Online Series Review: ‘Night Sky’: A Family Walks Into Another World


NA | 8 Episodes | Science Fiction, Drama | May 20, 2022 (USA)

Imagine having the portal from the "Stargate" movie in your backyard, but without the Egyptian hieroglyphics. Franklin and Irene York don’t know exactly what they have, but it may be something like that. They did not build the mysterious “Chamber” that takes them to a distant, interstellar observation deck—Mr. York is handy around the house, but not that handy.

York never appreciated the Chamber as much as she did either, but they both had to wonder if there is any life on the apparently barren planet they would stare out upon. After years of looking, they will finally start to learn about its secrets in Holden Miller’s eight-episode Night Sky, which premieres on Prime Video.
Sissy Spacek as Irene York and A.J. Simmons as Franklin York in "Night Sky" online series. (Amazon Studios)
Sissy Spacek as Irene York and A.J. Simmons as Franklin York in "Night Sky" online series. (Amazon Studios)

Portal in the Backyard

The Yorks endured the heartbreaking suicide of their grown son Michael, partly because of the “Chamber” they discovered shortly thereafter. Irene was sure the far-distant planet they can see from the observation deck they travel to must have some profound, cosmic meaning.

Franklin is more practical. He also maintains a closer relationship with their granddaughter Denise, a high-achieving but unfulfilled grad student. Yet, to the outside world, Franklin York is the quintessential grumpy old man, especially to his neighbor, Byron Albemarle, with whom he is mildly feuding.

The equilibrium of the Yorks’ mostly mundane but partly fantastical lives will be upset by the arrival of Jude, an injured young man with an apparent connection to the Chamber.

Much to her husband’s alarm, Irene immediately takes to the stranger, who conveniently claims to suffer from amnesia. In contrast, Franklin assumes the socially awkward Jude is a sophisticated con artist, cynically exploiting Irene’s guilt over their son’s death.

However, viewers will be pretty sure Jude is not from around these parts, especially when Stella and her teen daughter, Toni, are summoned from Argentina to hunt him down. They too have a connection to the world of the Chamber.

Indeed, there appears to be a clandestine cabal devoted to protecting the secret innerworkings of whatever it was that built it. However, there may also be underground factions working against them, perhaps including Jude.

Slow Reveal

Even after eight episodes, viewers still will not have a very clear picture of the secret world of the Chamber and the planet the Yorks often observe, but never risked exploring. Miller and his co-writers are frustratingly miserly in the revelations they sparingly spoon-feed viewers. Presumably, the world-building will have to come fast-and-furious in the prospective second season Miller and company obviously anticipate.
Regardless, Night Skyhas thus far mostly taken the less traveled road of character-driven science fiction. The special effects are nice, but nothing truly eye-popping. There is also relatively little violence. Instead, we really get to know the Yorks, including Denise. As a result, the series addresses real-life issues of depression, aging, and bereavement with mature frankness and compassion.
The Yorks’ marriage is the bedrock on which “Night Sky” is built, but Franklin’s relationship with Albermarle represents some of the show’s best writing. Initially, the latter appears to merely function as an irritating foil, much like the nosy neighbor in the old “Bewitched” sitcom. Yet, a friendship starts to develop between the two men, in a way that feels natural within the show’s dramatic context. In fact, Albermarle will very much be in the thick of the galactic mystery.

Character-Driven Sci-Fi

J.K. Simmons is perfect as caustic old Franklin. He is tough and grizzled on the outside, but he also portrays York’s caring family-man side with considerable sensitivity. Sissy Spacek has one of her best roles in years, bringing great emotional complexity to Irene York.

Lowrey Brown and Lily Cardone are also perfectly cast as their youthful analogs, for flashback scenes. While Chai Hansen is fine as Jude, his spacey demeanor often brings to mind Jeff Bridges in John Carpenter’s classic “Starman,” which invites unfair comparisons. On the other hand, Adam Bartley’s Albermarle plays off and with Simmons’ crusty attitude quite entertainingly.

Julieta Zylberberg and Rocio Hernadez are both very good as Stella and Toni. It is definitely easy to believe they are mother and daughter, often because it is so uncomfortable to listen to their baggage-laden arguments.

The characters’ introduction in Argentina might sound like it comes out of left field, but it establishes the planetary scope of the hidden factors at play. It also makes sense, considering several episodes were helmed by executive producer Juan Jose Campanella, who helmed the Argentinian Oscar-winner, “The Secret in Their Eyes.”

Even though the view from the York’s observation deck is not a game-changing effect, it looks worthy of astronomical artist Chesley Bonestell, creating a sense of wonder that carries through the series. The big picture remains teasingly obscure, but the character development runs deep.

Promotional ad for "Night Sky" online series. (Amazon Studios)
Promotional ad for "Night Sky" online series. (Amazon Studios)
Recommended for fans of science fiction in the tradition of “Cocoon” and “Robot and Frank,” Night Skystarts streaming May 20 on Prime Video.
‘Night Sky’ Director: Juan José Campanella Starring: Sissy Spacek, J.K. Simmons, Chai Hansen, Kiah McKirnan MPAA Rating: NA Running Time: 8 episodes Release Date: May 20, 2022 Rated: 3.5 stars out of 5
Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, visit