‘Alaska Daily’ is one of fall’s new broadcast shows to watch

I delved into ABC’s recently premiered The Rookie: Feds, in which Niecy Nash-Betts plays a middle-aged high school counselor-turned-probie of the FBI. (I say “middle-aged,” but that’s not a description that fits Nash-Betts easily.) It’s an over-the-top action cartoon, with the occasional scene dealing with personal relationships, health challenges, and plans in the workplace way of walking around with guns drawn. And it’s absolutely hilarious, made by people who seem to be having a good time, with a diverse cast of characters that doesn’t take more than a minute to fully classify and understand, which is all the more fun.

There is a quality to broadcast television. Not “quality” like high-end platinum-era television, but something not easily found on streaming or premium platforms – something that continues to attract what is considered a large audience these days without falling into trending tweets, critical ones Pandemonium or translate (notwithstanding Abbott Elementary) year-end awards.

It’s not that network series are without gravitas or art or nuance or something to say – they have a lot to say at times, in a very loud voice – but the speed at which they unfold and the way they express themselves relate to their viewers, they are specific to the platform. You can only stay dark on network television for as long as viewers seek comfort and resolution. Dramas are almost always leavened with comedy and characters that are meant to be liked and that you hope will like each other. Shows offer simple pleasures, and that goes for the mediocre as well as the best. (And even the worst.) The venue tolerates a lot of cliche and kitsch and obviousness. Characters tell you who they are and what they think. Text trumps subtext.

Alaska Daily, which premieres Thursday on ABC, has an impressive pedigree. It was created by Tom McCarthy, who wrote and directed the Oscar-winning “Spotlight” on the Boston Globe’s coverage of sex abusers in Catholic clergy; starring Hilary Swank (another Oscar winner); and it borrows its long slur from a series of articles published by the Anchorage Daily News in association with ProPublica about official indifference to missing or murdered Indigenous young women. Had it been made as an HBO miniseries, which the theme lent itself easily to, it would have been a whole different thing, dark and atmospheric and cinematic. As a network series, it’s something broader, more immediate, less subtle. Television not as cinema but as television, a “Lou Grant” in the Arctic Circle. Gestures are bigger, speeches are louder, the workplace is more whimsical.

Swank stars as Eileen Fitzgerald, a hot investigative reporter who quits her job at a New York publication called Vanguard when the accuracy of an article she spent months researching is questioned; Additionally, complaints have crept up on social media about how she treats staff, “particularly women.” Calling her co-workers “a bunch of terrified, bright-eyed wimps who are more interested in eating their own than in reporting the news” — she has a certain attitude — she walks Eileen out the door and into her apartment, where she addresses her working on a book. rides a stationary bike and waits four months – cue title card – for the actual show to start.

This begins with the arrival of Stanley Cornick (Jeff Perry), an editor Eileen hasn’t seen in 17 years (another job she left on poor terms), who now runs an Anchorage newspaper, the Daily Alaskan . He offers her a contract specifically to get to the bottom of a cold case – the underinvestigated death of an Indigenous young woman – and suggests there is a pattern of neglect she could help fix and a story which “could change the country conversation.”

Grace dove "Alaska Daily."

Grace Dove plays Roz Friendly, the local star reporter, on Alaska Daily.

(Christopher Willard / ABC)

Her first reaction is to be offended (“It’s the minor leagues, I’ve paid my dues”) and turn him down. As soon as she finishes her book, she says, she’s out. (“I’m done, I’m doneI’M DONE!” she cries in increasing hysteria.)

“Come on, Fitzgerald,” Stanley replies, sounding a bit like Cary Grant trying to stop Rosalind Russell from marrying Ralph Bellamy, “you’re a born reporter — you’re one of the best.”

She knows, and soon finds herself in Anchorage, only to find that the newspaper she signed with is based in a mall, with 25 employees, some of whom have speaking roles. The talkative Gabriel (Pablo Castelblanco), who used to work at the drive-in cafe outside, greets them excitedly; Senior reporter and acting news editor Bob Young (Matt Malloy) is willing to be irritated. The helpful Austin Teague (Craig Frank) lets them know they don’t have a LexisNexis account for research and that the printer sometimes works.

Then, to their initial mutual displeasure, and each claiming that she only works alone, Eileen is paired up with local star reporter Roz Friendly (Grace Dove), who is her temperamental twin – meaning heads will butt. (Eileen, who is impatient at the newspaper’s willingness to take no from the authorities when yes is the legally correct answer, knows how to get things done; but Roz, who is Indigenous, knows the area and prevents it to a white savior becomes history.) From a viewer’s perspective, how they get along is just as important as the story they’re following — you know they’re going to get to the bottom of it, because successful reporting is the point of the story, but you’re not exactly sure about the relationship.

As Eileen and Roz knock on doors, harass the police and various porters, and follow one lead after the next, their co-workers process episode-length stories. Young reporter Jieun Park (Ami Park) investigates the story behind the arrest of a naked young man brandishing a gun, leading her to question whether protecting a victim’s privacy is more important than the truth to say about him. Veteran Claire Muncy (Meredith Holzman), of whose multiple children Eileen scares it by jumping out from under her desk, investigates the imminent sale of a beloved diner to a hamburger chain, which is causing locals to riot (the classic “few dozen people up a parking lot with a picket line” scene), which gets us thinking about an angry world where opinions count for more than facts.

In the two episodes under review, Eileen also sleeps with a “pilot poet” (he may have flown in from Northern Exposure) whom she meets at a bar, who tells her, “Alaska has a funny way of revealing things to you about you”; suffers random panic attacks; encounters a moose on her morning run; and is harassed by an anonymous “concerned citizen” who tells her, “Alaska doesn’t need another corrupt reporter spreading lies.” Well, that won’t fly .

It all leads to an overtly inspirational moment, a line of dialogue (“This job isn’t easy and we don’t do it to be liked—we do it because it matters”) or a newspaper column read as a narrative. Like The West Wing, another network television product, it is a tract in the form of drama, arguing for the dedicated upkeep of a pillar of democratic society. I can’t disagree.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-10-06/alaska-daily-abc-hilary-swank-tom-mccarthy-review ‘Alaska Daily’ is one of fall’s new broadcast shows to watch

Sarah Ridley

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