Sissy Spacek and J.K. Simmons twinkle in Amazon's new science fiction/mystery series about a pair of oldsters who travel to other galaxies in their backyard.
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“Night Sky” is a science fiction/mystery series that may not be for everyone. It’s a slow-burn kind of show, one that’s more about steadily building up the tension and exploring characterization than big superhero-style throwdowns or murderously sharp plot twists.
Helmed by world-class thespians Sissy Spacek and J.K. Simmons, it’s an enjoyable ride for those who are into delayed gratification.
They play Irene and Franklin York, a retired couple in their early 70s living in bucolic Farnsworth, Illinois. He was a carpenter and she an English teacher, and they fell hard for each other shortly after he mustered out of Vietnam service. (Lily Cardone and Lowrey Brown play them as youngsters in flashbacks.)
They lost their beloved son, Michael, in an accident 20 years ago and it still weighs heavily upon their souls. They dote upon their granddaughter, Denise (Kiah McKirnan), who’s working on her MBA in Chicago.
In turn, she’s worried about the oldsters as Irene had a bad fall a year ago and still needs a cane or wheelchair to get around. Denise drops subtle hints that maybe they should sell their old place in the country and move somewhere easier to keep up, and be looked over.
Franklin and Irene are pretty attached to the place, though, owing to its unique feature: underneath the shed is a tunnel leading to a strange door, which opens into an odd metallic capsule. When they go in there, they are transported to an identical space after a brief light show.
(Franklin always barfs after the “trip,” which he does into a piece of Tuppeware Irene thinks to bring — if that tells you anything about their relationship.)
Exiting this capsule is a room they’ve outfitted with some tables and chairs with a huge window that looks out upon an alien world. They like to go in the evenings, have a nice long sit to enjoy the view… and that’s it. They’ve never attempted to pierce the mystery of how they’re able to travel across galaxies, just enjoying the experience for what it is.
There is a door leading to the outside world, which they’ve never passed. Apparently Franklin did an experiment with some mice long ago and it didn’t work out so well.
Franklin is starting to agree with his granddaughter that maybe it’s time for them to make a change, but Irene will hear none of it. The secret tunnel, which they’ve inscribed with the words “To the stars,” is the thing that grounds her and gives her purpose.
“This is our riddle to solve… don’t take that away from me,” she says.
Franklin is peevish and protective. Irene is his whole world, and he doesn’t seem to much like any other people. Certainly not the watchful neighbor, Byron (Adam Bartley), who moved in six months ago and set about sticking his nose into everything, even launching an election bid for town council despite hardly knowing anybody.
Irene is in denial about her physical condition, pooh-poohing her doctor’s insistence that she should be up and around by now. It’s clear she’s on the verge of some big shift in her thinking after 50 years of marriage.
A major change happens when a young stranger, Jude (Chai Hansen), unexpectedly wanders into their little corner of the universe. At first deathly sick, he gives Irene somebody to mother. As you might guess, Franklin is suspicious as all get out and starts pushing Jude toward the door as soon as he’s up and around.
But as you’ll see, he winds up sticking around. There’s clearly something about Jude related to the planet-hopping mechanism, and we’re guessing he’s not what he appears to be.
A parallel story is introduced in Argentina with Stella (Julieta Zylberberg), an independent young mother who lives on a remote ranch with her teen daughter, Toni (Rocío Hernández). Suffice it to say they have a very similar set-up as Franklin and Irene.
They also get their own stranger (Piotr Adamczyk) who invades their little pas de deux, although in this case Stella knows him — and seems to have reason to fear him.
I’ll say no more, but I think this description give you a decent flavor of what “Night Sky” is all about. Written by Holden Miller and directed by Juan José Campanella, it’s a humanistic story set against a fantastical background — one that doesn’t just present itself all at once, but is revealed a little bit at a time.
You usually see the word “thriller” used in conjunction with “science fiction” for genre descriptions, but I think mystery is a much better term to pair with this show. And it’s not the sort of mystery that is about big, sudden reveals that snap your neck around, but slowly teases out the enigma and focuses on how it affects the internal lives of these people.
Spacek and Simmons are, of course, terrific in low-key performances. It’s a lovely portrait of true love, half a century later — how the bright flames may grow lower, but the warmth is enduring. It’s the sort of show that makes you glance over at your partner and appreciate them a little more.
“Night Sky” is less about the miracle in the backyard than how these lives are gradually changed by its gravitational pull. If you’re willing to settle in, the rewards shine bright.