Donald Glover’s new Prime Video series—inspired by the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie movie of the same name—is firing on all cylinders.
Akhil Arora, a member of the Film Critics Guild and a Rotten Tomatoes-certified film critic with over eight years of experience
In early 2021, Emmy winners Donald Glover and Phoebe Waller-Bridge—best known to TV audiences for creating and starring in the surreal and satirical Atlanta and the cringe comedy-drama Fleabag, respectively—announced that they were partnering up for their next series project. What would that collaboration result in? A reimagining of the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie-led 2005 action-comedy Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Naturally, television lovers had a lot to be excited about, but the project lost some of its charm when Waller-Bridge dropped out later that year. Glover termed it “classic creative differences”. Two years and a bit later, the Amazon series—sans Waller-Bridge—has rolled in with eight episodes (I’ve seen all). It’s no classic, but it sure is a lot of fun.
More about the moments in between the missions
Bolstered by a zany sense of humour, Mr. & Mrs. Smith takes intriguing turns as it deepens the lore and expands upon the premise it borrows. (The official line is that it’s “inspired by the characters of Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” the film.) The show’s pacing and tone—set by creators Glover and Francesca Sloane (also showrunner), an Atlanta veteran part of the initial reveal alongside Waller-Bridge—are the most interesting things about it, as it rejects the notions you have of what makes a modern-day high-intensity espionage thriller. It’s sometimes more of a hangout show, with people existing and talking. Mr. & Mrs. Smith is in no artificial rush. It’s not constructed to make you feel the thrills—instead, it’s designed to explore the characters and the moments in between.
Thanks to that shift in focus, the guest stars of the Amazon series don’t come across as a showcase of Glover’s ability to pull big names, as with Chris Evans on Ghosted. However, in some cases, that does happen. (Skip the rest of this paragraph if you haven’t kept up with the news or visited the show’s home page on Prime Video.) Most of them have substantial roles, be it as a recurring neighbour (Paul Dano), a therapist (Sarah Paulson), or a couple of billionaires (Sharon Horgan and John Turturro). Mr. & Mrs. Smith also features Alexander Skarsgård, Eiza González, Ron Perlman, Michaela Coel, Wagner Moura, Parker Posey, and Glover’s mother, Beverly Glover. They help liven up the proceedings with their talents, and it’s great to see the actors play off Glover and his co-star.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith plot: couples who spy together
Speaking of his co-star, Maya Erskine steps into the role vacated by Waller-Bridge. (She doesn’t have any off-screen credits, for those wondering.) Erskine and Glover play a 5’ 4” Japanese Scottish and 5’ 11” African American ex-intelligence agent, respectively, who are hired by a private company to pose as a married couple and conduct jobs around the globe—no questions asked. They become John and Jane Smith, who have a brownstone in Manhattan and access to all the spy resources they might need. Unlike the Pitt and Jolie film, as you can tell, their spy identities aren’t a secret from each other. The Amazon series is structured differently than Mr. & Mrs. Smith, with the romance stemming from being paired together and not happenstance.
Glover and Sloane are more interested in exploring what kind of people say yes to this kind of job in the first place. One that asks you to give up on the life you’ve led to this point. In one way or another, both John and Jane are running away from the past and themselves. They are flawed, fallible, and far from compatible with one another—Jane can be cold and controlling, while John is insecure and competitive. That inevitably creates friction between them as Mr. & Mrs. Smith goes on. Neither are they perfect at what they do, screwing up more than once. They are human. The Amazon series takes its time—it isn’t flashy but more considered and slowed down—and spends a lot of time on the domestic side of things. Those are also the bits that stay with you longer.
Donald Glover and Maya Erskine are terrific
In the film, the kicker is purely external. Their dull, suffocating marriage is upended after they discover they are both spies and hiding the truth from each other. To make matters extra spicy, they are given each other as targets. That’s not the case on the Amazon show. John and Jane not only have very different personalities, but they also want very different things in life. Naturally, then, they are always clashing. And while their work may not be a secret from each other, it’s taking a toll—again because of their varying personalities. The stress and frustration carry over into the home and build up. There’s a reason they tell you not to work with your partner. Mr. & Mrs. Smith, the show, is a lot more internal.
Not all of it works, though. Some of the relationship humour is childish—it reads like an early draft that was never revised. Additionally, some of their mission tactics aren’t very solid, or the happenings aren’t believable. But Mr. & Mrs. Smith mostly makes up for it thanks to direction—Atlanta’s Hiro Murai handles the opening two episodes, and Amy Seimetz is a great pick for a therapy-oriented episode—and the fact that Glover and Erskine are in the lead. Not only are they terrific in their roles, but they are also really good together. Their comedic timing is excellent, and they are adept at playing off one another. Moreover, the Amazon series is smart enough to afford them range, rather than pigeonhole them in what we’ve come to expect of them over the years.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith season 2? Why not
We may never know what Waller-Bridge disagreed with and caused her to walk away. As for what the Amazon series lost by not having her? Go watch the brilliant first season of the Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer-led Killing Eve. Still, in its current form—as Glover and Sloane’s vision—Mr. & Mrs. Smith packs in a lot. It serves up a potent blend of marital strife, black comedy, egos and personality clashes, the draw and pitfalls of espionage, and a desire to be seen and accepted, bundled in a package of top faces, top-notch locales, and top-shelf filmmaking.
Operating as a case-of-the-week story for the most part—its eight episodes aren’t dropping weekly, though, and are available at once for binge viewing—it leaves room for a potential second season but can just as easily be a one-and-done, depending on how Glover and Amazon feel about it. I won’t say to another round, for sure.
All eight episodes of Mr. & Mrs. Smith are out Friday, February 2 on Amazon Prime Video worldwide.