric Parnell, responds: ‘Well, as long as there’s, you know, sex and drugs, I could do without the rock n’ roll.’

This Is Spinal Tap works because it’s both a thrash in the mosh send-up of the towering stereotypes that define rock legends and a loving tribute to the enduring mythos that spiral around such stars. Brought to life by a brilliant cast – including Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest and Michael McKean ­– who knew the world they were strutting through intimately, it’s glorious because it’s OTT and oh-so-true.

As is the case with The Comic Strip Presents’ small screen riff Bad News Tour, directed by Sandy Johnson and starring writer Ade Edmondson alongside Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer and Peter Richardson (with appearances by Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders). It was so en pointe it manifested into an actual gigging band with an album release.

We’ve been blessed with stadiums full of pull-back-the-curtain, warts-and-all looks at the grift of gigging bands big and small. Cameron Crowe’s close-to-the-bone recollection of his wannabe Rolling Stone writer days in Almost Famous is right up there, as is Richard Lowenstein’s skeevy local gold Dogs in Space, starring Michael Hutchence.

Penelope Spheeris’s one-two punch of Suburbia and Wayne’s World are spot on, with Chloe Webb and Gary Oldman unmissable in Alex Cox’ grimy Sid and Nancy. Who can forget Lou Adler’s rock god cameo-laden riot grrl tribute Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, as led by Laura Dern, Diane Lane and Marin Kanter? Or the pub grind of Alan Parker’s Dublin-set and soaring The Commitments? Or Todd Haynes’ glam rock gone wrong Velvet Goldmine?

Then there are the line-blurrers, like Better Midler’s bravura turn as a not-quite-but-almost Janis Joplin in The Rose. But catching that spark of rock ‘n’ roll genius onscreen isn’t easy. The least said about Adam Shankman’s Rock of Ages, or the ill-fated foray of Anne Rice’s vampires onto the mainstage in Queen of the Damned, the better.

Rock action

So how does Daisy Jones rate in the rock royalty pantheon? Adapted from Reid’s novel by showrunners Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who penned the screenplay adaptations of books The Disaster Artist and The Fault in Our Stars, it’s set in freewheeling 70s Los Angeles and depicts the rise and fall of a band that seemed to have it all, then fell apart spectacularly without ever speaking about why.

That is until 20 years later, with the predominantly straight-up drama show occasionally interrupted by the interjections of a mockumentary framing mechanism.

Reid has spoken about being inspired by the complicated history of Fleetwood Mac, particularly Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham’s love-loathe dynamic, in an interview posted by her publisher Penguin, and by the sense the behind-the-scenes soap opera of so many bands of this era were just as fascinating as their onstage performances.

So I went in with high hopes, particularly as the magnificent Riley Keogh, who made her screen debut in Floria Sigismondi’s cracking The Runaways, plays Daisy, the Stevie-like free spirit who floats into the orbit of a floundering band and sets their act alight, much to the annoyance of grouchy frontman Billy (Sam Claflin, The Nightingale).

But by the end of episode two, I could tell my ‘Dreams’ of discovering rock glory here were shattered. It might be seen as a knowing wink when Billy bemoans that this is the ‘Same old tired rock and roll tale. The drinking, the drugs, the loneliness,’ but even 90 minutes in, it’s clear that that’s all Daisy Jones & the Six has to offer.

Daddy didn’t come to my ball games

There’s no new spin here. Of course, Billy has daddy issues, abandoned by an old man who growls, of the guitar he gave his estranged son: ‘I’ve got no use for it.’

Surprise, Daisy has mummy issues too, with her rich lush hissing at her young self, ‘No-one wants to hear your voice’. Yes, all the dialogue is this on-the-nose. Claflin is a promising young actor, but he can’t land: ‘History is what happened. Not what almost happened.’ Who could?

And when someone compares Billy’s stage presence to Mick Jagger, it’s snort-inducingly funny in a way I’m sure they didn’t intend.

Even the luminously talented Keogh struggles with this crud and cannot sell any sense of forbidden chemistry between Daisy and the married Billy. Oddly, Daisy Jones & the Six goes out of its way to avoid plot threads that might offer something more interesting.

This Is Spinal Tap. Image: Embassy Pictures.

With her eyes on centre stage, Brazilian actor Nabiyah Be’s backing vocalist Simone gets to touch on the sexual harassment rife at the time, the troubling racial politics and the obscuring of queer artists. But her character is desultorily overlooked in favour of the bland generics playing out between Keogh and Claflin.

Why is the story so determined to avoid the well-documented dubious behaviour of rock star managerial machinery? Tom Wright’s guiding force Teddy Price is presented as practically angelic, and it’s pretty dull.

The rest of the band barely gets a look-in, dissolving into an amorphous blob from which only Suki Waterhouse, as arch keyboardist Karen Sirko, occasionally surfaces. Arranged by music producer Blake Mills, the band’s songs are instantly forgeable, too. It’s impossible to believe this mob would conquer the world, droning along to this dreck. What an insult to Fleetwood Mac! It’s even more excruciatingly embarrassing that they poached Patti Smith track ‘Dancing Barefoot’ as the theme song. Please. You’re not worthy.

Spinal pap

But the biggest failure here is that mockumentary frame. This is no Spinal Tap. There’s an increasingly irksome trend, these days, of taking thuddingly straightforward tales and then trying (and failing) to inject dramatic interest by dropping nudge-wink teasers about what’s to come.

And so Daisy Jones & the Six opens with groansome to-camera pieces with each band member, supposedly 20 years after the breakup. Risibly, no one seems to have informed hair and makeup, because none of them looks a day older. Nor does this gimmick add anything to their barely discernible ciphers. There’s no shock reveal in episode ten, beyond the grim realisation you just slogged through this turgid sludge of stilted rock stereotypes for nothing. You’d be better off rocking out to the real Fleetwood Mac, Joan Jett, Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, or spinning This is Spinal Tap instead.

If these thundering stereotypes were satirised, like Spinal Tap, maybe it could have sung, but it’s egregiously earnest in such a plodding fashion.

Daisy Jones & The Six is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.