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‘Night Sky’ Review: Sissy Spacek and J.K. Simmons Hold This Sci-Fi Drama Together

The Prime Video series follows a Midwestern couple harboring an otherworldly secret

Salt of the earth Midwesterners Irene and Franklin York (Oscar winners Sissy Spacek and J.K. Simmons) believe they’re in the twilight of their half-century marriage. So, maybe, they’re not entirely Mr. and Mrs. Typical, and their lives hew closer to “The Twilight Zone.” Some nights, they slip away from the dinner dishes and TV to their backyard shed. Once there, they teleport to a mysterious chamber with a stunning view of what is perhaps a distant, empty but awe-inducing planet-scape. It’s magical, but the Yorks have yet to crack the code of what this incredible interstellar overlook means.

“Night Sky,” created by Holden Miller, gets off to a slow yet intimate start. We dive into the joys and sorrows of Spacek’s sickly former English teacher and her retired carpenter husband. We learn how the Yorks met, married and had an only son who fathered an only daughter. This central strand is an earnest marriage story made gripping with bare-wired emotional crackle between the stars.

The couple dominates the premiere and continue throughout the eight episodes. Irene and Franklin, though interdependent, are still gnawing old bones of past disagreements. These conflicts center on the shattering event of their late son’s death. At the time, Franklin was Irene’s rock, allowing her to grieve as she needed to while sublimating his own heartbreak. He stepped up – but it was a sacrifice, too.

These scenes from a long-term, loving but cracked marriage showcase Spacek’s brilliance, and the integrity of her acting choices. Simmons opposite is a crusty Mr. Wilson-style grandpa but the actor hits so many notes, from his simmering rage, fear of abandonment, to his warm and unfettered love for his fatherless bi-racial granddaughter Denise (Kiah McKirnan).

Meanwhile, one dark night, a bedraggled, blood-stained young man, Jude (Thai-Australian actor Chai Hansen), arrives via the portal. Irene ushers him into the big house, nurses him back to life and finds her own health improving. Before long, Franklin realizes the stranger has become a substitute son to his wife, and he cycles through jealousy, fear, anger and frustration at these ungraspable problems that he can’t solve with a simple hammer and nails.

In the wake of Jude’s appearance, the couple’s quiet life implodes.

night-sky
Prime Video

“Night Sky” then becomes a study in world building. A sulky Argentinian teen, Toni (Rocio Hernandez) in a remote village discovers that her seemingly boring mother has a double and dangerous life. Stella (Julieta Zylerberberg) maintains the family legacy: the shrine she guards on her remote property contains a similar portal to that of the York’s, and she’s tasked by her superiors with pursuing and silencing escapees like Jude. If she fails, she’ll sacrifice her life and that of her daughter.

The circle grows. Moving back and forth in time, and hopping from one continent, one planet, to the other, “Night Sky” suffers from lumpy exposition and tonal imbalance. There are plot holes and inconsistencies. Among the most glaring is the fact that the otherwise sensible Franklin risks sharing his fantastic secret with the annoying, unreliable nosy neighbor Byron – it screams uncharacteristic.

Thematically, though, it’s rich, unflinchingly addressing suicide and its lasting impact on nuclear families over generations, the bonds of love and their limitations in truly testing times, and the remaining wonders of the universe that have a potentially transformative effect on humanity.

Ultimately, this series (which appears to set up a sequel) addresses the restorative power of taking a leap of faith, and the enduring mystery of the unknown, and honors the capacity of two exceptional actors, Spacek and Simmons, to hold the story together with their emotional gravitational pull.

 “Night Sky” debuts on Amazon Prime on May 20.

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