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Night Sky Review: J.K. Simmons and Sissy Spacek Shine in Thoughtful Sci-Fi Series

Amazon's new sci-fi series is noteworthy for its focus on an older couple

Kyle Fowle
Night Sky

Night Sky

Amazon Studios

By the time you've finished watching the pilot of Amazon Studio's latest sci-fi drama Night Sky, you'll certainly be thinking it shares some vibes with Lost, or perhaps the 2011 film Take Shelter, or even Amazon's own Outer Range. The final scene of the first episode kicks off the season's mysterious workings. It's meant to be a cliffhanger that gets you to immediately queue up the next episode, and to the show's credit, it works. But at the same time, that scene encapsulates a lot of what prevents Night Sky from truly feeling like a unique, compelling offering.

Night Sky certainly has an intriguing, simple elevator pitch: An older married couple (Irene and Franklin, played beautifully by Sissy Spacek and J.K. Simmons, respectively) in a small country town have been living a quiet, idyllic life for decades. Unbeknownst to anyone else, their property contains an underground portal that transports them to a sealed room on another planet. That's the hook, and as the first episode rolls on, it's a fascinating one because of how wonderfully subdued and restrained the hour-long premiere is. 

Rather than go the perhaps predictable route of making a big deal of the portal, we're introduced to it as a commonplace part of Irene and Franklin's life. They've known about the portal for decades and they use the space where it takes them almost like a den or library. When they enter their shed, walk underground, and transport themselves to this other mysterious planet via a bunker-like dome, they're transported to a sealed room adorned with comfy chairs, books, mood lighting, and a generous view of the celestial horizon. Their trips are so common at this point that Franklin is actually getting sick of them. The wonder has worn off, and he tells Irene that he doesn't see the need to keep coming back, that maybe they should be sharing it with someone else, namely their granddaughter Denise. 


  • Great lead performances
  • Cool celestial vibes
  • Intriguing mysteries and flashbacks


  • The story is too jumbled
  • Odd character choices stray from the heart of the story
  • Meandering plot loses focus of what's working early

For most of the premiere's runtime, Night Sky is this really beautiful, understated drama that touches on aging, marriage, and what it means to share intimate details and secrets with someone over time. The sci-fi elements are used as decoration, as a way to underscore the lived-in marital drama and what it means to get older and ponder the life you've lived and your place in the universe. It's really refreshing to see a drama, and specifically one with sci-fi flourishes, focused on an older couple, and both Simmons and Spacek bring a gravitas to their roles that connects you to the story immediately. Throughout the series you'll be drawn to their camaraderie, their specific tics and triggers, as well as their feel for each other and their warmth and familiarity. 

With Irene specifically feeling the effects of her age, having to use a cane and a lift to get up the stairs to bed, Night Sky uses its sci-fi elements to explore aging in a unique way. Spacek is wonderful as a woman full of hope and curiosity while she struggles with her diminished physical capabilities. Her urge to "see the stars" is an important point. Even if every trip potentially does a little bit of harm to her physically, how can she ever see traveling to another planet as mundane? Her wonder, and the way Franklin is so enamored with her that he'll indulge her for as long as she likes, is incredibly moving, and informs how each character reacts to the eventual mysteries that are presented to them through the season.

The fact that these small, quiet character moments from the pilot are so moving is why it's all the more disappointing that the show eventually branches out and becomes rather distracted with other characters, meandering subplots, and dragged out mysteries. It should be no surprise to say that by the end of the first episode Irene and Franklin have had their understanding of their portal shaken. After decades of seeing nothing on the planet, their lives have been disrupted by the appearance of a mysterious man named Jude who says he can't remember anything before waking up in Franklin and Irene's house.

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For the next few episodes some predictable banter follows, as Franklin doesn't trust Jude and grills him on his past and his convenient amnesia, while Irene is the more giving, empathetic presence, seeing shades of their deceased son Michael in this lost man who might need her guidance. The first few episodes see Irene and Franklin attempting to explain Jude's sudden presence while also keeping their portal a secret, all while cops, nosy neighbors, and their granddaughter sniff around suspecting that something is up. 

At the same time, the show begins to expand its mythology. We travel to Argentina and meet a mother and daughter who are part of a family whose long history has been to protect… something sacred and otherworldly. I say "something" because the show is very vague about what's really happening from episode to episode. One of the biggest problems with Night Sky is that the more it tries to expand the scope of its story, the more it loses sight of the human drama that makes the pilot, and the Franklin/Irene/Jude storyline, so compelling in the first place. 

Every time Night Sky moves the viewer to Argentina it loses momentum. The show spends too much time dancing around who these people are, what they're protecting, and how they might be tied to Jude and his journey. It's a common issue with a lot of contemporary shows that are focused on preserving some sort of twist or reveal through the whole season. While the initial intrigue might be there, it's often not enough to sustain tension across an entire season. So, like so many shows that have to play to the streaming service binge model, each episode doles out just a tiny bit of information in an effort to keep viewers interested and clicking through to the next episode, but by being so obtuse the show sacrifices genuine character moments and narrative momentum. 

Night Sky still has its moments. Spacek and Simmons are a true highlight, their relationship feeling lived-in and soulful, and the show is working with some interesting thematic elements, but rather than give those elements room to breathe the show offers up a scattered season of sci-fi drama. 

Premieres: Friday, May 20 on Amazon Prime Video (all 8 episodes)
Who's in it: J.K. Simmons, Sissy Spacek, Chai Hansen, Adam Bartley, and more
Who's behind it: Holden Miller and Daniel C. Connolly (creators)
For fans of: Outer Range, Raised by Wolves, Made for Love
How many episodes we watched: 6 out of 8