Night Sky review: This hollow Amazon sci-fi thriller does disservice to talents of JK Simmons and Sissy Spacek
Between them, Sissy Spacek and JK Simmons have two Oscars, five Golden Globe Awards, and over 50 other major acting awards. To call them ‘decorated actors’ would be criminally bare. So you’d assume that when these two acting giants come together as leads of a series, it would be something spectacular. It is perhaps that expectation that goes against Night Sky. It is not a bad show, but it isn’t something groundbreaking either. In a canvas saturated with slow burn sci-fi thrillers, Amazon Prime Video’s latest offering struggles to stand out. Even the immense talent of its two leads and a competent supporting cast aren’t enough to salvage it. Also read: Outer Range review: Josh Brolin-starrer is a well-crafted fascinating show
Night Sky is the story of Irene and Franklin York, an elderly couple living alone. Years ago, they discovered a mysterious chamber in the basement of their shed, which inexplicably transports them to what appears to be a viewing room on an alien planet. For the Yorks, that room is their refuge and hobby. But their life is turned upside down as a mysterious young man (Chai Hansen) enters their life one day, when they find him in that room. A parallel track sees a mother from Argentina (Julieta Zylberberg) and her young daughter (Rocío Hernández) seemingly on the hunt for this young man at the behest of an organization that seems to know the secret behind that chamber.
The premise is an interesting mix of Lost and Prime Video’s recent offering Outer Range but goes beyond them too. The show does get one thing right, but only partially. The strongest stories–across genres–are those which talk about human emotions and bonds. In Night Sky, the sci-fi tech takes a back seat for much of the show and we get to see how that tech affects the actual human beings on the show. We see how the chamber affects the lead couple, particularly Irene, who believes it was their destiny to unravel its mystery.
Night Sky starts out as refreshing because we don’t usually get science fiction stories with senior citizens in the lead. It has the air of a small town mystery with a suspicious nosy neighbor and a concerned granddaughter. It’s a heartwarming story that is in parts touching, in parts heartbreaking, but all the while engaging. You begin to relate to the characters and care for them. The mystery is almost incidental.
But soon it devolves into some global conspiracy with portals to other worlds and a shadowy organization. And that is when it begins to drift away from its emotional core. There are times when it seems Night Sky can’t decide what it is–the story of an old couple’s discovery of a mysterious chamber, or an action thriller about ancient portals. It ends up being a jumbled mess of the two. By the end, the story gets so complicated that you are taken back to a memory you thought you had suppressed years ago–the final season of Lost. No show or film should relish a comparison with that mess.
One might argue that a good sci-fi mystery is always welcome. But the problem with Night Sky is that the mystery isn’t half as interesting as the lives of Irene and Franklin. The show’s best parts involve their stories, their interactions, and the flashbacks of their lives. Had it just been a smaller show centred on this couple and their mysterious bunker, it would stand out. JK Simmons and Sissy Spacek are glorious on screen. Simmons has been giving some amazing performances of late, from Being The Ricardos to Invincible. In Night Sky, he further strengthens his credentials as one of the most watchable actors of our times. Sissy, on the other hand, is sublime. At 27, she was an Oscar nominee. At 72, she still has enough talent and grace to light up the screen. All the best scenes in the show involve Irene and not some CGI-laden alien technology.
The rest of the support cast does its job admirably. The ones who stand out are Chai Hansen as Jude, the mysterious stranger who ends up with the Yorks, and Adam Bartley as their nosy neighbour. Chai brings a good mix of mystery and vulnerability that keeps you guessing about the character’s motivation. And that is why the series breaks my heart. With an interesting premise and a great cast, it had the potential to be a truly memorable show. But it squandered that in an attempt to be a story about some larger conspiracy. What a waste!
Night Sky is a co-production of Amazon Studios and Legendary Television and is written and co-executive produced by Holden Miller, with Daniel C. Connolly serving as showrunner. The show begins streaming on Amazon Prime Video globally on May 20. There may not be a season 2. If there is, there hardly seems a way the makers would want to tone it down and turn it into something watchable. And if they don’t, they really shouldn’t bother. We already have enough shows about global conspiracy and spooky mysteries. And many are told better.
Creators: Holden Miller and Daniel C. Connolly
Cast: JK Simmons, Sissy Spacek, Chai Hansen, Adam Bartley, Julieta Zylberberg, Rocío Hernández, and Kiah McKirnan
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