Night Sky: Mainly for adult audience only

When an enigmatic young man (Chai Hansen) enters the Yorks’ lives, their quiet existence is quickly turned upside down and the mysterious chamber they thought they knew so well turns out to be much more than they ever imagined be able. Chuck Hodes/Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video

Far be it from me to quote Simone de Beauvoir to you, but it is relevant. In her neglected book The growing up, published in France in 1970, de Beauvoir is largely pessimistic about society’s treatment of the elderly. It’s a strange book, and today it seems Eurocentric and narrow-minded. But their central thesis is valid: we treat old people badly for fear of our own aging.

She wrote: “Society only cares about the individual to the extent that he is profitable. The boys know that. Their fear when they enter society is like the fear of the elderly because they are excluded from it.” Well, a lot has changed since 1970, and then not so much. Retirees and the elderly are a significant consumer market today, but where they truly live, love and thrive is uncharted territory.

night sky (streaming on Amazon Prime) sets out to investigate this territory, generally finding valuable material while also venturing down confusing paths. The focus is on a long-married couple. They are Franklin (JK Simmons) and Irene (Sissy Spacek) York, both in their 70s and retired. He was a carpenter, she was a school teacher, and they live alone on the outskirts of a town in Central America.

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The first thing you notice is how involved these people are and you’re struck by the seriousness of the performances. Spacek is an incredibly charismatic woman who gazes calmly at her fragile friends while beneath the surface simmering concerns for her own health and strength. Simmons gives a master class here. What a career he’s had. A character actor and ubiquitous in those insurance commercials, he pops up at intervals to give amazing performances like he’s done on HBO’s ouncethe Starz series counterpart and the movie whiplash. Here his Franklin is quite friendly, an oaf on the surface but armed with a steeliness and wit that, like Irene’s fear, are just there when you look for them.

Franklin and Irene have a secret. Years ago, they discovered a window in the basement of a shed on their property that gives them a view of a planet in space. Is it imaginary or a portal to another reality? We don’t know and the couple are simply using the view as something to enjoy on a night before bed. What’s fueling the shifts away from Irene and Franklin is Irene’s discovery of a young man in that shed. He says his name is Jewish (Chai Hansen), claims amnesia, and is definitely hurt. Irene nurses him back to health and Franklin is cautious.

The action then shifts to Argentina, specifically the high mountains (spectacular images abound), where llama farmer Stella (Julieta Zylberberg) and her teenage daughter Toni (Rocio Hernandez) live with their own heavily guarded area, the what a church looks like. And there’s a menacing marksman (Piotr Adamczyk) who might be menacing because he’s worried about that secret room or that guy Jew. It’s unclear and intentional until after three episodes when the strands are connected.

There are eight episodes of Night Sky, but Amazon Prime Video just canceled the show. Chuck Hodes/Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video

What we have here is an intricate mystery puzzle that might frustrate some viewers. It’s the first drama from creator Holden Miller, who says the idea came to him after spending time with his grandparents, who were in their 80s, and observing the structure of their long relationship. He asked, “What does all this add up to?”

Viewers could ask the same question night sky. While the parallel history anchored in Argentina may seem disjointed, it is not. At one point, this menacing figure does not speak Spanish but uses Latin and says, “Ad Maioren Dei Gloriam” (To the greater glory of God), which is the motto of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). Perhaps the mystery here isn’t so much a sci-fi puzzle as it is a question asked about religion and its power to influence people over the centuries. Maybe what Irene and Franklin see in that shed at the end of their lives is either heaven or hell.

As long as the series focuses on these two elderly people, it’s heaven to watch. It is a rare example of looking at the elderly with only benevolent admiration, tenderness and genuine respect. Irene and Franklin are not cutesy; They are fully formed characters whose strengths outweigh their weaknesses.

There are eight episodes and here’s the kicker – although a second season was planned, Amazon Prime Video just canceled the show. So is de Beauvoir’s pessimism justified, we should ask?

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