Let’s clear this at the outset — the new Prime Video show Mr. & Mrs. Smith bears no resemblance to its 2005 namesake. While it may borrow an oft-used plot device of undercover spies, Mr. & Mrs. Smith is a beast of its own, deviating exponentially from the way it approaches its protagonists John (Donald Glover) and Jane (Maya Erskine). Couching a relationship dramedy in the high-stakes world of international espionage, the show almost tricks you into caring about a pretend marriage.
If Villanelle in Killing Eve received her assignments in the form of cryptic postcards, John and Jane get their instructions from ‘Hihi’, a faceless chatbot-like entity. Driving home the modern landscape that the show unfolds in, John and Jane were hired and matched by Hihi’s organisation to carry out ‘high-risk’ assignments while pretending to be married to each other. A New York brownstone, where two wedding rings are delivered in an envelope, seals the deal for John and Jane who begin to take their first hesitant steps into a dangerous employment.
The titles of the show’s eight episodes, give away the intentions of creators Francesca Sloane and Donald Glover. From ‘First Date’ to ‘First Vacation’ and ‘Infidelity’, the episode titles reflect the microscopic focus the show places on the contours of John and Jane’s relationship. Two seemingly lonely strangers, who are brought together after they answer some questions on a screen, dive headfirst into a relationship that comes with its own joys and pitfalls. To this standard script, Sloane and Grover add a bucketload of guns and explosions, as John and Jane navigate their relationship milestones. They flirt in the mundane moments of packing up before a hit job, express hope in the anxious seconds when the whole thing feels like it’s about to blow up and console each other in the bloodied tired aftermath. Hiro Murai’s influence, who serves as an Executive Producer, is palpable in most comedic scenes of the show that front a deadpan contemporary style.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (English)
Creators: Francesca Sloane and Donald Glover
Cast: Donald Glover, Maya Erskine, Wagner Moura, Parker Posey and others
Runtime: 45 minutes – 1 hour
Storyline: Two strangers are hired by a spy agency to carry out missions while pretending to be married. As John and Jane Smith carry out their espionage duties, they must also work to save their marriage
Buoyed by a bevy of guest actors, that includes Paul Dano, John Turturro, Sharon Horgan, Wagner Moura, and Parker Posey, Mr. & Mrs. Smith serves up a constant rotation of missions as John and Jane go from becoming amateurs to seasoned spies. Soon, you also realise that unlike the first mission, where we were privy to tiny details, the show begins to jump along taking us weeks and months into the future. With their increased professional expertise, we are also made to realise that things are not running smoothly in their relationship.
What starts as a balanced attempt at pitting the thrill of a hitjob, against the uncertainties of a new relationship, quickly shifts focus to the latter. The show will inevitably be held in comparison to FX’s The Americans (2013-18) which was about two KGB agents, pretending to be an American married couple. Mr. & Mrs. Smith can be called its less political, modern cousin, though it falls slightly short of being held up to the scrutiny.
Where The Americans especially excelled is where Mr. & Mrs. Smith chose to cut corners. While John and Jane’s relationship is dissected finely, the individuals themselves are left alone. Strangers to each other, John and Jane are also not made familiar to the audiences in an individual capacity. Whether that is a writing choice or simply something excluded due to time constraints, it renders the angst between them a little stale. A show that prefers to turn away from the mystery of espionage, and towards the miseries of their relationship would have benefited from exploring these characters more in relation to their choices and the world in which they are creating this havoc.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith is a grimmer, more sensitive, spy-infused take on the flashpoints and hurdles in a contemporary relationship. At eight episodes, it is also easily bingeable, as you venture forth expecting high stakes espionage, but soon realise that the stakes lie in the relationship that John and Jane share. What could have been a wholly fascinating show, leaves behind a lot of potential for improvement.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith is available for streaming on Prime Video