Mr. & Mrs. Smith

Mr. & Mrs. Smith: Season 1

Mr. & Mrs. Smith Season 1
Genre: Spy Thriller
Service: Prime Video
Creator: Donald Glover
Release Year: 2024
Watch: Prime Video

This is a Donald Glover joint. Which at one point had also been a Phoebe Waller-Bridge joint joint. Joint joint? What a weird word. Anyhow, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, a series loosely based on a 2005 movie I once saw on a plane and didn’t care for, could have been a very different series than it turned out to be. The manic, almost cartoonishness of Waller-Bridges’ spy thriller, Killing Eve, would have brought a whole different energy to this way-more subdued, way more Atlanta show about an adult relationship couched in the chaos of a spy narrative. Not better, not worse, necessarily, but different. It would have been interesting to see what the mashup of those two styles produced, of course. But as it stands, we only have Glover’s version — and Maya Erskine in Waller-Bridges’ acting role — to judge.

Admittedly I rolled my eyes all the way back into my head when I first heard about this series getting green lit. Yet another middling film that was more of a thing because of the personal lives of its stars, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (and, transitively, Jennifer Aniston), than the film itself. This was the weirdo IP they decided to recycle? Are there no original ideas anymore? Who was asking for this? Why! Yet if anyone could bring something to it, it’s Glover and Waller-Bridge. And then she dropped out. And while it lost a little bit of intrigue for me imagining how that would work, I did love Atlanta and appreciate Glover’s brand of genius. They did take the original concept and invert it. Instead of a married couple both living with the secret that they work for enemy spy agencies, we have two individuals made a couple by a single spy agency that asks them to masquerade as a couple as part of their cover. So, rather than the setup surrounding the tension of a couple mired in the boredom of a long-term relationship spicing it up by realizing the other is actually a sexy spy (kind of a la True Lies), we have two strangers forced into forming a new relationship while embroiling themselves in life and death situations.

I met Ms. Hipster in the days before the Internet. In a bar. In college. Probably the same way the original Mr. and Mrs. Smith met one another. Of course Brad and Angelina met on a movie set and then… Well, this not the meta conversation we’re here to have. The point is that this 2024 version of the Smiths are put together based on a questionnaire run through an algorithm. Just like a dating app! And then are essentially forced to both date and work together while also dodging death and destruction with every individual mission. Not your typical start to a relationship, but obviously a mirror of modern romance and the pressures of work in a mission-by-mission gig economy.

The thing is, I barely thought about what this arrangement meant in the larger scheme of things. The show is a vibe. It’s funny. And sometimes thrilling. But also plays like a two-hander, often putting Glover and Erskine in rooms, or even exotic locales, exploring their relationship and each other’s shortcomings rather than assassinating dudes or procuring secret stuff or people. The look is not unlike Atlanta, with its naturalistic lighting and almost fog-like veil that creates a kind of a rich, dream-like quality to things. Several of the episodes are directed by Atlanta’s director, Hiro Murai, and the rest definitely pick up his stylistic and tonal choices. That palette, the incredible settings and even the amazing wardrobe choices of the characters, combined with scripts that aren’t overly verbose or literary, but certainly come across as smart, make the series feel warm and lived-in in a way some of the expensive, marquee series don’t. It’s not overly slick or technicolor or showy. There are car chases around Europe and foot chases around NYC — which you know must have cost mountains of cash — but you never feel as though the creators were jetting off to the Italian Dolomites or filming in the real Manhattan instead of Toronto just to show the money on screen.

I think where the show really differentiates itself in the genre is in its tone and approach to the material. I’m sure there was some desire on the part of the Amazon execs for this to be a shoot-em-up, action-adventure caper-of-the-week thing. And I think at some level Glover and his team said “sure,” and gave them just enough to believe him. Or at least gave them enough elements of that to either fool them into thinking they were following orders or put them off long enough to actually put out the oddball show that they actually ended up producing. It almost feels like they’re trolling those folks with the cheeseball false beginning starring Alexander Skarsgård and Eiza González. Because while there are certainly feints like this toward some of the original material and its more commercial approach, it subverts the genre constantly and clearly only does flying bullets to get to quieter, more intimate moments that often feel more like a bittersweet indie dramedy — sometimes more Marriage Story — than what it purports to be on the surface. And, yeah, sometimes it can be goofy, like the episode where they must tote a very immature Ron Perlman — who is very obviously supposed to be a child surrogate in their relationship — to safety while murderous ninja types descend from every nook and cranny. Other episodes do have a high body count and some others don’t engage in action at all and mostly take place in a therapist’s (Sarah Paulson) office. It feels like a show that’s interested in something different than what you generally imagine this type of show to be interested in.

Ultimately I think this was a really engaging show. Glover has such a different sensibility and a unique approach than other television creators. He has a very specific POV, though it is challenging sometimes to get to the heart of it. And I think that’s on purpose. There are layers in all of his work that only kind of hit you after you watch it. Things and conversations that seem pretty straight-forward while you’re in it, but reveal themselves to be something else later on. I can’t claim to understand all of it. But I really like being part of it while it’s happening. And laughing at times. And being surprised in others. I know I’m not quite astute enough to uncover all of the layers, but that doesn’t diminish my enjoyment. I will be curious to see if his team and Amazon decide to continue the adventure with a second season. Based on his broad interests, it wouldn’t surprise me if he decides he’s told the story he wanted to tell and demurs. But it also wouldn’t surprise me if the series came back six years from now. And like everything Glover does, I will welcome it with open arms because he is a deeply fascinating dude. That is all.