Night Sky Review: Sissy Spacek And J.K. Simmons Shine In Stunning New Sci-Fi Series

Despite the tsunami of content over the last few years, it's rare to find a new, original television series that delivers right out of the gate. And yet, Amazon Studios' "Night Sky" achieves just that, surpassing all expectations for a humble, surprisingly heartfelt show. The eight-episode series is like nothing else on the market: it has a truly compelling and interesting mystery angle, offers a sci-fi story grounded in a Midwestern small-town setting, and it makes the best use of an excellent cast, telling a rich story that's more about relationships and aging than a fantastic, barely understood (possibly alien?) technology. It's a near-perfect debut; every episode has enough pathos and interpersonal drama to keep you invested, while the central mystery is slowly — and convincingly — unwound.

"Night Sky" stars renowned actors Sissy Spacek and J.K. Simmons as Irene and Franklin York, a retired couple living in rural Illinois. The two live seemingly mundane lives: Franklin, a former carpenter, putters around their large farmhouse and takes care of his wife, a retired schoolteacher suffering from various health issues. The first episode hits many of the familiar beats for stories about people at this stage of their lives: Franklin's memory is going, Irene's health — and as a consequence, her independence — is on the decline, and they are increasingly getting pressure to sell their large home and move into assisted living. But the Yorks have a secret: underneath their shed is a mysterious chamber — a transporter to another world. And they're not about to leave that behind. 

Strong writing — and an even stronger cast

I was consistently delighted by the writing of "Night Sky." As a critic, I'm always looking for character inconsistencies, events that aren't adequately set up, unbelievable contrivances — basically, the kind of story issues that television shows, in particular, are vulnerable to since they often have various writers working at the same time. Overarching plot threads can dictate events that need to happen, even when that doesn't fit organically with how the episodic stories are forming (just think of the infamous final season of "Game of Thrones"). Thankfully, "Night Sky" is careful to balance its growing web of secrets with consistent characterization, motivation, and knowledge. The show keeps the audience aware of who knows what at any given time, using the threat of secrets being revealed as part of the suspense. This story comes across as the careful tapestry of an artist, rather than a growing mass, shaped by momentum — much like "Lost" or even "The X-Files," which often felt like the writers were making it up as they went along, rather than working with a master plan in mind. With "Night Sky," it's refreshing to watch a highly intelligent series that feels precise and intentional.    

"Night Sky" shows an awareness of tropes in both sci-fi and late-life dramas, gesturing at them when appropriate, but repeatedly subverting the expected — offering fresh, intelligent twists that completely fit the story. Created by Holden Miller and Daniel C. Connolly, this is easily one of the most tightly written TV series I've had the pleasure to watch in a long time. Everything about "Night Sky" feels mature and fully formed. Here, the twists hit hard and resonate because the characters feel real. There are, admittedly, low points: I initially found a B plot set in Argentina not as interesting as the main story — but even then, it eventually all comes together, and by the end, I was rooting for Stella (Julieta Zylberberg) and her teenage daughter Toni (Rocío Hernández) as much as Franklin and Irene. A big part of that, though, comes down to the performances.

Simmons and Spacek are stunning in "Night Sky," showing off the depth of their acting talent. As characters, Franklin and Irene are fully developed — and completely relatable to anyone who grew up in this kind of community. The characters are the heart of the story. Their love, their grief, their resilience, and their defeat — it's intoxicating. Simmons has a knack for the unexpected; he can punctuate a scene with a burst of humor, or catch you off-guard with an abrupt moment of vulnerability. Spacek's Irene is unconventional. Her story, her choices, her fortitude — you can't help but admire her. This is the kind of role that women in their 70s rarely get to play, and Spacek demonstrates how tragic that is.

The supporting characters in "Night Sky" deserve mention as well. The series makes the wise choice to make Denise (Kiah McKirnan), the Yorks' granddaughter, Black; not only does it add some diversity to the cast in a believable way, but it also opens the door for (believable) conversations about race in the predominantly white town. McKirnan holds her own acting alongside industry icons — and she gets one of the show's strongest emotional scenes. The nosey and over-enthusiastic neighbor Byron (Adam Bartley) adds some welcome levity to the show, and his interactions with Franklin are highlights of the series (they're so funny together). Finally, Jude (Chai Hansen) adds another layer — I can't say much about his role without spoiling the show, but suffice to say, Hansen had me on the edge of my seat, more than once.  

Night Sky is among the year's best new shows

"Night Sky" defies sci-fi trappings, defies genre conventions, and defies expectations — and I am genuinely worried it won't find an audience. Even in this review, I'm struggling to sell the series without spoiling the plot. "Night Sky" is a brilliant show, and is one of the year's best hands down; however, it's also the kind of show that's really hard to market — precisely because it's so unique. It's a love story about an aging couple dealing with adversity. It's a mystery about an enigmatic chamber that uses technology that challenges our ideas about what's possible. It's a suspense thriller about various, underground groups that have competing interests. 

I'm most strongly reminded of "Yellowjackets," which similarly broke away from conventions to tell a unique and interesting story. But Showtime released that show weekly, allowing the word of mouth to spread. Amazon Studios is dropping "Night Sky" all at once. This is a show best savored, rather than binged — but with the amount of drama and suspense, it's difficult to hold oneself back. 

Hopefully, "Night Sky" finds its audience — and Amazon quickly orders a follow-up set of episodes. There are so many questions to answer. 

/Film Rating: 9 out of 10

"Night Sky" premieres May 20, 2022, with a full season drop on Amazon Prime Studios.