“Donald Glover and Maya Erskine make their respective TV returns with an action comedy series that is more consistently thrilling than it has any right to be.”
- Donald Glover and Maya Erskine’s commanding, likable lead performances
- A fun, effortlessly watchable mission-of-the-week format
- A wide array of scene-stealing guest stars
- Occasional pacing issues throughout its eight episodes
- A few unnecessary homages to the 2005 film that inspired it
Mr. & Mrs. Smith is the platonic ideal of a movie-to-TV adaptation. The new Amazon Prime Video original series is based on the Doug Liman-directed, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie-led 2005 film of the same name, and it doesn’t deviate much from the formula established by its source material. It is, like the movie that inspired it, a thriller about a couple, John (Donald Glover) and Jane Smith (Maya Erskine), who just so happen to be paid assassins. In Liman’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith, though, Pitt’s John and Jolie’s Jane don’t realize they’re both spies. It’s the discovery of their shared profession, in fact, that nearly tears their marriage apart.
The new Mr. & Mrs. Smith, created by Glover and Francesca Sloane (Fargo, Atlanta), inverts that premise. Its pilot follows Glover and Erskine’s ambitious, for-hire mercenaries as they’re knowingly paired up to pose as a married couple, and it isn’t long before their fake relationship becomes a real one. This simple change allows the series to take a different approach to the same themes about love, work, and trust that are present in its 2005 predecessor, and, with eight episodes to tell its story, it’s able to explore its characters’ tumultuous relationship far more deeply than a two-hour feature film ever could.
Once it’s finished delivering its mysterious, violent prologue, which hints at one possible fate for its two leads, Mr. & Mrs. Smith doesn’t waste any time diving into its story. The series premiere, directed by frequent Glover collaborator Hiro Murai, uses a string of cross-cuts and scripted questionnaires to efficiently set up not only the personalities and pasts of Glover’s John and Erskine’s Jane but also the odd, privately-funded program and company responsible for bringing them together. From there, it follows the two as they embark on their “first date”: a tailing mission that takes them across New York City.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith wisely doesn’t deviate much from the structure of its first installment. Across its 8-episode first season, the series sticks close to a mission-of-the-week format that makes each of its chapters feel different from the rest. By dedicating entire episodes to assignments set in the Italian Dolomites and Lake Como, Mr. & Mrs. Smith gets to spotlight its real locations and give John and Jane’s often action-packed adventures enough room to breathe. The series isn’t afraid to show off its budget and lives up to its genre’s standards by offering an experience that is as entertaining as it is eye-catching.
The series’ purposefully episodic format further gives it a chance to pack itself full of noteworthy guest stars, including Sarah Paulson, who shines as a hilariously oblivious couples therapist, and Wagner Moura and Parker Posey, who take over Mr. & Mrs. Smith’s most uncomfortable chapter as a couple whom John and Jane invite over for dinner one night. While he’s given shockingly little to do in the show’s first season, Paul Dano also makes an impact in a role that gives him the rare opportunity to stretch some of his comedic muscles onscreen.
As memorable as its supporting performers are, Mr. & Mrs. Smith’s success rests entirely on the shoulders of Glover and Erskine. The series was originally meant to be led by Glover and his Solo: A Star Wars Story co-star, Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, but she left the project in 2021 over creative differences. Erskine replaced Waller-Bridge several months later, and it’s hard to imagine a version of the show ever existing without her.
The PEN15 co-creator has such palpable chemistry with Glover that the two make it easy to accept the notion that their characters would be willing to embark on such an ill-advised romance. The series mines plenty of drama and comedy from the juxtaposition of Glover’s low-key, delightfully vain performance and Erskine’s confident, prickly turn opposite him. That said, John and Jane’s relationship does progress at a surprisingly brisk pace — they get together far sooner than you might expect — and Mr. & Mrs. Smith’s desire to chart a complete arc across its first season results in its central romance ricocheting from strong to troubled at a sometimes jarring rate.
Its core duo’s romantic issues allow the series to play with its format in the back half of its season, as well as shift its focus away from John and Jane’s globe-trotting missions before they can become repetitive. Erskine and Glover’s chemistry together makes the speed at which their characters’ bond rises and dips seem far more forgivable than it might have otherwise.
The series’ first season isn’t perfect, but Mr. & Mrs. Smith nonetheless emerges as the rare movie-to-TV adaptation that actually seems worthwhile. It’s as entertaining and straightforward as everyone familiar with the film that inspired it will want it to be, but it also isn’t afraid to experiment and — as it does in its finale — go to places that are unexpectedly weird, raw, and goofy. It’s a confidently made series that rightly believes in the strength of its premise and the talent of its leads, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome, either. On the contrary, it leaves you hungry for more. Few could have expected that from a show based on a fairly forgettable mid-2000s action movie, but its unlikely origins make Mr. & Mrs. Smith seem all the more impressive.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith premieres Friday, February 2, on Amazon Prime Video. Digital Trends was given early access to all of the series’ eight episodes.