Alaska Daily, the ABC drama created by Spotlight Oscar winner Tom McCarthy, buries its lede in a pile of semantics.
The show stars Hilary Swank as canceled big city journalist Eileen Fitzgerald, who is trying to rehabilitate her image after a story blows up in her face and allegations emerge about her abusive work style. She’s sequestered in her apartment, to obsessively alternate between writing a book about the story that burned her and riding her stationary bike like she’s Jess King-sans-glitter, when she gets a surprise visitor: Jeff Perry’s Stanley, her editor from her cub reporting days. He wants her to head up north and join him at the local newspaper, The Daily Alaskan, to investigate a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women story. (Incidentally, this is the second time this year Perry has played a journalist in a TV show. One more and we have a trend piece).
The set-up for Alaska Daily implies that this story is about Swank’s Eileen as she goes all Northern Exposure to experience boots-on-the-ground reporting and occasional run-ins with moose during morning runs. But the show would be better served to call itself The Daily Alaskan, because the real story is about the newsroom of (largely female) journalists who work in Alaska, daily.
And the most interesting characters by far are Ami Park’s Yuna Park, Meredith Holzman’s Claire Muncy, and Grace Dove’s Roz Friendly. Yuna is an eager young journalist who learns all-too-quickly that reporting the truth means consequences for the people she covers, whether or not they deserve it. As for the scene in the second episode that has her crying in her car? I’ve been there. I spent a year and a half trying to be a cops reporter while in college. I can still hear the voice of a dad who yelled at me for trying to write a piece on his dead son.
Claire meanwhile is a seasoned reporter—and a very good one—who is struggling hard to find a work-life balance with two sons, a husband who also works, and a job that doesn’t let you clock out at five (I’m currently writing this as my two-year-old daughter watches The Wiggles). She writes a manifesto in the second episode about the state of the world today that is not at all preachy but is very, very sad and pragmatic.
And while investigative journalist Roz doesn’t have the resume that Eileen boasts, she is completely justified in feeling insulted that Stanley won’t let her look into the MMIW cases on her own even though she’s from the area and is, in fact, an Indigenous American who lost a relative in a crime that wasn’t adequately covered by the police. Newsrooms suffer greatly from their lack of diversity and assumptions that random white people who parachute into marginalized communities will be accepted or even understand the complexities of the situations. So it’s a plus that Alaska Daily actually acknowledges this issue when the forced partnership begins to question sources. (Especially since this is all happening on the same network that totally bungled its chance to address MMIW on another drama from a high-profile creator).
There are varying reactions when Eileen comes in with her fancy connections, pants suits, and aggressive underbite that I guess is supposed to make her look determined. She has contempt both for a newsroom that has so little funding that it’s now operating out of a strip mall, and for the trust-funder publisher who seemingly rescued it and kept Anchorage from becoming a news desert. Oh, and someone’s spying on her and sending her threatening photos?
This isn’t to say that I hate everything about the Eileen storyline. I appreciate that the show is trying to make her a “serious” journalist and doesn’t attempt to offer some daily news version of The Devil Wears Prada’s Miranda Priestly, who is obviously abusive and who essentially blackmails aspiring journalists into working for her.
Nor is the international newsroom where Eileen works at the beginning of the series decked out like some rom-com world where everyone’s wearing Manolo Blahniks. And no one talks in Alaska Daily in Sorkinese or is annoyingly overly ethical. One of the most amusing moments has Eileen lamenting that others take press swag in one scene, and then has some on her own desk in a later one. (One of my former editors would also lecture me on the importance of not taking press swag or hand outs. But, after dessert was delivered to the newsroom, he told me through a mouth full of chocolate that “we’re whores for free food.”)
Eileen is also—at least in the two episodes available to press for review—flawed in relationships. She’s a workaholic who still has to be told to not take underlings for granted (and maybe even praise them from time to time). An initial attempt at a romantic relationship ends before it starts. She, like journalists both real and fictional, has a better connection with a bottle of alcohol.
I know that asking a journalist to review a show about journalists is like asking a medical professional to review a medical show. But I also wish that Alaska Daily would heed some advice given by all editors at some point: Go where the story takes them. And that story is about the Alaskans who report about Alaska daily.
Alaska Daily premieres Thursday, October 6th on ABC.
Whitney Friedlander is an entertainment journalist with, what some may argue, an unhealthy love affair with her TV. A former staff writer at both Los Angeles Times and Variety, her writing has also appeared in Cosmopolitan, Vulture, The Washington Post and others. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, and daughter.
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.