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Night Sky review: Sissy Spacek and JK Simmons lift slow, meandering sci-fi

Night Sky stars JK Simmons and Sissy Spacek

SOME actors could make an advert for toothpaste into compelling viewing. Their mere presence can elevate the most mundane material.

You certainly wouldn’t call Night Sky (Amazon Prime Video) mundane. It’s definitely something of an oddity, though: a lumpy and uneven mix of science fiction, mystery, thriller and touching love story involving an old married couple.

Were it not for Sissy Spacek and JK Simmons as said couple, it’s doubtful I’d still be sticking with it at the halfway point of its eight episodes. Everything that’s good about this first season so far is entirely down to them.

Spacek, playing her real age (72), and Simmons (67 but acting older) are Irene and Franklin York. She’s a retired English teacher, he’s a retired woodworker and they’ve lived in the same house in Illinois for 50 years.

From flashbacks, we know they raised a son there and later suffered the pain of losing him to, it’s implied, suicide (Night Sky takes an awful lot of time to yield up its secrets).

Spacek and Simmons – who was cast after the original choice, Modern Family’s Ed O’Neill, dropped out – are just wonderful together. They’re totally convincing as a couple who’ve been together for half a century and have come through the very worst life could throw at them.

They’re still deeply in love, yet not above being exasperated by one another’s habits. Age is taking its toll on them, however.

Irene suffered a fall that’s restricted her mobility – although as her doctor points out, her health is still poorer than a woman of her age’s should be. This may or may not have something to do with the central mystery. 

Franklin, meanwhile, is becoming forgetful and unreliable.

At one point he drives home having forgotten to pick Irene up after a hospital appointment.

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All this is of great concern to their granddaughter Denise (Kiah McKirnan), who thinks they should either move to an assisted living facility or accept in-home care.

They refuse. Not out of pride or stubbornness, but because they’re protecting a secret in their garden shed: an underground chamber that acts as a portal to a viewing gallery on a seemingly deserted planet.

They’ve spent hundreds of evenings there, sitting in comfy chairs and just gazing at the planet’s beautiful, empty landscape and stunning, volatile night sky. There’s a door leading outside, but they’ve never gone through it. They’d surely perish.

Privately, that’s what Irene, who’s decided to end her life, intends to do, but without telling Franklin. It’s at this point that Night Sky changes from a gently fantastical meditation on love, grief, ageing and mortality into something different.

Irene discovers a young man called Jude (Chai Hansen) semi-conscious on the floor of the gallery. He’s covered in blood – someone else’s, it turns out.

Irene brings him back to the house and persuades the sceptical Franklin, who doesn’t trust the young stranger, to let him stay. Jude claims to have no memory of how he got there.

His backpack contains valuable 17th century doubloons and a strange artefact: a glowing globe that has the power to make things disappear. He also has what seems to be alien technology embedded under his skin.

We’re suddenly whisked off to Argentina, where Stella (Julieta Zylberberg) and her shy young daughter Toni (Rocío Hernández) are raising alpacas. It emerges that Stella is the guardian of another intergalactic portal, located in the bowels of the private church that stands on her land. A menacing associate of Stella’s, played by Polish actor Piotr Adamcyzk, turns up and tells her it’s time to let her daughter in on the truth, something Toni accepts with remarkable alacrity.

Stella has to undertake some sort of urgent mission, and she and Toni are soon travelling through the portal, not to another planet, but to Newark, New Jersey.

There’s also a subplot involving Irene and Franklin’s nosey, irritating neighbour Byron (Adam Bartley), who’s been spying on their nocturnal trips to the shed and is desperate to find out what they’re up to.

Four slow, meandering, frustrating episodes into Night Sky, it’s hard to get a handle on what kind of a drama it is; its makers don’t seem entirely sure what they’re making. But I’ll plough on, simply for the two stars.