'Night Sky,' streaming, Amazon Prime
NEW YORK (CNS) -- The adult viewers for whom it's suitable will find the limited-series sci-fi drama "Night Sky" aesthetically strong but thematically dubious.
One the one hand, they'll appreciate the outstanding chemistry between leads Sissy Spacek and J.K. Simmons while the mystery and intrigue of the plot will probably appeal to them as well.
Yet the wrongheaded notion, implicit in the script, that devout people are more likely than others to be enticed into joining cults will probably exert an opposite effect.
Ultimately, grown TV fans can make up their own minds about this mix. Created and executive produced by Holden Miller -- the son of comedian and "Saturday Night Live" stalwart Dennis Miller -- the program is streaming on Amazon Prime in eight one-hour episodes.
Despite their outwardly ordinary life in the small town of Farnsworth, Illinois, seniors Irene (Spacek) and Franklin (Simmons) York have a secret: A concealed chamber on their property is the gateway to a distant planet.
Though the couple has traveled there many times, they've always remained removed observers, never venturing to explore this other world. In deteriorating health, and sensing her own mortality, however, frail Irene decides the time has come to reconnoiter it on her own.
As she does so, she encounters Jude (Chai Hansen), a badly injured and disoriented young man, who appears to be something of a refugee. Despite Franklin's reservations about this stranger, Irene nurses Jude back to health and has Franklin purchase new clothes for him.
Irene's desire to nurture Jude, Franklin believes, is a symptom of her unresolved grief over the suicide of their son, Michael (Angus O'Brien), two decades earlier.
"Night Sky's" other major storyline concerns single mom Stella Calderon (Julieta Zylberberg) who makes her living raising llamas in a remote part of Argentina. She's the custodian of an ancient and dark family secret from which she hopes to protect her daughter, Toni (Rocío Hernández).
The show includes some violence, but it's kept to an acceptable level. Through the five installments reviewed, moreover, there's no sexual content or nudity and the use of profanity and off-color language is commendably restrained.
It's a joy to watch veterans Spacek and Simmons. They inhabit their characters thoroughly and without apparent effort. Their interaction -- a healthy blend of affection and bickering -- is exactly what might be expected from a married duo of 50 years' standing.
While the deliberate holding back of key bits of information only makes the audience more anxious to put all the pieces of the puzzle together, "Night Sky" suffers from slow pacing and an excess of peripheral plot diversions. These only serve to distract from the absorbing central action.
But the treatment of Stella's Catholicism is the program's main flaw. At times, her devotion is manifested in positive ways: Stella has a private chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary where she is seen praying fervently. And she sends Toni to a Catholic school.
Yet, when dealing with her clan's initially unspecified legacy, Stella veers away from faith into occult beliefs and practices. This heterogeneous blend of legitimate religiosity and superstition mars "Night Sky," obscuring its artistically stellar attractions.
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Byrd is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.