Let’s put this out there to start: Night Sky has already been canceled after one season. A show that stars J.K. Simmons and fuckin’ Sissy Spacek! I know! What has this world come to that we can’t take two of our greatest living actors and make something of it? Well… when you attach them to a pretty muddled dramatic sci-fi narrative and create a weirdly quiet, meandering plot, it sometimes doesn’t matter who the hell is in your show. If it’s not good, it’s just not good. Honestly I only saw the thing to the end — after Ms. Hipster gave up about four episodes in — because I’m a completist. And figured that these two actors hopefully saw something in the script that compelled them to sign on. Aside from that sweet, sweet Amazon money, of course.
At first it seemed like the show might explore some interesting themes. Themes of aging and and loss and on and on. Here’s the series boiled down to two sentences. An older couple with a son dead by suicide have a portal under the shed in the backyard that takes them to an observation room on a far away planet. They figure the portal/room is somehow tied to the dead son, and over the span of twenty years they visit the room hundreds of times, but are afraid to venture out of the room and onto the planet to search for said dead son. That’s the pitch, I guess. As the couple ages, they are physically deteriorating (as old people will) and are presumably running out of time to discover why this portal has come to them. Enter the injured young stranger, Jude (Chai Hansen), who stumbles out of the portal from parts unknown. Taken in by Irene (Spacek), we spend the rest of the season trying to figure out what his story is. Meanwhile, in Argentina there is another portal with a mom (Julieta Zylberberg) and daughter (Rocío Hernández) who go on an adventure to possibly, maybe find Jude? Which sets up this whole cosmic fight between the guardians of these portals and the people meant to tear them down. I think.
Now, if you weren’t quite following all of this, don’t worry, neither was I. And I was watching the show. It just feels like one thing, but turns into another. We basically get the mystery of Jude, which is interesting for maybe an episode or two. He’s looking for his dad, he loves classic literature but has never heard of karaoke, he seems like an alien, maybe? But then the series just kind of shifts into absolute neutral as we watch him become the caretaker for the two old folks while the two Argentinian ladies start their road trip with some third dude we don’t know much about. And another guy, who seems kind of evil, keeps track of them. It’s all a bit of a muddled mess. But also really boring in parts. Like there are episodes where we just watch Jude take Irene to the doctor. Or the store. And we get he becomes her substitute for her dead son. They hit us over the head with it. But it’s pretty obvious from the first minute he stumbles bleeding into their backyard that this is what this is.
And, yes, the scenes between Simmons and Spacek are nice. Sometimes. Other times, they seem to have aged the actors up. Made them slower and older than they actually are. And their conversations become circular and repetitive. Like you could just fast-forward through their dialogues and come out the other side knowing exactly what went down. Conversations that feel as if they should have happened a couple decades ago between two younger people closer to their trauma, but have lost some steam as they age in place. Lost the urgency that might actually build some tension. Instead of the rather staid presence we get. They try to introduce the manic, wacky neighbor, Byron (Adam Bartley), to add some energy to this sedate affair, but he just comes of as this cartoonish figure that pushes against the dramatic push-pull of the couple’s trauma. None of it feels of a piece.
Putting aside all of this, the biggest miss is the sci-fi aspect itself. I think these portal things are tied to what amounts to an ancient cult, that weirdly calls itself a cult. Yes, it literally calls itself the Cult of Caerul, and their job is to guard the portals. And then there are apostates, The Fallen World, who push against this cult/religion. What the writers never really make clear is what the point of the portals is, what this mysterious planet is that the old couple can visit with their portal and if all the portals just go to the planet, or if you can like go to Cancun in one of them. Which I suppose is answered, sort of, in the last minute of the final episode. But by that time it’s too late. And, of course, why these cult members don’t seem to know about this portal the old couple happened to find in their backyard. It’s all super-hazy and nonsensical. Is it time travel? Is it just location travel? What exactly do these portals do and why does a cult/religion have to guard them so closely and why do these apostates want to destroy them? Or expose them? Or what exactly is their deal? It’s unclear.
Ultimately it feels like they tried to do a mashup of two different series. One a kind of Cocoon type thing. The other a much harder sci-fi series. It worked a little bit on the former just because you have masterful actors carrying that storyline, but the latter just lacks focus and drive. We care that these old folks survive their ordeal. We get the isolation and loneliness of a life ripped apart. But there is absolutely none of that on the other side. We don’t understand the Cult. We don’t understand the stupidly named Fallen World. We have no concern for either, or what the stakes are in any of it. I assume, perhaps, that things would be revealed in season two, and all of this was just a very, very slow build up. But I guess we’ll never know and can just continue to not care. Oh well.