Night Sky review: Engaging show about a portal to another planet
Holden Miller, Daniel C. Connolly
Amazon Prime Video, 20 May
GETTING older is never easy, but ageing couple Franklin and Irene York are able to take refuge from their ailments and frustrations by going out to “see the stars“.
Played by J. K. Simmons and Sissy Spacek, the main characters of Amazon Prime Video’s Night Sky don’t just use a telescope to gaze at the heavens. Instead, they descend into a cellar hidden under the floorboards of a shed in their backyard, walk down a dank tunnel and open a bizarre, alien-looking door.
There, they find a chamber that, somehow, transports them to a room on what appears to be another planet. They look out the window at a view that no one else on Earth gets to experience. Or so they believe.
Night Sky, created by Holden Miller and Daniel C. Connolly, starts slowly, spending plenty of time with Franklin and Irene as they go about their daily business in small-town Illinois, with the sci-fi elements of the story often fading into the background.
Simmons and Spacek are such strong actors that Night Sky would have been engrossing simply as a story about a loving couple headed into their twilight years, reckoning with nostalgia and regret. The first episode doesn’t deal with much more than that, at least until the end, when Irene discovers a mysterious man inside the underground portal.
The interloper, Jude (Chai Hansen), both disturbs and invigorates the Yorks, leading them to new discoveries about the device they have been using for the past 20 years without ever questioning it. He also has an agenda of his own, which, just like everything else in Night Sky, unfolds slowly over the course of the first six episodes.
The glacial plot progression can be frustrating, especially when the focus shifts away from the Yorks to other storylines whose connections to the main narrative take a while to coalesce.
The second episode introduces a mother and daughter living in rural Argentina, protecting a strange chapel and reluctantly taking orders from a dangerous secret society. The dynamic between Stella (Julieta Zylberberg) and her teenage daughter Toni (Rocío Hernández) isn’t as emotionally rewarding as the Yorks’s lived-in relationship, but their direct involvement in the vague conspiracy lends their scenes a bit more excitement.
Still, the character development is as incremental as that relating to the plot, and some of the show’s detours look more like dead ends. The Yorks’s nosy neighbour goes through an entire unrelated drama on his own just so he can circle back to poking around the shed and making an actual impact on the plot. There are plenty of scenes of similarly dubious relevance involving secondary characters that contribute to the lethargic pacing.
Maybe there will be satisfying answers in the remaining two episodes of the eight-episode first series, but, for now, Night Sky is more about insinuations and atmosphere than explanations. There are references to “quantum entanglement” and “spooky action at a distance”, but nothing definitive about the origins or mechanics of the Yorks’s portal, or the related projects of the apparently globe-spanning ancient order that Stella and Toni belong to.
There is usually enough enticement to keep watching until the next episode, though, and even when the show seems to be spinning its wheels, Simmons and Spacek find lovely grace notes in their performances.
Night Sky‘s most affecting and engaging moments have nothing to do with intergalactic travel or transdimensional portals, however. No special effect matches Irene delivering a heartbreaking monologue about the death of the Yorks’s adult son, or Franklin comforting his granddaughter Denise (Kiah McKirnan) at her father’s grave.
These characters are on their way to learning the secrets of the universe, but they have already lived long enough to know what truly matters.
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