This genre hybrid is uneven and, at times, excruciatingly trite. Yet, for all its downfalls, there are some captivating performances on display, engaging plotting throughout, and masses of room for potential moving forwards.
This review of the Amazon Prime Video series Night Sky season 1 does not contain any major spoilers.
Earlier this month Amazon Prime Video released the final two instalments of Outer Range, a sci-fi western series that audiences seemingly loved or hated in equal amounts. The much talked about, highly polarizing show was a mild success for the streaming giants, who have tried to strike a similar balance with their next sci-fi heavy drama, Night Sky. Anchored by two stunning performances from the top-billing, veteran actors Sissy Spacek and J.K. Simmons, this eight-part original staggers forwards with comparable pacing and tonal issues, just like its genre-mashing counterpart. Although it struggles to be as memorable as the trippy, cult mystery with its manic cowboys and magical portals.
The fantasy gimmick which sits at the heart of this saga is a mystical chamber that teleports its participants to an alien world, boasting an otherworldly vista of constellations and galaxies to behold. Pensioners Irene and Franklin York are the caretakers of this mysterious device, using the mechanism sparingly over the course of multiple decades, unsure of its secrets and overall meaning. The couple have lived a rich yet challenging existence in Farnsworth, Illinois, and appear ever flummoxed by this unsolvable riddle. Irene is curious to step outside of the viewing platform and yearns to explore the alien planet first-hand, whilst the more logical and forthright Franklin has grown frustrated by its stubborn indifference, happy to pass the mantle onto his granddaughter Denise.
This loving duo are the emotional heart to the drama, with their ailments and foibles prompting believable and relatable characters out of its leads, ones you can’t help but root for. Having these two seasoned actors at the forefront of the narrative allows for some essential older generation representation, which Hollywood seems to shy away from, that takes the story in a different direction to its rivals. It’s quite refreshing to see a weighty sci-fi concept like this become mundane in its character’s eyes and the show’s major secrets remain impenetrable, even to those closest to it. But the series is unable to stick with this single and unique storyline, surrendering to convention and branching out into much more clichéd territory, possibly to fill out the eight episode quota. There are some horrifyingly soap opera level subplots that upend the authentic family drama and force Night Sky into frustrating grounds, with silly mythology and exaggerated espionage.
Franklin and Irene’s world is soon shaken by the arrival of a nosey neighbor called Byron and an unexpected drifter with severe memory loss. Two individuals who are just itching to unearth more of the alien devices’ numerous mysteries. These secondary characters are all treated to their own devoted storylines, which all work towards an overarching narrative, cumulating in the season’s finale. Night Sky is unfortunately hindered by all these moving parts though, that feel more like filler than necessity. It doesn’t help when these contrasting plots involve vastly different genres and tones. They just don’t work well, either together or running alongside one another.
When the series focuses on the York household and their aging dilemmas, the show soars. Even the heavier sci-fi elements and some uncharacteristic action sequences are admirably executed. It’s just a shame that Night Sky squanders a great premise and some nifty world-building on the absurd or downright predictable instead. If they’d trimmed out a few of the subplots and honed in on the Farnsworth narrative alone, this could have been something special. Spacek and Simmons elevate the script, there’s no doubt about that, whilst the majority of episodes manage to be highly entertaining, but that nagging sense of instability just can’t be ignored.
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