“Mr. & Mrs. Smith” — which stars Donald Glover and Maya Erskine as spy married couple Jane and John Smith — hits Amazon’s Prime Video on Friday, Feb. 2. Taking narrative notes from the 2005 action flick starring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt (the project that famously led to their real-life marriage), Glover’s TV reboot from showrunner Francesca Sloane gives the spy genre a necessary kick in the pants. The result is a program that’s delightfully superior to the sleek and sexy movie that inspired it.
Jolie and Pitt teaming up as super spies in an explosive shoot-em-up blockbuster was a profitable no-brainer that drew nearly $500-million at the box office. Yet as cool as it was to watch their cat-and-mouse chemistry blossom as they beat the crap out of each other, that “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” shied away from any real character development. The action sequences and natural dynamic between the leads carried the whole thing.
What a difference two decades makes. This new series delivers gun fights, hand-to-hand combat, car chase sequences and explosions. But that’s all just icing on the cake. “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” is an exemplary remake that charts its own path by filling in necessary narrative blanks. It expands on certain story details, and changes canon where it makes sense. Instead of tightening the focus on big-budget action sequences, the series goes all-in on the relationship dynamic between John and Jane who, instead of being two tenured secret agents like Jolie and Pitt, are a couple of lonely outcasts looking for connection and purpose.
The answer to their solitude comes in the form of a mysterious recruitment program that pairs them up as husband and wife. From their fumbling meet-cute in the first episode to the finale’s destructive crescendo, the duo’s bond evolves from co-workers to lovers as they struggle to function together professionally while traversing the messy pursuit of domestic bliss.
As the show’s official logline asks, “What’s riskier: espionage or marriage?”
If you had Donald Glover and Maya Erskine becoming action heroes on your 2024 bingo card, you’re in luck. The duo chart new ground with their extremely watchable performances as John and Jane Smith, straying from their comedy roots to bring these nuanced, flawed characters to life.
When it comes to spy stories, audiences have grown accustomed to watching highly-skilled agents use an array of nifty gadgets to thwart global threats, all while looking super cool. Glover and Erskine lean into the messiness of their John and Jane, allowing the trauma of their backstories to inform their decisions to leave everything behind to become high risk agents.
They’re still struggling to kick the training wheels off. That’s what makes their on-screen exploits so engaging to watch. Moreover, the dysfunction of their marriage mirrors the clunkiness of their field work, resulting in an espionage story that’s less “Mission Impossible” and more “Slow Horses” – the British dark comedy about the various troubles a group of Mi5 rejects falls victim to.
Glover will get heaps of praise for his work here as cocreator, writer, producer and star. His evolution as an artist is remarkable, as it feels like he’s conquered everything from comedy to hip hop. Now, he’s a leading man who’s running head-first into gun fights one minute and sweetly spooning with his wife the next. Braggadocious and dorky, Glover’s John has the swagger of Steve McQueen and the sensitive loyalty of a mother’s only son.
Erskine, who many will recognize as the brace-faced 13-year old in Hulu comedy “PEN15,” is the one who truly steals the show. Calculated, detail oriented, focused and potentially sociopathic, she delivers a performance that’ll leave an impression. Give her all the awards, now.
Glover and director Hiro Murai — who previously worked together on the Emmy-winning “Atlanta” and Glover’s “This Is America” music video — bring their signature off-beat aesthetic to the series, with Murai directing the first two episodes. Their work on “Atlanta” took some big bizarre David Lynch-style swings to tell the story. That type of abstract storytelling isn’t found here, but the duo’s subtle quirk can still be felt throughout this show’s narrative tapestry.
It’s probably worth acknowledging the show’s production budget, as well. John and Jane end up globe-trotting to some exotic locations. Between the show’s cocktail lounge-inspired instrumental score and Glover’s wardrobe selections (turtlenecks are about to be all the rage again), the show gives regular hat tips to the spy genre while consistently disrupting cliches and pivoting around common espionage story tropes.
As actors at the top of the call sheet, Glover and Erskine do much of the heavy lifting throughout the season. It’s their faces on the poster, after all. But the slate of guest stars that appear in the eight episodes is simply outstanding. Parker Posey, Wagner Moura, Sarah Paulson, Ron Perlman, Michaela Coel, John Turturro, Paul Dano, Alexander Skarsgård, Eiza González, Sharon Horgan, Billy Campbell and Ursula Corbero all show up in various ways, adding further context and conflict to every scene they’re in.
Rebooting big budget movies into episodic TV is always a challenge. But, with great risk often comes great reward. What Glover and company have done here goes beyond good storytelling. They’ve up and flipped the genre script. Again.
“Mr. & Mrs. Smith” is an experience. The series brings the drama, the action, and even a surprising amount of laughs. From episode to episode, the emotional stakes rise from a slight simmer to a roiling boil, leading to an explosive finale that will have people talking.
Simply put, “Mr & Mrs. Smith” is the first must-see show of 2024. If there’s one lesson we should take away by the end of Season 1, it’s this: Glover and Erskine are just getting started.
“Mr. & Mrs. Smith” premieres all eight episodes Friday, Feb. 2, on Prime Video.