It’s refreshing to find a new show that has no ties to all the franchises (CSI, FBI, Chicago this and that, etc.) that dominate the network television landscape. Alaska Daily boasts a wildly different setting than the usual streets of a big city, even though it does manage to make Anchorage seem like a remote village. Best of all, the main characters are local journalists in pursuit of stories as small as who won the biggest cabbage at the state fair and as massive as missing and murdered Indigenous women. The show was created by Tom McCarthy, who directed and cowrote the now-classic of journalism movies, 2015’s Spotlight, and was inspired by investigative articles by the Anchorage Daily.
If only McCarthy had cast an Indigenous woman as his lead, this would have been a stronger show. However, the show’s centerpiece is Eileen Fitzgerald (played by two-time Oscar-winner Hilary Swank), a big-time reporter who is disgraced and offered a job in Alaska by her former editor. Eileen is a bull in a china shop, which makes her both abrasive and good at her job. She doesn’t care if people don’t like her (which, mainly, they don’t, nor does the viewer, particularly), as long as she gets results. Her saving grace is that she cares deeply about seeking justice for those she writes about, chiefly missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Her reluctant partner is Roz (Grace Dove), a Native Alaskan with personal ties to the issue. She makes inroads where Eileen cannot, which mitigates the white savior narrative a little bit. Hopefully, the show will bring Roz to the forefront in meaningful ways. Five episodes in, it does seem as if Eileen is learning from Roz and not the other way around.
Filmed in British Columbia and Canada’s Northwest Territories (and a little bit in Alaska), Alaska Daily underscores the importance of local journalism as it highlights the systemic injustice of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Content wise, the show has little offensive language and, compared to cable and streaming, mild content in terms of violence and sex. (Rated TV-14, ABC, Hulu)
Rutherford Falls first caught my eye on the Rotten Tomatoes website as a Top 5 “Certified Fresh TV” option. It’s a critical success that hasn’t quite caught on with the masses yet, probably due to its network—Peacock—still building and gaining subscribers.
But this show, made by the creators of Parks and Rec and The Office, is worthy of its acclaim and a wider viewership. Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms) is trying to preserve his family’s legacy as colonial founders of the town, a quaint New England hamlet first settled by the fictional Minishonka people. Supporting him is his best friend, Reagan (Jana Schmieding, also a writer on the show), a member of the Minishonka tribe who is valiantly trying to run a tribal cultural center wedged in the corner of the town’s Indigenous-run casino. Nathan is clueless about a lot of things, including how his ancestor’s “handshake agreement” with the Minishonka to settle the town is problematic. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body and bumbles along haplessly in his quest to burnish the Rutherford name.
But as the show gently points out, this kind of seemingly harmless bumbling actually can be harmful when one’s blinders are so entrenched.
Reagan is the more interesting character, as she navigates her desire to honor her people while not fitting in with them, either. It’s refreshing that her plus-size body is never commented on, and she is given a real love interest.
Enter Terry (a riveting Michael Greyeyes), the wealthy owner of the casino, who is keenly ambitious to restore Minishonka flourishing to pre-Rutherford days.
In one stunning scene, Terry gives a monologue to a startled NPR reporter about his tribe’s preservation despite hundreds of years of obstacles and displacement. “I’ve had to learn to play this game through bare-knuckled necessity,” Terry says, “and while that might not make for a feel-good story, I won’t rest until my nation gets every single thing that was taken from them.”
It is an anchoring, potent scene, one that stands out as the rest of the series takes a milder approach to issues of Indigenous land rights. Really, the overall vibe of the show is ‘how can we all honor our cultures, be equals, and flourish together”? But the viewer can’t ever forget the steel in Terry’s eyes and voice.
There’s nothing on TV like it—a show that centers Native characters and is written by Native writers and run by a Native showrunner. However, neither Nathan or any other white character is cast as a villain, though Nathan’s privilege is obvious to everyone but him. There is plenty of compassion for Nathan as he figures out his own identity and purpose in life.
Yes, it’s a comedy, but the humor is lowkey and smart rather than broad. In the same way Parks and Rec and The Office took awhile to percolate, humor wise, Rutherford Falls’s first season is all about character building and introducing us to life in Rutherford Falls. It’s a show that entertains you as it makes you think, yet there is nothing heavy about it. (Rated TV-14.In Canada, watch on the StackTV Amazon Channel or for free with ads on Global TV.)
Burden of Truth
I found out about Burden of Truth from a Travel Manitoba email about movies and shows shot in my home province. Feeling homesick, I decided to check out this Canadian show, which, like Transplant, was brought over to primetime U.S. TV, this one via the CW network. The show is mostly shot in Selkirk (called “Millwood”), a town just outside of Winnipeg on the picturesque banks of the Red River. Instead of the usual “Vancouver could be anywhere” vibe, this series owns its Canadian prairie roots, which gives it a distinctive local flair and gorgeous shots of golden waves of grain. Burden of Truth is serialized, unfolding an overarching mystery over the course of a season, rather than the common, mystery-per-week mold of a procedural. In Season 1, the mystery involves a group of teenage girls who begin to exhibit scary neurological symptoms such as facial tics and seizures. Is it because they have had the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine or because one of the blue collar industries in town has poisoned them through a toxic and illegal waste dump? At the center is Joanna Hanley (Smallville’s Kristin Kreuk), a hometown girl who returns from her father’s big city law firm to offer preemptive settlements on behalf of the makers of the vaccine. But soon she finds that all is not what it seems, either in the case or her past in Millwood. Joanna’s past is not as intriguing as the environmental mystery, but it does provide a reasonably compelling backstory.
Seasons 2 and 3 amp up the social commentary with a mystery about systemic racism toward Indigenous people. It’s the rare show that features major characters who are Indigenous (such as my favorite, Millwood’s police chief Owen Beckbie, played by Meegwun Fairbrother), or storylines that center Indigenous people. Bravo, Burden of Truth!
Rated TV-PG, this import is also mild, content-wise, though parents should be aware of a somewhat sensual relationship between a teenage same-sex couple. (Hulu)