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We Build Alaska

Review: Alaska Daily, Season One – Episode One

I wasn’t planning on watching Alaska Daily, then curiosity and targeted ads got the better of me. I suspect my experience isn’t unique – I read about the show when it was first announced and… kind of forgot about it. Then, about two weeks ago I was on the receiving end of a massive marketing push. Without Googling I know Alaska Daily is on ABC, starts after Grey’s Anatomy, stars Oscar Award winner Hilary Swank, has two Native Alaskan writers, has ties to the ADN, and was even partly filmed in Anchorage.

I must confess, I missed the first sixty seconds or so trying to figure out ABC’s live TV feature. Our household cut the cord over six years ago and I scrambled last minute to access it. Eileen Fitzgerald, played by Swank, is a well-known journalist poised to take down a five-star general (the last five star general was Omar Bradley), relying on documents sent to her by a single source. When the general claims the documents are forged, Eileen is unceremoniously cancelled. Her high-level employer questions Eileen’s reporting (the single source goes dark) and allegations surface about her abusive behavior towards female colleagues. “Hilary Swank just said, “They’re trying to cancel me now? Stop acting like a bunch of scared woke wussies. LOLLLL 🤦” I texted a friend while watching.

Post cancellation, Eileen is down on her luck and approached by a former boss named Stanley. Stanley offers her a job to cover the story of Gloria Nanmac, an Indigenous woman who went missing two years ago. While the police have ruled out foul play, Stanley thinks it’s part of a pattern, and hands Eileen a pile of other similar cases – all involving missing Indigenous women. Eileen’s spidey journalism senses are tingling and before we know it, she’s on an Alaska Airlines flight to Anchorage.

This is where it starts to get good. And by good, I mean that the Alaska references are thicker than the mudflats at low tide. Here are some highlights from a local perspective:

  • Gabriel, some sort of assistant for the struggling paper greets Eileen at the Ted Stevens International Airport by saying, “Welcome to Alaska. Is this all you have? Wow. I pack more when I go to Juneau.” This is where I would have normally poured myself a glass of wine. Alas, live TV has its drawbacks.
  • Eileen checking in to the actual Captain Cook Hotel while her assistant (most un-realistic part of the show so far!) gifts her a midnight sun eye mask which she scoffs at but then ends up using. She also calls someone at 10:30 p.m. because she doesn’t realize how late it is with the light still pouring into her hotel room window.
  • Eileen driving to her first day of work and passing the Taj MaHawker APD Headquarters, 4th Ave Theatre (R.I.P.), Club Paris, Trapper Jacks Trading Post, Chilkoot Charlie’s and a couple other places before ending up in Government Hill. Gabriel definitely took the scenic route.
  • Two words: coffee hut.
  • The entire strip mall that the Daily Alaskan is located in – massage parlor, restaurant, insurance and tourism offices. VERY ANCHORAGE.
  • Local political blog run by a former disgruntled employee. (I mean, I was hoping for a blog run by a speedo loving maverick, outdoor Alaska’s most eligible bachelor, and a stay-at-home mom. Maybe we’ll make it in next season…)

Eileen, who is a strong, powerful and so far not very likeable woman, predictably starts butting heads with upper management at the Daily Alaskan. Stanley teams Eileen up with Roz, a local reporter on the State House beat who was born and raised in rural Alaska. They hate having to share the story. We find out later that Roz lost a cousin under similar circumstances as Gloria.

Race is a central theme. The show is inspired by the ADN’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series “Lawless” that focused on sexual violence in Alaska and systemic failures in the criminal justice system. Bringing attention to missing and murdered Indigenous women is a crucial component of the story, and the hope is this series starts a national conversation and brings much needed attention to this important issue. It will be interesting to see how the writers navigate this topic, especially with a main character who is not Alaska Native and a stranger to the Last Frontier.

Race also makes an appearance in other plot lines. The first episode introduces us to several “bad guys.” Can you guess what all these characters have in common?

  1. The sub plot that starts out with an armed police standoff in Muldoon involving a suspect who is in his 20’s, Caucasian and… Naked?!
  2. “Oh, I read your story on the white nationalist deli owner, “says Swank to a Daily Alaskan co-worker. “Heck of a guy…”
  3. My personal favorite: Jordan Teller, the white executive chair of the Alaska Investment Fund (psst: that’s supposed to be the PFD board), who used money from the fund to buy an apartment in Muldoon for his alleged lover.
  4. And finally, the mysterious threatening voice that calls Eileen her first week on the job and tells her to go back to New York before something bad happens.

What’s network television without a little sexy time? In another sub plot, Eileen goes to a very Alaskan bar and meets a very Alaskan dude: a bearded pilot poet. I’m not even joking. They go back to his place and bone. The next morning, when Eileen sneaks out to call an Uber, she is gob smacked at the view and simultaneously finds out her one-night stand lives outside Uber range (somewhere along the Turnagain Arm). I closed my eyes when I saw the pine trees. You know, for continuity’s sake. Pilot Poet drives her forty minutes back into town like the gentleman he is.

The cliffhanger for the week (besides Eileen’s panic attack storyline which I am so far not a fan of) was that Gloria needed crutches to walk. According to her mother, Gloria didn’t have them with her when her body was found on the tundra. I expect that information to play a major part in a future episode. But first, Eileen and Roz will need to track down the mysterious Toby Crenshaw and ask him some questions about the night Gloria was last seen.

Am I enjoying the show? Yes. It was a quick, fun pilot episode and I got to know all of the characters. Would I watch the show if I wasn’t from Alaska? Probably not. I guess the true test will be if Alaska Daily can hold my attention without relying on footage of my hometown and Alaska centric Easter eggs. I am getting a kick out of seeing how many “Alaska moments” I can catch: Stanley’s fish t-shirt, calling it the City Assembly and not City Council, the pilot poet teaching the audience how Alaska has “no roads” and we call the lower 48 “Outside,” and that amazing Diane Benson cameo!!! What did I miss?

I know Alaska Daily isn’t supposed to be your run-of-the-mill crime show. While crime series’ usually offer a glimpse of who done it in the first episode, it’s likely Gloria’s killer has yet to be introduced. I think it’s a safe guess our main villain or villains this season are going to be cis white men. If I had to bet, from who we’ve seen so far, I would put my money on Pilot Poet. See you next week!

Allison Hovanec was born and raised in Alaska. She and her husband are raising three young children in South Anchorage. She is a co-owner of the Alaska Landmine, writer for the Alaska Political Report and generally competent.

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Margy Johnson
1 year ago

Airline passenger Diane Bensen! On her way to Alaska reporter met one of our finest! Loved that moment!

AK 907
1 year ago

As a lifelong Alaskan I’m enjoying seeing all the accurate Alaska references. Also, you’re wrong about Swanks’s character – she’s very likable