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'Alaska Daily'

New ABC and Hulu series is solid work

Hilary Swank puts in a solid shift as a veteran New York journalist who finds herself in Anchorage, Alaska covering a big story in 'Alaska Daily.' Photo credit: ABC

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We won't bury the lead: The ABC journalism drama Alaska Daily is a solid, impressively credentialed and entertaining albeit conventional series that plays like a comfort-viewing, hourlong show from the 1990s. With a fish-out-of-water premise, an ongoing mystery plot that will no doubt play out over the course of the entire first season and story-of-the-week elements giving the viewer a dose of satisfying closure every episode, Alaska Daily has all the makings of a medium-level hit. 

Maybe that's damning with faint praise, but it's more difficult than ever for traditional network television to keep up with the plethora of streaming giants lurking on everyone's home screen, and even a relatively safe and at times predictable potential breakthrough is to be commended. 

Based on a joint series of investigative articles by the Anchorage Daily and ProPublica and created by Tom McCarthy, director and co-writer of Spotlight (Academy Award winner for best picture of 2015 and arguably the best movie about journalism since All the President's Men), Alaska Daily displays a thorough knowledge of how newspaper journalism works in the 21st century. This is a series that gets all the details right about the daily grind of general news and investigative journalists who spend hours upon hours working their sources on the phone and in person, scouring every corner of the internet for morsels of information, showing up at crime scenes with notebook and smartphone in hand - and, of course, lobbying their editors to make sure their story makes the paper and gets good play.

Two-time Academy Award-winner Hilary Swank has long excelled at playing tough, closed-off, even flinty characters who might or might not still have a beating heart beneath all the defense mechanisms, and she plays those notes to great effect as Eileen Fitzgerald, an esteemed and celebrated reporter at a big-time national news outlet in New York who loses her job after a one-two punch to her career: Her latest incendiary scoop is questionably sourced, and she's been accused of being verbally abusive to younger female staffers. 

Six months later, Eileen is holed up in her New York apartment, ostensibly working on a book to clear her name, when her old editor, Stanley (Steppenwolf legend Jeff Perry of Scandal, Grey's Anatomy, et al.) offers her a job as a reporter at the Alaska Daily, luring Eileen with a potential blockbuster story: the disappearances of a number of local indigenous women, which have been largely ignored by the local authorities and, yes, the media. Eileen scoffs at the notion of playing in the "minor leagues" of journalism, but we wouldn't have a series if she didn't accept the position, so off we go to Anchorage, which is the largest city in the state with a population of nearly 300,000, but is portrayed here as being as quaint as the town of Cicely in Northern Exposure. (We even get a moose sighting that feels like a tip of the antlers to that CBS show from the 1990s.) 

For such an experienced reporter, Eileen has done a lousy job of researching the next phase of her life; she's surprised to see the sun is still high in the sky late at night and stunned to discover the Alaska Daily newsroom is no longer headquartered in a gleaming, stand-alone structure and now occupies a depressing slot in a strip mall. Alaska Daily quickly and efficiently introduces us to the regulars in what will essentially be a workplace drama, including:

  • Acting news editor Bob (Matt Malloy), who seems more interested in keeping a cozy relationship with local law enforcement than pressing them for information.
  • The relatively seasoned Roz (Grace Dove), who resents having to work with Eileen on the investigation into the missing women.
  • Rookie reporter Jieun (Ami Park), who is conflicted about reporting a story of political corruption because she knows it will destroy the life of the man at the center of the scandal.
  • The likable Claire (Meredith Holzman), who is working on a story about why the owner of a beloved local diner is selling to a fast-food chain. 

Staffers at the paper are either awed by Eileen's credentials and immediately evident skill set, or resentful of this big-city newcomer who isn't interested in niceties or sparing your feelings as she takes instant command of the newsroom and often goes over Bob's head or around him to get things done. 

Swank and the supporting players are terrific together; in the early going, the show doesn't force the dynamics between various characters, though we can see that some conflicts will remain ongoing, while other relationships could evolve into genuine friendships. Who knows. Eileen might even fully unpack her suitcase, move out of the hotel, establish roots here and become a permanent daily Alaskan. 

New episodes air on Thursdays on ABC and will be available the next day on Hulu.

Alaska Daily

Three stars

Hilary Swank, Jeff Perry and Grace Dove

Created by Tom McCarthy

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