Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out where to start a review, especially when you only have three episodes to form your opinion on. With Daisy Jones and The Six, it’s easy. You start at the beginning, with the theme tune. It’s by Patti Smith, a 70s rocker who broke gender norms, championed the rights of women to bodily autonomy, and spoke out about AIDS when few others would. A feminist icon. But the song they’ve chosen presents the women of the show as boy-crazed and little more. Nothing paints a clearer picture of this show’s lacklustre attempt at feminism.
One of the most important storylines of the book – the impact of paedophilic 60s stars on a teenage Daisy Jones throughout her life – is crammed into a busy opening 15 minutes as exposition and never explored again. The common occurrence of male songwriters stealing lyrics from women trying to enter the business is also nodded to before immediately moving on to a conversation that makes it clear Daisy is ‘not like other girls’. The show even uses one of the book’s most powerful lines “I am not the muse. I am the somebody” before spending the rest of the episodes making Daisy and Camila Billy Dunne’s muses and little more. Similarly, Camila’s written storyline involves her desire for independence, her place as a voice for Latina women and her strength when the men around her are weak. But once Billy and Daisy meet, the show turns her into Daisy’s rival for Billy’s affection and a largely silent one. Karen, who in the book stands alone as an entirely self-made woman, becomes Graham’s love interest and one of Daisy’s many foils. The one saving grace is that Simone, disco-rocker extraordinaire, gets more screen time than she does on the page. But again, this is all in aid of making Daisy look good. Like Patti Smith, the show dangles the potential for feminism in front of us before pushing it aside in favour of a storyline that emphasises Daisy’s desirability to men.
This wouldn’t be as much of an issue as it is if both the book and show hadn’t been marketed as a feminist tour de force. Yet, like Reece Witherspoon’s other endeavours as a producer (Where the Crawdads Sing, The Morning Show), the show was touted by its producers as the next biggest thing for women everywhere. So, watching it and realising their version of feminism is to write the same old story of girls meet boy and then paint over it with lines that faintly point to a better narrative that was scrapped is like a pin in a balloon. Utterly deflating.
It’s not all terrible though. When Riley Keogh (Daisy) sings, the show seems worth it. If what they made had just been a series of music videos, it might have been enjoyable. Unlike her grandfather, Elvis, she can act too. Simone’s queer identity is given a bigger storyline. This feels a little tacked on and is again primarily used to make Daisy look progressive for the time, but at least it’s there. As a bonus, only three episodes have been released so there is hope that the show could get better. But that’s largely where the positive ends.
Sam Claflin plays the other lead, Billy. He often looks too old for the role. His 70s self and 90s counterpart should be 20 years apart, but the only difference is straightened hair and a beard. Furthermore, his acting is either one note or formulaic – furrowed forehead for confusion, anxiety and anger with nothing else to distinguish which emotion is which, a look to the ground and then back up when he wants to show the intensity of the emotion. It’s a particular shame then that Josh Whitehouse, who plays bassist Eddie Roundtree, is so brilliant. Eddie and Billy have largely the same qualities and require the same style of acting, and Whitehouse is better. His relegation to a secondary character is a mistake.
Furthermore, the set and costuming are as true to history as they can get but without feeling or thought. All the characters have different personalities, but they are dressed in the same clothing. There’s no expression, no sense of the person behind the clothes. The decision to stick to recording studios and mid-century houses limits the vibrancy and shine of 70s LA. The show feels small and like it’s on a budget, which as an Amazon Prime product it shouldn’t be.
The 70s music scenes were also known for their politics – the Vietnam War, abortion rights, civil rights movements were all the backbones of folk, rock and disco. Even using these as a backdrop for the setting could have elevated the show or added a certain spark. But anytime we get close, the show quickly moves on to something else. This isn’t entirely the fault of the show. The book only briefly looks at Vietnam and while it includes both abortion and people of colour, there is no discussion about their place in the time and setting chosen. Compared to Emma Brodie’s Songs in Ursa Major and Dawnie Walton’s The Final Revival of Opal and Nev, Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones is the literary equivalent of dipping your toe in the water. But at least the book gives women, particularly women of colour a voice. They get a voice that is equal to men and equal to white women. A voice that says something for themselves rather than prop up everyone else. Women aren’t treated like muses in the book. They are somebodies.
As such, when the show gives us muses while clinging to the conviction that this is a feminist show, the stench of privileged white woman lack of awareness is strong. If you were to watch the show knowing nothing of history and music, you would think the worst thing you could be in 1970s LA is a rich, beautiful, white woman and the way to get what you want is by being sexy and mysterious – a manic pixie dream girl. Forget Patti Smith, forget Carole King, forget Stevie Nicks, the woman Daisy is modelled after. Their achievements are nothing compared to Daisy’s beauty according to the show. Now forget Donna Summers, Casselberry and Dupree and Jayne County. Their lives were clearly never as hard as Daisy or Billy’s.
Again, only the first three episodes have been released. So, there is hope that this will improve. But the current track record suggests otherwise. As the main hook from the show’s leading song says, Daisy Jones and The Six“could make a good thing bad”.