I’ve had a kind of crappy week. When I was in my early twenties, I was big into scuba diving. I actually wanted to find some tourist town and open my own scuba business. If I did not have a tragic injury at 24, I might not be the man you know today. I had a botched depressurization incident, which led to troubles in my inner ear, which led to an infection very close to my brain. This required multiple surgeries by a third world doctor that did not really turn out great, but did manage to keep me from getting a deadly brain infection.
Ever since this event, maybe every three years or so, I get an ear infection, which makes doing much of anything impossible, due to the pain and what it does to my balance. I’m the most anti-antibiotic person you will ever meet, but when it comes to a situation where I’ve got an infection near my brain, I take the antibiotics. This is also draining. It clears up in a week – I’m about halfway through that now. But I basically just have to lay in bed this whole time, and reading is difficult.
So, I have been watching some shows. I found the show Night Sky, which stars JK Simmons. I’ve always liked him as an actor, and been interested that he went to my high school. I think Counterpart, unjustly cut off after two seasons, was the best TV show in recent memory. It had a very intriguing science fiction premise, around which a top-tier spy show was wrapped around. It had commentary on the Cold War which was not tropish. Aside from taking a paycheck for playing J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man films, Simmons has always been pretty discerning about his roles. He’s the reason I bothered with this show.
This will probably contain spoilers for Night Sky, but I’ll just tell you up front that it is not worth watching anyway.
Night Sky seemed like a similar thing, and I was happy to read the credits and find a profound lack of color. I’m not the super-hardcore kind of racist who won’t watch a show with nonwhites, but it is nice to not have them forced down your throat.
I have now completed this show, and do not believe it is good. It almost feels like the fact that it is not a good show is through no fault of its own, and it really just needed someone to come in and fix the script. The creator of the show, Holden Miller, is only 32 and has no previous credits other than writing on some idiotic failed late night talk show. I have no idea how he got to be showrunner of such a high budget show. His last name is “Miller,” so maybe he’s Jewish (the show isn’t really Jewish, making me think he probably isn’t Jewish), but even still – not many 32-year-old Jews with no meaningful credits get carte blanche on a big budget TV show like this.
Alongside Simmons stars Sissy Spacek, whose nose looks horrible. It takes you halfway through the show to get used to this woman’s horrible nosejob, and I believe it should have been fixed either with prosthetics or CGI. It looks so, so bad.
Firstly, I want to say that the science fiction themes are solid. They are not especially original in any way, but they are fine, and the show does a good job building up mystery around them, to the point where I’m not sure that even with as much as I disliked the show, I will be able to keep from watching a second season.
In short, there is a Stargate type system of teleportation devices linked across the earth, and some of them go into space. There is then a cult that is raised to protect these teleportation devices all over the world. The cult is somewhat brutal, forcing people to hunt down and kill anyone who threatens the secrecy of the devices, as well as anyone who tries to escape the cult itself. It is clear, though never stated outright, that the cult that protects the teleportation devices is doing it for some higher level group that uses the devices for their own purposes, which are not revealed this season. There is also a group of “apostates” who have successfully escaped the cult, who have their own agenda, which again, is not revealed in this season.
If that was all the show was about, I’d be all in. However, instead of that, we have very stupid and annoying dramatic themes that I hate. Most prominently, Simmons and Spacek are an elderly couple struggling with autonomy as they are losing the ability to take care of themselves at home. They are linked into the story by the fact that they have one of the teleporters in their backyard. This would have been fine in a small dose, but it isn’t a small dose. This couple’s struggle with aging is a central theme of the show, and I just frankly do not care about that. We’ve all had old people in our lives, and witnessed their decline, and I just don’t see anything meaningful to be drawn from investigating this. There are other films which have done this, of course, and if people want to do that, okay – but it doesn’t need to be shoved into what is otherwise an interesting science fiction premise, with relatively high tension and suspense.
To make it even worse, the old couple only had one son, who committed suicide when he was in his twenties. So this is just more pointless emotional abuse from the show, in a way that is not at all meaningful. During the first 4 episodes of the 8 episode show, you are left wondering if there was not some science fictiony explanation for his death – maybe he had gotten involved with the portal cult? But no. He was just mentally ill and killed himself. There was one funny thing about that – in order to have some color in the show, the granddaughter – the daughter of the dead son – is a mulatto. So it’s easy to develop a headcanon that he offed himself because he couldn’t deal with his black wife.
Reviewers are making comparisons between Night Sky and Lost, and I can see that. Lost also had these high drama scenes with the different characters, and some of the drama was better than other drama. But in Sky, this stuff with the old people struggling with life and struggling with their dead son takes up most of the show. The cool stuff with the mysterious cult and their ancient portal system takes a backseat to the old people struggling with their memories as they process the death of their son. If that were reduced from 50% of the show to 10% of the show, I think it would have been basically an okay show.
However, as it stands, the show is boring and filled with depressing scenes about depressed, cognitively declining old people with a dead son, with the science fiction and tension/violence taking a backseat.
The show is beautiful visually, and reminds me very much of my own childhood. It takes place in rural Illinois (which is basically the same thing as rural Ohio), and the scenes of the small town, and the drives through the woods, the scenes on the homestead – all of this was very nice to watch. It is very true that as films and shows (which are now basically just long films) continue to decline in terms of general quality, the cinematic experience continues to improve (assuming they skip the CGI, which this show does).
The other positive I can say is that the depressing and pointless themes aside, the plot structure is a lot more solid than what we are used to these days. I’m very critical of poor writing, as it simply does not make any sense to me how you are going to spend this much money on these productions and not start with a solid script. Despite my strong disagreement with the themes, I can’t say that it was poorly written. Some of the dialogue is stilted, but the overall plot structure is fine.
There was also nothing overtly political in it, at all, unless you want to draw political assumptions about the focus on old people and mental health (I don’t, really). So on that level, maybe it is refreshing. However, just in general, we are now seeing studios pulling back (at least a little bit) from pushing overt political propaganda in every single show, and “at least this show doesn’t have gay sex” is a pretty low bar. Beyond that, it was almost like they wanted the show to have as little diversity as possible. Two of the main characters come up from South America (I think probably Peru) in a portal, and they easily could have made them brown people, and didn’t.
The show was distributed by Amazon, which hasn’t really been much better than Netflix about pushing this ultra-PC stuff, so if there is anything positive to be drawn from this show, it is that these big studios are now willing to make expensive shows that aren’t pure political propaganda.
Overall, I think the show is garbage, and not worth watching. If they get a second season, maybe they will kill off (or at least sideline) the old people, and make it about the mystery of the portal cult. JK Simmons is only 67, not 77, so there isn’t really any reason he couldn’t be infused with some kind of magical portal powers from space that make him stop being senile and enter into a more action-oriented role. Also, the ending shows that part of the next season will be in Bangkok. So yeah, I’ll probably watch the second season, if they can get the money for it.
Until I’m back at 100%, I’m going to watch the seasons of Better Call Saul I missed. That stupid thing with the brother being afraid of electricity is over, so the show seems to be going into Breaking Bad style Mexican gangster stuff, which was my main complaint about the first three seasons.