‘Night Sky’ Review: J.K. Simmons, Sissy Spacek Light Up the Screen in Prime Video Series

Frank (J.K. Simmons) and Irene York (Sissy Spacek) are an aging couple with a portal to another world in their backyard in Prime Video’s slow-burn sci-fi drama Night Sky. Who built the portal? Where does it go? And who is the stranger who arrives through it, upending the Yorks’ life in the process? The desire to get answers to those questions might draw viewers into this eight-episode, series, which premieres May 20. But the out-of-this-world mystery ends up being the least-satisfying part of this intriguing but flawed show from creator Holden Miller. 

J.K. Simmons and Sissy Spacek are a couple with a secret in ‘Night Sky’

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Years ago, Irene and Frank discovered a strange chamber buried in the backyard of their small-town Illinois home. The chamber leads to a barren and deserted world, which Frank and Irene periodically visit. For Irene, the visits are a comforting ritual – she refers to it as “going to see the stars.” For Frank, they’re a diversion he continues to indulge in to appease his wife, though he worries she’s using the visits to distract herself from other worries. 

One night, the long-married couple’s peaceful (and secret) ritual of nighttime trips to another planet is disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious visitor named Jude (Chai Hansen). He’s cagey about where he’s from and what has brought him to Farnsworth, Illinois. Irene trusts him. Frank doesn’t. Meanwhile, there’s a parallel storyline involving a woman named Stella (Julieta Zylberberg) and her teenage daughter Toni (Rocío Hernández), who guard a remote chapel in rural Argentina. There’s clearly a connection to the Yorks and the enigmatic young man they’ve taken under their wing, though the meandering, convoluted Night Sky takes some time to reveal the nature of that relationship. 

Simmons and Spacek captivate in Prime Video series

JK Simmons and Sissy Spacek standing in front of a window and looking at each other in Prime Video series 'Night Sky'
J.K. Simmons and Sissy Spacek in ‘Night Sky’ | Chuck Hodes/Amazon Studios

Simmons and Spacek’s strong, empathetic performances ground Night Sky. The pair of Oscar-winners shine as a long-married couple confronting the hard realities of aging. When the show begins, Irene is still struggling to recover from a fall a year earlier. Frank’s memory is beginning to slip. They are fiercely independent, but how long will they be able to live in their old farmhouse? When Irene visits an old friend in a nursing home in episode one, it’s a grim look at a possible future for both her and her husband. 

Jude’s arrival brings up painful memories for the pair, whose only son died some years earlier. Night Sky’s most poignant moments show Frank and Irene grappling with the lingering effects of that loss and the way it affected their marriage and their relationship with their granddaughter Denise (Kiah McKirnan). Other, less-compelling characters, including Denise and the Yorks’ nosy neighbor Byron (Adam Bartley) are dealing with losses and disappointments of their own as they’re also drawn into the larger mystery involving the chamber.

Sci-fi mystery raises more questions than it answers

Night Sky takes its time developing both its characters and revealing what exactly is going on with the portal. Things move slowly in the first half of the season as the show mixes vague supernatural intrigue with quotidian drama. The action gets more intense in the last few episodes as the different storylines finally come together. But the somewhat rushed finale raises as many questions as it answers. Ultimately, the sci-fi aspects of this story pale in comparison to the more subtle moments spent exploring the quiet rhythms of Frank and Irene’s decades-long relationship. As an examination of aging, family bonds, and the long-reaching effects of trauma, Night Sky works, but the more fantastical elements of the show fall short.

Night Sky is streaming on Prime Video beginning May 20.

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