REVIEW: ‘Alaska Daily’

Alaska Daily on ABC
(Image credit: ABC)

Alaska Daily, a dark drama about a high-profile investigative journalist who leaves a large, influential job in New York for a position at a fading daily paper in Anchorage, has Hilary Swank in the lead role. Her Eileen character works at an elite publication called The Vanguard, but quits when a boss pushes back on a story built on a source who provided shoddy data. As word gets out about the star reporter’s sketchy story, social media hums with reports of Eileen treating her co-workers horribly. 

“I spent my whole career battling a bunch of good ol’ boy misogynists,” she said, “only to be canceled for being one myself.”

Eileen tackles a book project but misses the daily buzz of the newspaper business. When an old mentor, Stanley, played by Jeff Perry, shows up in Manhattan and offers her a position in Alaska, she at first dismisses it, calling Alaska “the minor leagues.” 

Stanley entices Eileen with a major-league story that needs a seasoned reporter — one on Indigenous women getting killed. Looking into the paper online, she sees a photo of the Alaska Daily headquarters, a giant, gleaming office building. She’s somewhat intrigued. 

When she arrives in Anchorage, she realizes the newspaper has been reduced to a shop in a cheesy strip mall. But she gets to work. 

Eileen rubs her co-workers the wrong way with her hard-nosed reporting, disdain for bosses and lack of social grace. But over time, they see the paper will improve with Eileen on board, and their own reporting skills will pick up, too. 

She and a young Indigenous reporter named Roz, played by Grace Dove, take on the story of the Indigenous murders together, at first butting heads, but both learning their partner brings a vital attribute to the role. Eileen has tackled tough stories for eons and Roz, who is Indigenous, knows that community and its traditions intimately. 

Eileen at times struggles with life in Alaska. On a morning jog, she comes face to face with a moose and asks her phone if moose are dangerous. Needing a ride home from a bar, she tells a new friend, “I can Uber.” He responds, “No, you can’t.”

She also deals with crippling panic attacks. 

Tom McCarthy, who directed the 2015 film Spotlight, which details investigative reporters from the Boston Globe looking into child sexual abuse by priests, created Alaska Daily. As one might expect, the show offers an array of inviting Alaska B-roll–picturesque mountains, lakes and woodsy expanses. The show also touches on the unique aspects of Alaska culture, where — as Eileen would lament — the misdeeds of good old (white) boys are often overlooked by law enforcement, according to the series, especially if they involve Indigenous women. 

Swank makes the most of a challenging role and is believable as an edgy, no-nonsense reporter. Eileen is not all that likable, but the viewer will inevitably find themselves rooting for her. 

Alaska Daily offers a credible look at the effort that goes into a big, important news story, and also examines the state of the media today (“opinions over facts,” said reporter Claire). The show also depicts how divided society, in Alaska and the lower 48, has become over politics and social issues, and how reluctant one side is to hear the opinion of the other. This divide has grave implications for a beloved Anchorage diner, and its owner, in the second episode.   

Tense, twitchy and timely, Alaska Daily makes for a compelling watch. ■

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.