It’s been nearly 20 years since moviegoers first witnessed the combustible chemistry between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in the action rom-com Mr. & Mrs. Smith. The premise was straightforward: Two married assassins realize their seemingly idyllic suburban life together has been a sham when they discover they are covert agents for rival organizations, assigned to take each other out. Cue the explosives, both literal and emotional. While thin on plot, the film benefited hugely from the smoldering charisma of its iconic leads.
Now Pitt and Jolie’s places have been taken by an unlikely new couple: Donald Glover and Maya Erskine. The 2023 Prime Video reboot series trades glitzy globetrotting for a surreal, Atlanta-esque vibe as it flips the original concept on its head. This time, John and Jane Smith enter into their arrangement with eyes wide open as total strangers matched by a mysterious agency, posing as husband and wife while carrying out dangerous missions whose purpose remains unclear.
With Glover as an executive producer guiding the show’s unique tone and style, Mr. & Mrs. Smith marries the mundanities of coupledom with the absurdities of secret agent life. While lacking the headline-grabbing celebrity watchability factor of its predecessor, the show ultimately crafts a more compelling dynamic by taking a grounded, episodic approach to explore the emerging intimacy between two lost souls playing at being married. Glover and Erskine bring an off-kilter chemistry all their own to this clever reimagining.
Undercover Marriage, Top Secret Missions
The basic framework of Mr. & Mrs. Smith sets it apart from the usual spy fare. John and Jane are not seasoned operatives with storied careers in espionage. In fact, we know next to nothing about who they were before signing up for this gig. The little we do learn comes from their job interviews: John has some military background, while Jane worked in intelligence. Beyond that, they are blanks slates when they find themselves partnered up by the mysterious “Company” they now work for.
This secretive organization provides the lavish trappings of upper middle class married life – a swanky New York brownstone equipped with all imaginable amenities, closets stocked with trendy wardrobes – to help sell John and Jane’s cover story as they pose as a couple. Their communication with the Company is limited to coded messages delivered by an upbeat AI chatbot they nickname “HiHi.” Assignments come sporadically, be it a delivery job or a surveillance operation, always executed without question or context.
At first, John and Jane view the arrangement as temporary, a way to bank some cash before parting ways to resume their real lives. But as the missions become higher stakes and the relationship gets complicated, exiting the Company’s employ proves more difficult than expected. They are dependent on each other now, for survival and emotionally. Even their identities have been subsumed; every day is an ongoing performance art piece titled Mr. & Mrs. Smith. All they know is what the Company tells them, doling out intel on a need to know basis. Who is the shadowy “HiHi” at the other end of the chat? The answer lies buried under layers of spycraft and subterfuge.
Killer Chemistry: Blending Genres for Spy Thrills and Romantic Laughs
On paper, Mr. & Mrs. Smith ticks all the boxes of a slick, high-octane espionage thriller. Yet its execution deliberately toes the line between suspenseful action and workplace satire, weaving in plenty of rom-com laughs for good measure. Helmed by executive producer Donald Glover and Atlanta director Hiro Murai, episodes often feel like a daydream despite scenes of John and Jane eliminating targets without batting an eye.
Glover and co-creator Francesca Sloane draw influence from retro spy shows, infusing a hazy, surreal aesthetic into Mr. & Mrs. Smith’s world of secrets and lies. Missions transport our ostensible couple to exotic locales, though the emphasis stays on advancing the chemistry between leads Glover and Maya Erskine rather than globe-trotting adventurism. Murai’s cinematic visual flair, coupled with David Fleming’s ambient score, leaves the viewer luxuriating in the atmosphere.
Yet the violence never undercuts the very real relationship developing before our eyes. In fact, it raises the interpersonal stakes. We feel the awkwardness of a first date, the tension of a marital spat, the familiarity bred from months passing between episodes. Laughs come easily as John and Jane balance their work partnership with their ruse of domesticity. But when tensions boil over, you remember these are two highly trained killers confined together by circumstances beyond their control. In those moments, Mr. & Mrs. Smith transcends genre labels to simply captivate us with a great spy story.
Killer Casting: Glover and Erskine’s Winning Chemistry Anchors the Chaos
In retrospect, it seems Donald Glover was born to play a role once filled by original Smith Brad Pitt. Glover slips into the bespoke suits of John Smith with ease, his natural magnetism and roguish wit on full display. As John figures out his new line of work, we see Glover stretch from quippy comedy to convincingly hardened action.
Yet the show’s secret weapon is Maya Erskine, who replaces Angelina Jolie as Jane. Erskine, an Emmy-nominee for Hulu’s PEN15, seems an unlikely choice for a spy thriller. But her ability to toggle from deadpan to deadly makes Jane a uniquely beguiling character. Erskine’s directness provides the perfect foil for Glover’s slippery charm. Together, they generate plenty of sparks on screen.
We watch John and Jane transform from wary strangers to affectionate partners in crime over the season’s eight episodes. Initially, John is the eager one, attracted to this mystery woman. Jane takes some winning over, her emotions carefully guarded. But adrenaline-fueled brushes with death have a way of accelerating intimacy. Soon the question is not if they will get together, but whether it will jeopardize their larger mission.
Helping them navigate these choppy waters is a stellar lineup of guest stars having a ball in supporting parts, from Alexander Skarsgard’s unflappable fixer to Parker Posey’s wild card operative. But the most pivotal appearances see Sharon Horgan as a take-no-prisoners Company agent and Paul Dano as the world’s most annoying civilian neighbor. Both force John and Jane to address the tangled complications of their relationship in hilarious yet poignant ways that pay off beautifully.
Marriage, Identity Crisis, and Spy Games
While on its surface Mr. & Mrs. Smith utilizes the conceit of spies posing as married partners simply as a convenient cover story, the show goes much deeper by thoroughly exploring the layered complexities such an intimate relationship entails.
We witness John and Jane progress through various relationship stages. First as reluctant colleagues unsure of the other’s motives. Then a genuine friendship and attraction develops as the missions take a toll, marked by inside jokes and easy rapport. Before long they cross the line into romantic territory, the nature of their work forcing them into such tight proximity that deeper feelings emerge.
Throughout this evolution, the question of their true selves bubbles beneath the surface. Shedding past lives to become John and Jane Smith, almost a method acting approach to espionage, leaves them grappling with notions of identity. With each vulnerable moment shared, with each protective instinct displayed, they peel back the onion of who they really are underneath these false identities. The new names start to fit more comfortably as their assigned marriage stops feeling like a cover.
Yet the personas of Mr. and Mrs. allow them to expose sides of themselves otherwise hidden even to those closest to them. In a therapy session, John opens up about doubts, insecurities, dreams he’s never voiced to Jane or anyone else from his mysterious past. Their connection grants permission to reveal the person behind the mask. But answering who is the real them and what is performance becomes slippery. For now, wrapped tightly in each other’s orbits by forces beyond their control, John and Jane Smith will have to suffice in this ever-shifting house of smoke and mirrors.
Variety is the Spice of Spy Life
Mr. & Mrs. Smith employs an episodic structure that allows each installment to showcase something fresh and fun without getting bogged down in complex plotting. The “case-of-the-week” format means John and Jane tackle new assignments every episode through inventive set pieces and a parade of intriguing guest stars.
Yet an overall seasonal arc subtly tracks the progress of our central couple’s relationship amidst the action. Flirtation gives way to friendship before blossoming into full-fledged romance. The early adventures bind them together out of necessity and shared experience. But later missions dredge up thornier issues of trust, compatibility, even visions for the future as it becomes clear they mean more to each other than a means to a paycheck.
Through it all, the directors ensure a cinematic quality to each episode that builds tension and releases it with humor. So when the bombshell finale arrives, it feels like a natural culmination we’ve been hurtling towards all season via this unpredictable rollercoaster ride. And the conclusion provides definitive closure for this chapter of John and Jane’s lives, a rare definitive ending that nonetheless leaves the door cracked for more spy stories down the line should the opportunity arise. Satisfying in the moment yet primed for potential future installments, the first season of Mr. & Mrs. Smith pulls off a high degree of difficulty with plenty of style to spare.
Spies for Hire: When Spycraft Meets the Gig Economy
Beyond functioning as a rollercoaster romantic thriller centered on two very attractive people, Mr. & Mrs. Smith also slyly satirizes the modern working world. John and Jane find themselves immersed in the shady business dealings of international espionage yet subject to many of the same exploitative systems faced by today’s rideshare drivers and hourly clock-punchers.
They are enticed into service through promises of lucrative payouts and upscale living courtesy of the Company. But the contracts binding them are decidedly one-sided once they try exiting this highly unorthodox temp job. The mystery of the all-powerful “HiHi” at the other end of their messages evokes the faceless corporate overseers perpetuating inequality from afar.
John and Jane exhibit a loose, gig-to-gig approach to their assignments, contrasted by the rigid secrecy and control of their employer. They begin to seem less like heralded secret agents than expendable subcontractors, left intentionally in the dark to simply execute orders. It renders Mr. & Mrs. Smith a distant corporate cousin to Donald Glover’s existential comedy Atlanta, trafficking in similar themes of mobility, identity and self-determination while trapped within systems stacked against them.
Closing Arguments: A Killer Concept Realized
Assembling all the component parts – the sly genre mixtures, the watchable lead duo, the episodic structure allowing for both intimacy and scale – Mr. & Mrs. Smith makes a compelling argument for franchise reinvention in an era lousy with reboots, remakes and recycled IP. It manages to reinterpret the core concept from its big-screen predecessor in a way that seems tailor-made for the streaming generation, balancing weekly episodic thrills with an addictive season-long relationship arc.
Much credit goes to Donald Glover for spearheading this vision as both executive producer and leading man, continuing his avant-pop exploration of contemporary relationships and power dynamics through a new lens. Co-creator Francesca Sloane also deserves ample praise for how fully she renders John and Jane’s partnership in all its professional and personal permutations. Together with a charismatic cast and visual panache to burn courtesy of Hiro Murai and other bold directorial choices, Mr. & Mrs. Smith checks all the boxes both as fizzy escapist spy fare and resonant relationship study worthy of our emotional investment.
With such a definite sense of closure provided in the first season finale yet plenty of potential roads left to travel, the door seems wide open should Glover and company wish to revisit these characters down the line. But for now, Mr. & Mrs. Smith can be savored as a singular achievement in deploying familiar story pieces to form a newly compelling picture: an instant classic for the bespoke streaming era.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith
By turning the original concept on its head, Prime Video’s ingenious Mr. & Mrs. Smith uses the spy genre trappings as an avenue to thoughtfully explore relationships and identity. Donald Glover and Maya Erskine shine with killer chemistry, while the episodic case-of-the-week structure allows for plenty of tonal variety amidst the ongoing workplace satire. The rare remake that confidently stands on its own.
- Excellent lead performances from Donald Glover and Maya Erskine
- Great chemistry between the two stars
- Clever inversion of the original film's concept
- Episodic structure allows for variety and guest stars
- Mixes genres effectively - action, comedy, satire
- Impressive visual style and cinematic direction
- Explorations of relationships and identity are compelling
- Satisfying, conclusive finale
- Some plot elements are underdeveloped
- Balancing of tones can be uneven at times
- Commentary on race and privilege not fully realized
- Relies heavily on style over substance