As a followup to Atlanta and Swarm, Donald Glover adapting Doug Liman’s entertaining 2005 spy caper Mr. and Mrs. Smith for a television format is an unlikely choice. That said, there’s a certain timeliness to the premise of a married spy couple trying to survive missions and each other, ideally suited for every generation.
This iteration, created by Glover and Francesca Sloane, is a strictly millennial-geared update with a progressive heart and more romantic soul to round out its stealthy concept. Whereas this Glover and Maya Erskine-starring update likely won’t spur a pop culture impact as significant as the formerly-renowned Brangelina film did, Mr. and Mrs. Smith is a sizably entertaining and meditative spy thriller fit for a millennial demographic.
Set in bustling NYC, two stranger spies, John (Glover) and Jane Smith (Erskine), are interviewed for a potential spy gig by a mysterious agency they only speak to via texts. Upon meeting, they learn they are assigned to each other as spouses and are pretty novices to the spy game. Working for what John calls “Hihi,” (due to its usual greeting) each episode chronicles the Smiths getting better acquainted and romantically involved with each other as they embark on mission assignments on a global scale.
Great dramedy performers in their own right, Glover and Erskine’s chemistry works as this version’s fuel. For those who remember, initially, Jane was going to be portrayed by Phoebe Waller-Bridge but dropped due to creative differences. Erskine is a strong replacement and a better fit for Glover’s even-tempered, awkward John. Glover and Waller-Bridge are both big on deadpan of varying degrees; it’s difficult not to assume the series would’ve been an awkward riff-off. Erskine, however, brings a welcoming, adversarial repartee to Jane –– grounding Glover’s familiar characterization and leading the charge on the romantic aspects.
The series leans into the comedic awkwardness of two young rookie spies being married and tied to each other, akin to a romantic sitcom but with a studio action flick leveled budget. The eight episodes take great advantage of its pacing in fleshing out Jane and John’s backgrounds while developing their budding relationship without losing focus of the gravitas of their occupation. As each episode furthers into the minutiae of John and Jane’s connection, you are more enticed to their relationship surviving the hurdles set upon them, whether it be nosy neighbors or marriage counseling.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith‘s talented female writing staff supply a delicate rom-com ballet, knowing when to play the character cards between the Smiths first and gradually easing into the comedic silliness with the missions they face. The humor is mined from the missions and the zany side characters that are usually meant as juxtaposition or influence the phase their relationship hits––an element heavily influenced by the structure of Liman’s original and advances on.
With each episodic spy plot comes a welcoming guest star ––including John Turturro, Wagner Moura, Parker Posey, Sarah Paulson, Paul Dano, and Michaela Coel, to name a few –– who brings their charismatic devotion to their assigned roles.
Watching Mr. and Mrs. Smith in the same week as Matthew Vaughn’s feature spy comedy Argylle was dizzying because this has a better sense of scope with its spy elements than that. Whereas Argylle flaunts its blue screen prominence, Mr. and Mrs. Smith is more invested as romantic spy product, primarily due to shooting their espionage on location. Put two images from either project on a screen in front of a kid as an inkblot test and ask them which is a show and which is a movie, and they’ll pick it wrong.
The couple leaves the confines of NYC, and thanks to the direction of a talented group of people, including Atlanta’s Hiro Murai and Amy Siemetz, people who know how to find the grounded atmosphere of their urbanized areas and bridge it with well-executed absurdism, they give the spy angle a scope as grand as the emotional affair between the Smiths.
As a New York native critic, one of my favorite things about shows shot in NY is how often they try to interconnect the suburbs with the city. One second, they’ll shoot in a classy location like Long Island or the outskirts of Queens, then the next moment, as the Smiths are running to a street corner, they’re suddenly in Manhattan.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith flourishes under its new format. Still, it’s primarily focused on skipping chapters in this couple’s relationship rather than relishing in their romantic periods. Each episode is a sizable time jump from the last, breezing through their marital phases when it could’ve mined for the budding tension and attraction between its leads. It skips out on embracing the love that comes with the occupation in service for the comedy and drama, leaving some of the big emotional swings it centers on in its back-half remaining episodes to be desired.
As it stands, Mr. and Mrs. Smith is a fun, well-written update best geared toward viewers familiar with Glover’s recent outputs rather than fans of its source material.
All eight episodes of Mr. and Mrs. Smith premiere Friday, Feb. 2 on Prime Video.