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Blood Harmony Vol. 24: Daisy Jones & The Six
Happy Spring everyone! My car is covered in aphid honeydew and the lilacs are blooming in Duke Gardens.
Let’s talk Daisy Jones & The Six. I loved this book. Specifically, I loved the audiobook which was like listening to a really, really great play with amazing voice actors (Judy Greer! Benjamin Bratt! Jennifer Beals!). As is always the case when you’re super into the source material, I was excited/anxious about how the show would turn out. Here are my thoughts.
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One major thing to start with, the show doesn’t look quite right. I recently re-watched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood which has the same basic setting at some of the same times as Daisy. It looks so much more of the time. Side note: if you haven’t listened to it yet, the KCRW podcast on the making of Pulp Fiction is fantastic. Of course, Once Upon a Time looks incredible because Tarantino wanted it to look a certain way and he had the budget and the team to make it happen. In a very interesting interview by Benjamin B in American Cinematographer about the technical aspects of making Once Upon a Time, cinematographer Robert Richardson said “The aim was to evoke the past and the present. Quentin and I wanted to have a look that was here and now, but that also pushed a little bit back in time. We didn’t speak about it, but in my mind I thought, ‘Let’s make something past, present and future.’” In order to achieve that, they did things like shoot on super saturated film stock, use specific warm lighting and work with the costume and makeup departments to ensure that all of the colors in the movie were as rich as possible. Daisy’s cinematographer Checco Varesese had a different goal. He said in this interview “There was this appetite [from some people] to make this show look as if I had a [16 millimeter] camera and was running around shooting stuff in the seventies. But my first mantra was to create the world I would have seen in the 1970s through the optics of an audience educated in 2023 and make it polished and attractive and beautiful.” I think that’s why it didn’t work for me. I want my 70s period pieces to look a little more gritty.
You know what is great though? The Daisy music! It is seriously catchy and more than just Fleetwood Mac ripoffs (which was my fear!). The soundtrack was produced by Blake Mills who has produced and/or played with everyone under the sun and it features songwriting from Phoebe Bridgers, Marcus Mumford and Jackson Browne. Songs from the show that have lived on repeat in my head since viewing are “The River”, “Let Me Down Easy”, “Regret Me” and “Look At Us Now (Honeycomb)”. I don’t love Sam Claflin’s voice (as Billy) but Riley Keough blows it out of the water. I also love that they totally built out the musical world. They made full song versions of everything that’s played in the film including the early Dunn brothers’ tracks and the original disco songs later in the series. There was some serious love and care put into this project and listeners have responded. Look at the Billboard soundtrack charts for this week:
Speaking of Riley Keough, she is incredible on this show. I’ve loved her since Logan Lucky but she totally blew my mind in Zola, a movie about sex work, friendship and cultural appropriation based on a series of viral Tweets. If that all sounds odd, it’s because it is. But I think about that film all the time. You can’t take your eyes off of Keough onscreen and that is the essence of Daisy. She’s captivating and frustrating and gets to say amazing lines like “You know it’s not my job not to turn you on, right?” to her jackass band mates. Maybe it’s just because I recently read Unmasking Autism, but there are aspects of her portrayal of Daisy that seem grounded in either neurodivergence and/or severe trauma response. Daisy is definitely dissociating a lot of the time that she isn’t performing, being creative or abusing substances. It’s a really interesting take on the character.
This is a show anchored by female performances. We’ve got Camila Morrone as Billy’s wife (also named Camila), who gives such a grounded, sexy performance that she steals every scene she’s in. Like a lot of reviews touched on, I don’t love what they did to Camila’s character in the transition from book to screen. Book Camila chose Billy and wanted him to be successful but she also wanted a life for herself that was centered on family. Everything her character did was to achieve that second goal. This put her at odds with the rest of the band. But, Book Camila was also a very wise and generous character. She midwifed Karen through her abortion. She supported Daisy after the last show and gave her the insight she needed to walk away from Billy. Screen Camila lacks the same depth. Morrone sells the character because she’s a wonderful actress but Screen Camila’s main plot points are that she cheats on Billy (with EDDIE OF ALL PEOPLE) and shows up at key moments to keep Billy and Daisy apart. Oh and they made her a photographer which…ok.
Suki Waterhouse as Karen is not given a whole lot to do but looks amazing in her impeccable eyeliner, plays a mean keyboard and secretly and then not secretly hooks up with Graham which leads to a sad breakup. It’s a shame that she’s underwritten because Waterhouse is a lovely presence and Book Karen was a whole lot more interesting. Side note: Suki Waterhouse’s music is very good! And I’m not just saying that because she recorded at least part of it in Durham with a producer who I’m pretty sure I’ve seen in the checkout line at the Co-Op.
Finally, we’ve got Nabiyah Be as Simone, Daisy’s best friend and aspiring disco legend. The hands-down best episode of the show is episode #7 (Island Time). This is the episode that takes us through Simone’s experience in New York, where she starts a queer relationship with a DJ named Bernie and basically becomes Donna Summer. It’s a big departure from the book and the show is better for it in this case. Simone gets pulled to Greece because Daisy decides to marry a man she barely knows after getting her heart broken by Billy. Heads up Daisy! If a dude tells you he’s “a student of life” it means he both has access to immense generational wealth and is totally full of shit. This episode looks marvelous! Everything comes together for the scenes in Greece and New York. Watching Be navigate her character’s emotional journey of wanting to support and protect Daisy while also being jealous of her wealth, privilege and success is a master class in understated acting. Everything the character is feeling is right there beneath her amazing smile. When Daisy and Simone finally have it out (a heartbreaking scene where Daisy, spurred on by her stupid husband, accuses Simone of being in love with her), it’s absolutely devastating. Give us a whole season of these two women negotiating their complicated friendship! It is far more interesting than the Daisy/Billy/Camila love triangle.
The love triangle, unfortunately, is the center of the TV show and a lot of the other characters’ plot is sacrificed to it. It’s not that the book doesn’t have this central conflict. It’s just that the book version of it is more nuanced. Everything in the show version of Daisy and Billy’s relationship is filled with the obvious choices (Billy and Daisy making out, nearly making out, making out again, eventually doing lines together backstage, etc.). The book was at least as interested in what happens when two people form a creative partnership than it was in exploiting the sexual tension between them. There is a world in which Daisy and Billy have the emotional maturity to acknowledge that their work relationship is very special AND they are also attracted to each other but committed elsewhere (Billy). But, as the saying goes, hurt people hurt people so instead everything gets very messy in both the book and the show. It’s just that in the book, the messiness is more internal. I hate to say this because he has good moments too, but overall Claflin is just not nearly as charismatic a performer as Keough. This lack of charisma hinders the show. It’s hard to buy Billy as a sexy front man (maybe because he also wants to be a guitarist with mystique?) and it’s hard to know why Daisy would want to be with him when he spends 95% of the show brooding, frowning and lurking around while also brooding and frowning. Even his cheating and drug addiction is kind of boring. We know why he loves Daisy and Camila because they are both awesome but we don’t really understand why they are both so obsessed with him. There’s some interesting fan fiction possibilities out there for a Daisy/Camila story line since Keogh and Morrone have a lot more chemistry together in comparison. I spent some serious time contemplating casting what-ifs and hear me out on this one. Diego Calva from Babylon? Daniel Kaluuya? Steven Yeun? I don’t know if any of them have musical abilities but I think they would have brought an edginess that could have paired well with Keough’s energy. Plus, there would be so much to explore if racial dynamics became an explicit part of the band’s journey. Sebastian Chacon, who plays Warren, comes from an Colombian/Ecuadorian family but his heritage is not discussed outright on the show (check out his delightful interview with Vulture on Warren being the real hero of Daisy).
Finally, the show’s take on substance abuse and recovery is pretty superficial for a 10 hour show. We get some scenes of sober Billy jogging and watching TV on his tour bus but we never see him check in with a sponsor or go to a meeting. And no one changes much of their behavior around him-including Camila! She’s just pounding champagne at parties like Billy never cheated on her while out of his mind with groupies on the tour bus. It’s weird. Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born actually did a better job of showing the infrastructure that supports substance abuse in the music business and the challenges of sobriety in that world. Every once and a while I flash back to the first night that Ally and Jackson hook up in that movie and think about how bad Jackson’s breath and body odor would have been under those circumstances. Haunting.
In terms of the non-original songs chosen for the show, I think they are all very solid and some are even surprising. Using Patty Smith’s “Dancing Barefoot” for the opening titles was an inspired choice and I was also pleased to hear “Ooh La La” by Faces during the early party scene. I’ve loved that song since it played over the closing credits of Rushmore!
Final things: I know lots of people complain about this in general and related to both COVID restrictions about the number of people allowed to be on sets and a lack of technical capacity in the industry, but the CGI folks in the large crowd scenes on the show look very fake. Like the supportive fans in Rock Band.
Just in time for my complete rewatching of Whit Stillman’s trilogy (Metropolitan, Barcelona and Last Days of Disco) which led to an intense desire to start dressing like an early 1980s preppy, I finally listened to the brilliant Article of Interest: American Ivy podcast series. It was fascinating! I learned so much! Right after I finished listening to it, I went to a MLK celebration at my son’s elementary school. There was a fashion show and one of the super cute kids was dressed entirely in Ralph Lauren. Lo Heads are everywhere!
Thanks for reading! As Book Camila says to Daisy before she dashes all of her hopes and dreams of a relationship with Billy thus leading her to turn her life around, “I’m rooting for you.”
Thanks for reading Blood Harmony! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.