Spies in Love: Why You Should Give the New “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” a Chance

Mr. & Mrs. Smith reimagined. Forget action, this Glover & Erskine rom-com is a spy love story with heart. Critics love it, but is it binge-worthy?
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2024)


Looking for a spy story with heart? Forget Brangelina! Glover & Erskine bring a fresh take on Mr. & Mrs. Smith in this romantic comedy with a twist. A slow-burn exploration of love, identity, and the spy game, this isn’t your typical action flick.

A title for an audiovisual product is like a cover for a book: an essential component of its identity, but especially of the first impression it makes on potential audiences. A title, paired with an image or a hint of the plot, is what captures attention, especially today in the crowded landscape of streaming platforms. However, sometimes the art of clickbait, the journalistic tactic of enticing the audience with a somewhat misleading title just to generate clicks, can also be applied to the world of audiovisuals. This is the case with Mr. & Mrs. Smith, a new series by Donald Glover and Francesca Sloane for Amazon Prime Video. The title suggests a reboot of the 2005 cult classic that gave rise to Brangelina, but the series is better appreciated when seen as something entirely original and independent from its past legacy.

In its new serialized form, even the initial premise changes: not a married couple grappling with each other’s secrets, but a union between two strangers orchestrated by a spy agency. John (Donald Glover) and Jane (Maya Erskine) live their mock marriage as a role-playing game, part of their job for an artificial intelligence named Hihi, which is in charge of assigning them missions and overseeing their actions. To the neighbors, they are the newlywed couple who managed to secure the nicest house in the neighborhood, but the truth is John and Jane barely know each other’s names. They don’t have years of experience as spies either, so every mission becomes an opportunity to learn the trade and to better understand each other.

This reinvention of Mr. & Mrs. Smith is more of a romantic comedy inspired by the indie tradition of American cinema than a traditional spy thriller. Although both Glover and Erskine come from a comedy background in the narrowest sense of the term (Community and PEN15, respectively), the series never goes for the easy laugh, instead building situations on the edge of cringe comedy to trigger a wide range of feelings often in stark contrast to hilarity.

Co-creator Francesca Sloane in an interview with The Warp explained that the series aims to be the journey of two people from ordinariness to extraordinariness, becoming stronger and more convincing spies but also more vulnerable human beings. Despite the dense group of celebrities appearing in minor roles (John Turturro, Paul Dano, Parker Posey, and Ron Perlman, to name a few), Mr. & Mrs. Smith never loses itself in explosions and chases, parts indeed fundamental to the work experience as spies but always secondary to the development of John and Jane’s relationship. Each episode is a milestone in their evolution, each character an opportunity to discover how others approach love. John and Jane often resemble two aliens who need a guide to understand how the world works, moving sometimes clumsily and sometimes with too much confidence from one venture to the next, never pausing to understand the responsibilities that come with it.

The title Mr. & Mrs. Smith evokes in the audience’s mind a work much more dynamic, seductive, and superficial, when Glover and Sloane offer something melancholic and reflective in its innate lightness. It is not a reboot as advertised, but rather a new way to leverage a known property: a Trojan Horse that uses familiarity with a brand to capture attention and then offer something that is not merely a rehash, but a product capable of standing on its own, endowed with its own identity.

In the early stages of the project, Mr. & Mrs. Smith was to star Phoebe Waller-Bridge, creator and protagonist of Fleabag, who left shortly after due to creative differences (a brief promotional video with the two announcing the series remains online). However, it is now hard, if not impossible, to imagine Mr. & Mrs. Smith without Maya Erskine. In what is effectively her first leading role outside the world of comedy and voiceover work (she recently voiced Mizu in Blue Eye Samurai), the actress serves as an anchor, guiding even Donald Glover who on multiple occasions seems to step back to let her shine with her irresistible charm. While John’s character can be easily pieced together with the few fragmented clues the series provides, Jane is an enigma that Erskine unravels for the audience with her micro-expressions, her silences, and her nervousness.

Available on Prime Video from February 2, Mr. & Mrs. Smith is yet another case of a series that seems sacrificed on a streaming platform. It’s not suited for binge-watching, preferring a more measured approach to character building and, above all, their joint evolution. In a landscape where properties seem to be the only draw, Mr. & Mrs. Smith manages to offer something genuine with a curious mix of genres and a rich cast used in unexpected ways (see Paul Dano as the Sexy Neighbor to believe).

Giada Sartori

Birdmen Magazine, February 2, 2024


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