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Prime Video’s Update of Mr. and Mrs. Smith Crackles with Wit and Creative Energy

It’s hard to believe but the nostalgia machine that repurposes everything that was a hit before has reached the 2000s, getting to Doug Liman’s 2005 blockbuster “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” the film that notoriously united Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt forever in pop culture history. While the new Amazon Prime Video series loosely based on that film has a very different structure and tone, its greatest strength is strikingly similar. Roger wrote of the 2005 hit, “There is a kind of movie that consists of watching two people together on the screen. The plot is immaterial. What matters is the "chemistry," a term that once referred to a science but now refers to the heat we sense, or think we sense, between two movie stars.” What really works about the new “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” is in the interplay between stars Donald Glover and Maya Erskine. They may not have the blinding star wattage of Brangelina, but there’s something comforting about their witty, sexy, creative chemistry as they come to life in this clever show co-created by Glover and Francesca Sloane. It may not be as landmark a series as “Atlanta” or as twisted as “Pen15” (Erskine’s previous project), but it’s a remarkably easy watch, a fun piece of comfort food programming that alternates unpredictable mystery-of-the-week plotting with increasingly likable characters.

Sloane & Glover’s version of this tale sets a different table from the very beginning. Whereas Simon Kinberg’s script was a variation on the now-common theme of domestic bliss torn apart by espionage—see recent duds like “Family Plan” and “Role Play,” or rather don’t—this take starts with two spies who know exactly what they’re getting into with one another. Well, actually it opens with a couple who appears to be a Mr. and Mrs. Smith of their own, played by Alexander Skarsgard and Eiza Gonzalez. Before you can say, “They’re in this?,” they’re brutally assassinated, implying that when a couple of Smiths are burned, they must be eliminated, setting stakes for what’s to come when the next pair fails their missions.

The world of spydom needs a new Mr. and Mrs. Smith, introducing us to a charming pair going through an interview process with an unseen hiring agent. The next Jane Smith (Erskine) is obviously brilliant, the kind of spy who can adjust to any situation and is willing to leave most of her life (not her cat) behind to start a new one deep undercover with an unknown partner. Her eventual John Smith (Glover) feels a bit more battle-weary, dropping the number of people he has killed in the field in his interview, although keeping that actual digit a secret from Jane like a new partner would their body count.

At first, John & Jane try to keep it professional, refusing to become a couple in bed as well as the field, but that doesn’t last long at all. It turns out that putting your life in jeopardy as a fake couple makes Mr. and Mrs. Smith a real one quickly, and the writers cleverly play with parallels between espionage and romantic partnership in every subsequent episode. As John and Jane start to care for one another, they also start to reveal more about their pasts, mirroring how we open up to new partners in real life, but against a life-and-death backdrop.

If you’re wondering how the concept of the film could possibly maintain the length of the series, Sloane & Glover brilliantly choose to employ a bit of mystery-of-the-week in their structure, often using new guest stars in a format that’s almost akin to the great “Poker Face” from last year. It’s not quite as confined as that, but, for example, John Turturro pops up on an assignment in which the Smiths have to inject him with truth serum in one episode, ceding the next one to how a job surveilling a couple played by Sharon Horgan and Billy Campbell impacts the Smiths. Parker Posey, Wagner Moura, Sarah Paulson, and many more appear, with Paul Dano also recurrring as the Smith's neighbor. It’s a phenomenal cast, likely all attracted by the strong writing, along with Glover and director Hiro Murai's work on "Atlanta".

There are times in which “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” succumbs to that common streaming problem of awkward length, but the powers that be at Amazon get around that by being unpredictable in that department, allowing some episodes to come in closer to 40 than 60 minutes. For the most part, this show has the right rhythm, one that buoys truly likable performances from Glover and Erskine, bouncing these more grounded characters off the broad personalities that the guest stars get to play on their assignments. It’s a fun premise, well-executed. What more do you want?

Four episodes screened for review. Full season premieres on Prime Video on February 2nd.


Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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