Playing a long-married couple in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Parker Posey and Wagner Moura are twinned forces of nature. They’re weird, they’re obnoxious, they’re so cheerful they’re borderline terrifying, and so obviously wild about each other they’re almost endearing. Whenever they’re onscreen, the entire show seems to sit up and hold its breath, eagerly aware that anything might happen in their presence.
Alas, they’re also guest stars. The couple actually at the center of the Prime Video comedy are the rather more sedate John (Donald Glover) and Jane (Maya Erskine). Mr. & Mrs. Smith has its delights, with a plot that sends the duo on glamorous top-secret missions to one picturesque location after another. But it’s all built on the wobbly foundation of a romance that’s more interesting in theory than in practice.
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Though it’s billed as a reboot of the 2005 Simon Kinberg-scripted film that starred Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Glover and Francesca Sloane‘s new Mr. & Mrs. Smith resembles its predecessor only in that both projects center on two married spies — and even then only in the broadest sense.
Erskine and Glover play strangers assigned to pose as spouses, à la the Jennings in FX’s The Americans, not two people discovering years after the wedding that they’re rival operatives, à la Jolie and Pitt in the original. Still, it’s a clever idea for a show, marrying the relatable challenges of long-term commitment with the adrenaline high of espionage.
John and Jane’s introduction is certainly stranger than most first dates, having been engineered by a never-seen, never-heard boss who communicates primarily via text messages that open, cutesily, with “hihi.” But the relationship that follows unfolds along a wryly familiar path. The first half of the eight-hour season plays out like a rom-com, as the pair quickly break their own promises to keep things professional and fall into their own version of cozy domesticity. In the second half, that honeymoon haze dissipates and they start to wonder if they’re truly suited for each other.
The stakes are higher for them than they might be for your average pair of wealthy, child-free Millennials, seeing as they’re literally risking their lives every time they drug a billionaire or deliver a cache of illegal arms. As a spy caper, Mr. & Mrs. Smith is only okay — none of their missions is especially intricate, and nor are the car chases or fistfights anything to write home about.
But it’s amusing as a showcase for high-wattage cameos; Paul Dano, Michaela Coel and John Turturro are among the long list of recognizable faces playing potential allies, enemies or marks. Most fun of all is Ron Perlman as a hardened criminal who spends so much of his time under John and Jane’s reluctant protection acting like an entitled baby that he becomes the catalyst for the inevitable conversation about whether to have kids.
Unfortunately, Mr. & Mrs. Smith‘s ambitions are predicated on a dynamic that’s only halfway convincing to begin with. The very premise dictates that John and Jane catch feelings, and fast — but the series rushes through the beats of their relationship so quickly that when they kissed or confessed love, I found myself thinking not “Finally!” or “I knew it!” but “Oh, are we there already?”
Part of the challenge is that both leads are enigmatic by professional obligation and reserved by nature. Erskine plays Jane, who’s described in terms like “robotic” and “sociopathic,” as even more prickly and skittish than the couple’s (adorable) pet cat. Glover sets his charm to a low cozy simmer as John, whose morning routine involves meditating and tending to his many plants. Together, they’re cute but lack the explosive chemistry of the stars in the original — or for that matter, of Moura and Posey.
What they build instead is a home with an intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying sadness at its heart. The care John and Jane have for one another is real, expressed in gestures as small as a bowl of homemade soup or as grand as a death-defying rescue.
So, too, are the disagreements driving them apart, over whether to prioritize career over family, whether she’s too controlling or he’s too passive, whether they can live with all the petty hurts and jealousies they’ve amassed between them. (If anything, their emotional terrain sometimes rings too true: It sits at odds with the wish-fulfillment pleasures of zipping around Lake Como in a luxury SUV or rattling around a ten-figure New York City brownstone — making John and Jane at times seem less like James Bond than like little kids playing dress up.) But the balance between bitter and sweet is off when it’s not totally clear why they’re drawn to each other in the first place, beyond the extreme circumstances of their work.
During one particularly rough patch, Jane asks a third party what John’s been saying about her. “He does say that he wonders whether or not you guys are compatible,” she’s told. “But he also says that he wants to be with you incompatibly.”
That statement cuts to the heart of the show’s poignant central question, of how two people — any two people, not just elite secret agents — might build a life together in spite of seemingly insurmountable differences. But Mr. & Mrs. Smith feels too out of sync with itself to make John and Jane’s romance one worth fighting for.
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