I suppose you could dig up an old episode of “Behind the Music” and watch the real story of Fleetwood Mac or some other drama-prone 1970s-bred rock group. But there is fun to be had in the ersatz, especially when it’s created with the energy and commitment of Amazon’s “Daisy Jones & the Six,” a 10-episode limited series based on the 2019 novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Yes, it’s a slab of margarine, and no, you won’t believe it is butter; but it has enough flavor to help the bread go down nicely.
The show, which premieres Friday, follows a fictional Pittsburgh band from its hungry early days and eventual merging with singer-songwriter Daisy Jones (Riley Keough) to its world-dominating status with a mega-hit album called “Rumours” — um, I mean “Aurora.” Daisy and band leader Billy Dunne (Sam Claflin) clash over and over again — or is that love? — as they cowrite hit songs and perform them with sexual innuendo. Billy’s wife, Camila Dunne (Camila Morrone) watches from the sidelines, supportive of Billy but increasingly anxious about his magic with Daisy and his drug use. Meanwhile, other bandmates fall into bed and into love, including keyboard player Karen Sirko (Suki Waterhouse) and Billy’s brother, guitarist Graham Dunne (Will Harrison).
In other words, there are sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll in the series, as you’d expect, and especially drugs, and especially when it comes to Daisy, who has a habit of getting especially wasted before hitting the stage. “Daisy Jones & the Six” certainly tells a familiar story, chugging along fueled by every trope ever featured in a rock epic, including bandmate jealousies, sexist mistreatment, and record company tensions. The show even mixes in well-known tropes from rock-adjacent stories, notably the rise of Daisy’s best friend, Simone Jackson (Nabiyah Be), who becomes a pioneering disco diva while negotiating being a lesbian in a straight milieu.
So you won’t hear me making an argument for the originality of the story line in “Daisy Jones.” It’s not unlike another Amazon show about a fictional act, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” or movies like “Eddie and the Cruisers,” in the way it fleshes out an archetypal tale of entertainment, fame, money, and the inevitable presence of “creative differences.” It leans heavily on faux-stalgia, so that you almost think you grew up listening to Daisy Jones & the Six because their saga is so stock.
But the show, created by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, has a few distinguishing aspects that kept me watching and enjoying. The first is probably clear to those who’ve read the novel, which was written as an oral history of the band. The show plays out in the form of a documentary about Daisy Jones and the Six, with each of the bandmates now looking back at their careers as the Big Question looms: Why did they break up at the peak of their success? The narrative works like a mockumentary, except that it’s a drama — a faux docu-drama, I guess you could call it, or a dramamentary. The format doesn’t always work, especially later in the series when the confessional interviews are fewer and farther between, but still: It’s a different approach that gives everything a bit of a zhuzh as the action leaps between then and now, and what people say now and what we see actually happened then.
The other winning factor is that the cast members are actually performing as Daisy Jones & the Six, and that the songs were written for the band (primarily by Blake Mills). The actors are clearly ensconced in the world of the show, and I found their full engagement contagious. Keough (who is Elvis Presley’s granddaughter) may be a little miscast when it comes to Daisy’s ambitiousness, but she brings electricity nonetheless, going full-on in her shawl-wearing, twirling, Stevie Nicks-ishness by the end of the series. She is magnetic, exuding passion throughout as she essentially hijacks the Six and rises to the top of the charts. Clafflin is good, too — not particularly likable, but that’s Billy. He wears his ego on his sleeve, and he tortures himself for his attraction to Daisy. I was pleasantly surprised by Morrone, who brings a sweet self-confidence to the role of the insecure wife.
There’s an added plus, by the way: Timothy Olyphant, as tour manager Rod Reyes. With his wig firmly in place, he ushers a bit of humor into this pleasing diversion.
DAISY JONES & THE SIX
Starring: Riley Keough, Sam Claflin, Camila Morrone, Suki Waterhouse, Will Harrison, Josh Whitehouse, Nabiyah Be, Tom Wright, Timothy Olyphant, Sebastian Chacon
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.