‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’ Review: Donald Glover and Maya Erskine’s Savvy, Unsexy Marriage Story

“Mr. and Mrs. Smith” opens with a scene that should feel familiar to action fans. A couple sits calmly in their country house, sipping drinks on the porch, when the emergence of an approaching car puts them on high-alert. Running inside, she tosses him the go-bag. He grabs a gun from the kitchen cabinet. The black SUV is getting closer. But she’s not moving anymore. “I can’t keep doing this,” she says. “I can’t keep running away.” He walks over to her, strokes her hair, and the beautiful couple share a passionate kiss. “Then we stop running,” he says.

What happens next is less familiar. Jarring, even. It sets up a series that’s only interested in cliches when they can be subverted, but still respects the sincerity required for love (and love stories) to flourish. “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” the Amazon Prime Video series from co-creators Donald Glover and Francesca Sloane, is a romance. It’s also an action show. Its central couple consists of two spies, and their missions send them to luxurious locales around the world. There’s a bit of comedy thrown in, especially in the earlier episodes. Still, that opening scene makes one thing clear right from the jump:

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This is not your parents’ “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”

Officially adapted from Simon Kinberg’s 2005 blockbuster (and originally slated to star Glover and “Fleabag’s” Phoebe Waller-Bridge), the 2024 series jettisons most direct comparisons to Brangelina’s knee-collapsing chemistry by keeping its core story as unsexy as possible, even as it unfolds in the sexiest of scenarios. For starters, each secret agent is hired by a computer. John (Glover) and Jane (Maya Erskine) are interviewed via a large, rectangular monitor, answering questions like, “How many people have you killed?” and “How many times have you told someone, ‘I love you,'” with only the cold blue light of a screen for feedback.

What may sound sleek and cool is actually unfeeling and isolating, a creative choice that gains greater meaning once John and Jane are hired and discover the app is essentially their boss: handing out assignments, evaluating their performance, and serving as their only point of contact for missions. In our day-and-age of remote work, algorithmic dependence, and reduced social activity, getting life-and-death commissions from “HiHi” — what they call their boss, since it never provides a name for itself (or even confirms whether there’s a human typing out orders) — feels like a frightening futuristic reality that may already be here. (Remember the scene in “Up in the Air,” when Anna Kendrick trains George Clooney how to fire people via a video call? Now, even that dehumanizing practice can be made crueler with A.I.)

With that eerie mystery hanging over their jobs (and thus, their lives), John and Jane are left to figure out the how and why on their own. Each operation is broadly defined. They have to intercept a package from their target and deliver it to GPS coordinates. They have to monitor and assess a vacationing couple. They have to pick up a mark and bring him to a safe house. The action is splashed across lavish international vistas and executed by equally gorgeous agents. (Glover, in particular, puts on a fashion —and gun — show.) But it’s heightened to the point of surrealism in a way the inner lives of our spies is not, which takes a while to click but ultimately works wonders. “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” utilizes a case-of-the-week episodic structure without ever asking you to invest in the cases themselves. Instead, you’re drawn into John and Jane’s relationship, as it develops from platonic work partners who pretend to be married into life partners who can’t pretend they don’t care about each other anymore.

Donald Glover, Maya Erskine in Mr and Mrs Smith on Amazon Prime Video
Donald Glover and Maya Erskine in “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”Courtesy of David Lee / Prime Video

As an allegory for work/life balance, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” is consistently strong. As a convincing portrait of two people falling in love, there are a few early hitches before it finds its groove. Episode titles are particularly important, as Episode 1 covers their “First Date” (so to speak), Episode 2 flows immediately into their “Second Date,” but the third hour jumps months ahead to their “First Vacation,” and subsequent episodes continue to skip forward in time to examine key milestones in their marriage. Knowing this going in may be extra important given Glover and Erskine’s rough start. On the one hand, the series makes it known that smoldering heat is not a priority; there’s bits of barf and broken body parts, powerful farts and funny faces. This “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” is interested in Robin Williams’ version of intimacy more than Brangelina’s orbit-altering magnetism. Still, John and Jane’s initial connection should feel legitimate and earned, rather than the clumsily orchestrated match-making seen here. The series isn’t designed for the actors to create that first spark themselves, and they can’t, but once we’re past the awkward courtship phase and months into their love affair, their comfort with one another builds a palpable intimacy.

Depicting relationships as a marathon, instead of a sprint to the alter, serves the show’s raw, beating heart well. Anyone familiar with Glover and Erskine via their breakthrough roles may wish they made a romantic-comedy (heavy on the comedy), instead of the action-drama presented here — both performers have such elastic expressions, it can feel like a waste to see them so still and serious all the time — but once “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” establishes its tone, it’s hard not to fall in line. Hiro Murai directs the first two episodes, helping to ground the lead characters amid their fantastic surroundings. (The climax of the premiere hinges on a particularly striking shot that visually and thematically upends expectations.) Excellent guest stars (brought in by casting director Carmen Cuba) are well-integrated into the story (Paul Dano is… exceptional), and the ending proves an ideal series finale (that will still have you itching for more).

While a little too conventional at times and sputtering in places, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” is far more compelling than your average reboot of an action flick. So long as you’re not expecting more of the same, it’s worth giving this couple a shot.

Grade: B

“Mr. and Mrs. Smith” premieres Friday, February 2 on Prime Video. All eight episodes will be available at once.

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