'Night Sky' on Prime Video a Lot More Fun Than You'd Expect

Review: J.K. Simmons and Sissy Spacek star in a sci-fi drama about life, the universe and everything.

Jennifer Bisset Former Senior Editor / Culture
Jennifer Bisset was a senior editor for CNET. She covered film and TV news and reviews. The movie that inspired her to want a career in film is Lost in Translation. She won Best New Journalist in 2019 at the Australian IT Journalism Awards.
Expertise Film and TV Credentials
  • Best New Journalist 2019 Australian IT Journalism Awards
Jennifer Bisset
3 min read
JK Simmons sitting at a dining table facing us.

J.K. Simmons stars in Night Sky.

Amazon Studios

When characters discuss what sightseeing and shopping they can fit in on a dangerous mission to the wilderness, you know you're watching a different kind of sci-fi show.

Night Sky is an enchanting, yet wholly grounded sci-fi mystery. Its modest title reflects a humility applied to all of its characters, regardless of the strange events presented to them. An alien planet, a secret chamber and a mysterious stranger all fit into the puzzle, but the solvers are the most unexpected and lowkey possible: old people.

These unique protagonists -- Irene and Franklin York -- must use what unlikely tricks they have at their disposal to escape the police, nosy neighbors and concerned relatives. They make for wonderfully refreshing protagonists brought to life with tremendous charisma by J.K. Simmons and Sissy Spacek.

Read more: Outer Range on Prime Video: Weirder Than You'd Expect

Sissy Spacek walking through the woods at night.

Sissy Spacek plays Irene York.

Amazon Studios

It doesn't hit the same heights, but Night Sky creates a similar nuanced and thoughtful sci-fi drama to dystopia Station Eleven. Frank and Irene's relationship is gently moving; Frank dutifully pushes his wife in her wheelchair, the pair looking like the real life version of the loving old couple from Pixar's Up (the twinkles of piano in the score add another layer of enchantment).

They stick out in stark contrast with harder sci-fi elements: In one of the first scenes, Frank helps Irene down to their garden shed, and then a few moments later they're sitting in an observatory looking out onto an alien planet.

The questions posed are: Why do Frank and Irene have access to this unknown location in outer space? And what makes them so special?

Adam Bartley looks out a window.

Nosy neighbor Byron, played by Adam Bartley.

Amazon Studios

Irene is the most concerned with answering the latter, realizing she faces a crossroads in her life. The obnoxious townspeople don't help. Writers Holden Miller and Daniel C. Connolly generously pepper in observations of how old people are treated in society: spoken down to like they're children, questioned over their mental state and offered advice they know better than anyone else.

It goes the other way too: Frank can be curt and grumpy, intent on going about his day and ignoring suspicious and insecure neighbor Byron (Adam Bartley). Irene is the warm but wandering heart who wants to leap into the unknown, encountering secret portals, glowing objects and the naive-seeming but also dangerous stranger Jude (Chai Hansen).

Irene and Frank's attempt at dealing with an alien mystery is an immense amount of fun, with other characters hilariously oblivious. The pair, sometimes reluctantly, pretend to be going senile, hard of hearing and ill to get away with their secret new project.

A surprising split in the storyline sends us temporarily to a llama farm in rural Argentina, where Stella (Julieta Zylberberg) and her restless teenage daughter Toni (Rocío Hernández) face an ominous visitor of their own. Something about telling its narrative partially in a different language elevates Night Sky's sense of scale and prestige. The connection between the two storylines eventually makes sense, despite initially throwing a jarring left-turn.

A few flashbacks bring us closer to Frank and Irene's relationship at its origin, wisely used briefly so present events keep flowing. There's a sense something more monumental is going on with aliens, but in the six (of eight) episodes made available for review, the biggest reveals still seem to be simmering in the background.

An alien mystery made very much human, Night Sky unfolds a uniquely charming sci-fi with outstanding, sympathetic protagonists. With the character groundwork established, the stage is set for Earth-trembling revelations to really kick Night Sky into motion in its final episodes.

Night Sky hits Prime Video on Friday.

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