Donald Glover seems determined to confound expectation with Mr. and Mrs. Smith, a series that marries high thrills with high laughs. Co-created by Glover and Francesca Sloane (a writer and producer on Atlanta), the eight-episode first season is ostensibly based on the 2005 movie that starred Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. This version, however, takes only the name and general premise as inspiration, veering in an edgier, and frankly more interesting, direction.
Glover stars as John, a former military man who joins a mysterious agency, which drops him into a partnership—and marriage—with Jane (Maya Erskine), another recruit eager to shed her previous identity. They’re given a sleek, modern house and a series of assignments, which involve spying, delivering packages, gathering information and, potentially, killing people. They both requested these high risk ops, although it’s unclear exactly who they are working for and what the end game is. Each episode unfolds as a specific mission with its own stakes and targets, allowing Glover and Sloane to tap guest stars like John Turturro, Sharon Horgan, and Ron Perlman. Paul Dano also appears as the couple’s nosy Manhattan neighbor, who seems to suspect the pair might not be who they claim.
In the film, Pitt and Jolie hid their assassin careers from each other, eventually learning they worked for rival agencies. Here, though, our heroes (anti-heroes?) collaborate. The cracks in their arranged coupling appear as they get to know each other during and in between missions. The series is as much about intimacy as it is about espionage. How well do we know our partner? Can we trust them? The stakes are obviously higher, but the reality is the same—it takes as much trust to spy with someone as it does to fart in front of your new husband.
In its first few minutes, Mr. and Mrs. Smith undercuts the idea that you know what’s coming. Glover and Sloane cleverly tap notably hot actors Alexander Skarsgård and Eiza González to play a spy couple on the run. At first, the viewer assumes these are our protagonists. But while it’s fun to watch beautiful people shoot things, Glover and Erskine are more interested in the psychology of the characters. There’s real action and both actors are incredibly attractive, but the series emphasizes their intelligence and skill as they maneuver from mission to mission, sometimes succeeding and sometimes fumbling it completely. Erskine in particular is game for every scene. Her Jane contains layer upon indecipherable layer and she’s fascinating to watch—a huge accolade since her role was initially intended for Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Although the series is light-hearted, with moments of pure comedy, Glover and Sloane also fulfill the brief of a spy show. The episodes take John and Jane to the Dolomites to trail a target around a ski resort and to Lake Como, as well as to glamorous, high profile events in New York City that allow them to dress up. It’s often tongue-and-cheek, like when John and Jane arrive at an art auction only for him to realize he’ll be less conspicuous if he goes in the back as a cater waiter. Mr. and Mrs. Smith never takes itself too seriously, which is a benefit the film never had. The originally concept was fairly ridiculous, as Glover and Sloane acknowledge and play with as John and Jane hurdle towards an inevitable breakup. Is it a masterpiece? No, but it’s fun and compelling—and far better than the movie.