If you're wondering why the stars of Prime Video's Mr. & Mrs. Smith reboot aren't as "hot" as their predecessors, you're not entirely alone. You might be a bit of a jerk for wondering that, sure — but you're not alone. Mr. & Mrs. Smith has become synonymous with the smoldering, homewrecking chemistry of the film's two stars, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The choice to cast Donald Glover and Maya Erskine — both beautiful people, but each better known for their comedic timing — in the reboot seems like a cruel joke. (To some. Not to me. But I digress.)
For what it's worth, Glover — who created the Prime Video series with Atlanta's Francesca Sloane — seems to be in on that joke from the series' opening moments. Mr. & Mrs. Smith kicks off with a tribute, of sorts, to the original film. Conventional heartthrobs Alexander Skarsgård and Eiza González have been tapped to bring us back into a familiar world, one in which espionage and romance go hand in hand. Their cameos call back to Pitt and Jolie's camera-ready allure, and Skarsgård and González are just as unflappably poised — but with almost 20 years removed between the two projects, it also feels a little out of place. It almost feels… boring. Like fan service without the substance. That's why, when things go hilariously sideways — paving the way for Glover and Erskine's eponymous couple — it's an entirely welcome pivot.
Glover and Sloane's take on the Smiths doesn't share a lot of connective tissue with Doug Liman's 2005 film otherwise. It runs on the kind of self-effacing humor that, as mentioned, has already earned a bit of scorn from the shallowest corner of the internet. It's also dealing in slightly more classical (but no less potent) romantic tropes. But that's one of a few adjustments that make the eight-episode series such a fitting successor. Like the original Mr. & Mrs. Smith, it's a product of its time: Rather than schlock and awe, it aims for restraint and wit.
Rather than following the lives of two spies living in ignorant wedded bliss, Prime's Mr. & Mrs. Smith is set in a world in which a top spy agency pairs its recruits into arranged marriages. "It's an old KGB tactic," explains Erskine's Jane. "You're less likely to defect if you're reliant on a partner." Even if you find yourself randomly assigned to live with a total stranger? Yes, apparently. Jane only gets to meet her John (Glover) after a gauntlet of compatibility tests, psychological trials, and a thorough background check. They're legally married by the time they each turn up to their fully furnished, impossibly chic brownstone in the heart of New York City, and they slip into their expected roles without too much resistance.
The question of intimacy — emotional or otherwise — seems like the furthest thing from Jane's mind in the beginning. The same cannot be said for John. As her softer other half, Glover has his spaced-out charm dialed up to 10: He pads around their apartment shirtless and tries hard to break the ice with probing questions about Jane's past life. Maintaining their marriage is a smidge more important to him than completing perfect missions. But his instinct is at least partially right: The more the all-business Jane comes out of her shell, the better it seems they work as a team. But there's a price to pay for intimacy, too, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith is eager to explore as many aspects of their relationship as it can.
Jane and John's opposing views on marriage bring an odd-couple energy to their first handful of missions. Their handler is decidedly hands-off; their only contact is facilitated through a chatroom. Our heroes are forced to learn on the fly, with minimal casualties and maximum efficiency. Most episodes focus on one mission, the goal of which is usually a not-so-subtle metaphor for their latest relationship hurdle. A pregnancy scare isn't just a pregnancy scare, nor is a double date with another couple just a double date. Therapy is itself a minefield of doctor-patient confidentiality, and the occasional dalliance with the cute next-door neighbor is never entirely innocent. Each obstacle gives the show's revolving door of guest stars the freedom to drift in and out of the main narrative, but each leaves an impression all the same. Michaela Coel, Paul Dano, Parker Posey, and Wagner Moura are particular standouts, crafted with inner lives so interesting, you might find yourself wishing for a spin-off.
Beyond the movie, the series feels equally inspired by Glover's own Atlanta — as in, the most surreal hangout show you've ever seen — and the occasionally zany quests within the Hitman games. If it feels like a more heightened dimension of our own world, there's a good reason for it. Even everyday corners of New York are shot like an Architectural Digest spread, thanks in part to the minimalistic eye of director Hiro Murai. That glossy, gloomy artistic vision won't gel with everyone, nor will the series' eccentric, lowkey tone. In its efforts to set itself apart from the original film and its mid-noughties sensibilities , Mr. & Mrs. Smith can occasionally skew toward smarminess. Your appreciation for its situational humor depends entirely on your appreciation for Glover, Erskine, and their past works.
But that's not to say that Mr. & Mrs. Smith lacks the sizzling chemistry of its forebear. If anything, it's sexy within its restraint. The whole time the Smiths are navigating impossible missions at silent auctions and ski resorts, we're sitting here wondering when they're finally going to act on their unspoken attraction; when they're going to share their first kiss; when their shared living space will start to actually feel like a home. Once those thresholds are crossed, even more concerns come out of the woodwork. Are their feelings real, or are they triggered simply by the adrenaline of each impossible mission? The stakes are surprisingly high, and not only because their success is enforced through a precarious three-strike system. There's a sense that this marriage, however fake it starts out, is the most successful relationship that either Jane or John has ever had. Failure could mean a fate worse than death for either party. It could mean starting over — and in an age of dating apps and bizarro in-laws, that's never going to be preferable.
Through it all, Glover and Erskine find new ways to mine their dynamic for more vulnerability. Mr. & Mrs. Smith becomes a densely layered character study with this couple at the helm. Its efforts to remix elements of the source material, though scarce, are tastefully dispersed, making this one of Prime Video's smarter IP grabs in recent memory.
Premieres: Friday, Feb. 2 on Prime Video
Who's in it: Donald Glover, Maya Erskine, Sarah Paulson, Parker Posey, Wagner Moura, Michaela Coel, Paul Dano
Who's behind it: Donald Glover and Francesca Sloane (creators)
For fans of: Atlanta, globe-trotting glamour, romantic angst
How many episodes we watched: 8 of 8