Forget the Brangelina Film: The New 'Mr & Mrs Smith' Series Is a Smart, Slinky and Intimate Spy Gem
Donald Glover and Maya Erskine bring glorious chemistry to this lived-in take on married assassins juggling life, love and work.
February 02, 2024
2005 movie Mr & Mrs Smith isn't the first time that title adorned a spy caper about a literally killer couple. That honour goes not to the Brad Pitt (Babylon)- and Angelina Jolie (Eternals)-starring, Brangelina-sparking film, but to a 90s TV series. No one remembers 1996's Mr & Mrs Smith, where Scott Bakula (who was not long off Quantum Leap at the time) and Maria Bello (Beef) took on the eponymous parts. It didn't last, with just nine episodes airing and a further four made but left unseen. But its existence gives 2024's Mr & Mrs Smith a full-circle vibe, with Donald Glover (Atlanta) and Maya Erskine's (PEN15) now both adopting the monikers and ushering the premise back to episodic storytelling.
Bakula and Bello's Mr & Mrs Smith didn't inspire Pitt and Jolie's; however, the latter did give rise to Glover and Erskine's. Their version isn't the first time that television has taken the Brangelina picture's lead, either. In 2007, a pilot was made of a spinoff from the then-recent film featuring Martin Henderson (Virgin River) and Jordana Brewster (Fast X), but didn't go any further. Thankfully, as streaming via Prime Video from Friday, February 2, the latest eight-part Mr & Mrs Smith hasn't suffered the same fate. All that history isn't mere trivia. Instead, it speaks to a concept that's so appealing that it keeps being reused, whether coincidentally or knowingly, and to an idea that's now being given its full Mr & Mrs Smith due, in line with True Lies and The Americans: that relationships are mysteries, missions and investigations.
The backstory behind Glover and Erskine bringing glorious chemistry to John and Jane Smith doesn't stop there, because Mr & Mrs Smith circa 2024 has been in the works for three years. When announced in February 2021, it was with Atlanta-meets-Fleabag hopes, with Glover co-starring and co-creating with Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny). Then creative differences with Glover saw Waller-Bridge — who also co-wrote the No Time to Die screenplay and created Killing Eve — leave the project within six months. While it's impossible to know how that iteration of Mr & Mrs Smith would've turned out, whether with more overt comedy, talkier or boasting a darker tone, Glover's interpretation with fellow Atlanta alum Francesca Sloane lives up to the promise of two creatives from one of the 21st century's best dramedies turning their attention to espionage and romance. There's an intimacy, a lived-in feel and hangout charm to this Mr & Mrs Smith, even as it swaps Brangelina's already-wed pair discovering that they're assassin rivals for a duo only tying the knot for the gig.
This John and Jane solely make each other's acquaintance via their shadowy new employer, who they exclusively interact with online (they nickname their supervisor "hihi" because that's how every message from them starts). After a vetting process, complete with questions about their individual willingness to leave their loved ones and current existence behind, the new Mr and Mrs Smith are soon inhabiting a just-renovated New York brownstone so lavish that their neighbour (Paul Dano, Dumb Money) is wowed. They're both fresh to the job, leaping into the spy world with their own baggage. They're unsurprisingly also fresh to fake marriages. They now have an array of cases to navigate and, slowly but heatedly, real feelings to grapple with.
Alongside the self-contained exploits in each episode, surrounding Mr & Mrs Smith's stars with a feast of other talents is a highlight. The wealth of well-known names includes Ron Perlman (Poker Face), Alexander Skarsgård (Infinity Pool), Sarah Paulson (The Bear), John Turturro (Severance), Parker Posey (Beau Is Afraid), Wagner Moura (The Gray Man), Eiza González (Ambulance), Michaela Coel (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) and Sharon Horgan (Bad Sisters). Fellow Smiths, rich bigwigs, targets, a couples' therapist with no clue what John and Jane do for a paycheque (software engineers is their cover): Glover, Sloane, and their co-scribes Stephen Glover (also Atlanta), Carla Ching (Home Before Dark), Yvonne Hana Yi (Raising Dion), and Adanne Ebo and Schuyler Pappas (both screenwriting first-timers) enlist the supporting cast in all of the above roles, keeping John, Jane and audiences on their toes.
No one among the guest performers puts a foot wrong, but this is always the ever-excellent Glover and Erskine's time to shine. There's not just suaveness but also patience and vulnerability in his portrayal, while she goes for hyper-competent and enigmatic with equal skill. This Mr and Mrs Smith always feel like humans rather than character types — messily, engagingly, complicatedly so. With love no longer a given from the outset in this spin on the story, Glover and Erskine's growing rapport also couldn't be more crucial. John is clearly interested in being more than just colleagues early, Jane is more tentative about mixing work and pleasure, and everything about them falling for and bickering with each other plays as authentically as every Atlanta scene between Earn and Van (Zazie Beetz, Black Mirror).
The slinky series handles its mix of Mission: Impossible and wedlock comparably: although it's always an espionage effort, it's about John and Jane as people, and as a pair getting amorously entangled, first and foremost. "Spies but relatable" could've been the tagline as the show's protagonists juggle life, love and work. They trot the globe, receive secretive instructions, shoot to kill and make the stylishly crafted action sequences count. They also struggle with disposing of bodies, and are visibly shaken by explosions, deaths and other necessities of their line of work. They argue over doing the dishes, too, then clash over trying to truly get to know each other, tussle with trust and weather the minutiae of living together. That lived-in atmosphere plays two ways, in fact: in the intricacies of John, Jane and their connection; and in the cooped-up, pandemic-appropriate scenario that is thrusting folks together to make the most of it.
Behind the camera, Hiro Murai directs the first two episodes after notching up 26 instalments of Atlanta, plus helming the Glover-led Guava Island and several Childish Gambino music videos ('This Is America' being one). She Dies Tomorrow's Amy Seimetz similarly took the reins on Atlanta, while Christian Sprenger was the cinematographer on 34 episodes and Guava Island. Karena Evans has fellow movie-to-TV adaptation Dead Ringers on her resume — and when Glover himself directs Mr & Mrs Smith's finale, which makes stunning use of costuming for both him and Erskine, that he's calling the shots is evident. This is a series to commit to, embrace and relish. All the history that comes with TV's latest mining of cinema's wares (see also: Irma Vep, A League of Their Own, What We Do in the Shadows, Interview with the Vampire and Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, to name just a few), Brangelina and all, melts away in this gem.
Check out the trailer for Mr & Mrs Smith below:
Mr & Mrs Smith streams via Prime Video from Friday, February 2, 2024.
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