Mr & Mrs Smith review: Donald Glover and Maya Erskine play married spies

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Donald Glover stars in and executive produces this spy series based on Doug Liman’s 2005 film – here’s our Mr & Mrs Smith review.

As far as action films of the 2000s go, Mr & Mrs Smith is certainly a memorable one. Telling the tale of a married couple who turn against each other after finding out they’re spies for rival agencies, it was certainly helped along by being directed by The Bourne Identity's Doug Liman. That and the gossip surrounding stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who would of course end up together months after shooting the movie.

As a result, it feels like much of the film’s success was down to the chemistry shared by the lead actors. At the very least, a TV reboot would need a compelling central couple.

Community's Donald Glover makes up one half of the Amazon show’s pairing. He’s also a writer and executive producer on the series, with Atlanta producer Francesca Sloane serving as co-creator and showrunner. Originally, his Mrs Smith was set to be played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who also had a hand in writing the early scripts. She departed from the project in 2021 because of the dreaded creative differences.

Waller-Bridge is immensely talented, but Maya Erskine does a good job of filling her shoes. Our introduction to our ‘Smiths’ (not their real names) is at one of the most bizarre job interviews imaginable. As a machine presents typical interview questions about relocating alongside more left-field queries about how many people the candidates have killed, we immediately see that Erskine’s character is an efficient Type-A personality, and Glover’s is more relaxed and earnest. Their interviews also involve giving a sample of their nail clippings. Definitely something strange going on here.

That something strange is that the pair are thrown together under the aliases of John and Jane Smith. Pretending to be a married couple, they’re given targets and missions by an anonymous supervisor. They’ve also opted to cut ties with their past lives entirely, and have only each other to rely on.

The first few episodes of the series do a great job of providing intrigue and action. Glover and Erskine have good chemistry and portray their unlikely partnership in a way that feels very realistic. As they pursue a target in the first episode, there’s an understandable awkwardness between them as they try to learn about each other whilst not actually being allowed to say much about themselves.

The early part of the season takes on a mission of the week format, and that keeps things exciting. Accompanied by a fun, upbeat score by David Fleming (who also worked on The Last Of Us) the duo run into an array of colourful characters. The series utilises famous faces as supporting characters often. John Turturro takes on a very memorable role and Ron Perlman is wonderfully sweary. Others get less to do with their parts, particularly the great Paul Dano as the couple’s neighbour.

With the missions often not going to plan, part of Mr & Mrs Smith's fun is the duo working out how to complete their often tricky tasks. All the while they’re getting to grips with being a married couple and figuring out how best to work together. The initial awkwardness between the two is relatable, but after that their relationship seems to progress far too quickly to feel authentic to the situation. That’s not helped by large time skips in the later episodes, leading to their situation changing drastically between one episode and another with little explanation as to what’s happened.

On top of the expected action, the series also uses the characters’ heightened situation to explore typical challenges that arise in relationships. In the latter half of the series especially, there’s a struggle to balance the action-packed spy elements with the exploration of their changing relationship. There’s even an entire episode dedicated to the pair attending couples’ therapy. Despite a guest appearance from Sarah Paulson, it’s not so fun to watch two people argue for more or less an hour. The fact that this comes so late in the season also slows the show’s momentum significantly. The final episode has some heavy lifting to do in terms of injecting excitement and action back into the series.

Mr & Mrs Smith is definitely uneven. The spy elements and missions are fun, and work well if you’re looking for a spy caper that uses all the traditional conventions. The supporting characters are interesting, and the show does a good job of building intrigue around the mysterious company Glover and Erskine work for. However, despite good chemistry, the couple’s relationship seems to progress at an unnatural rate and large time skips prevent us from properly following their characters as they develop. As the show is meant to be as much about the couple and their relationship as it is the action, it’s a shame that Mr & Mrs Smith doesn’t quite get those elements right.

All episodes of Mr & Mrs Smith are streaming on Prime Video on 2nd February.

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