Mr. and Mrs. Smith brings the spy genre into the 21st century, with satirical, surrealist edges

Funnier and deeper than the 2005 Pitt/Jolie film it shares its name with, this series starring Donald Glover and Maya Erskine satirizes the gig economy and the state of relationships in the app age.

The new Mr. & Mrs. Smith pairs Donald Glover (Atlanta, Community, Swarm) and Maya Erskine (PEN15, Blue Eye Samurai) is a clear departure from the 2005 Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie blockbuster of the same name, shifting the premise considerably. Glover and co-creator and showrunner Francesca Sloane (Atlanta, Fargo, The First) try to inject a dose of artistic sensitivity into the series by invoking Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage and  Atlanta‘s surrealism and work-from-home relationship satire into the spy thriller genre, creating a unique universe that can at times be unpredictable and captivating, but also very entertaining. Imagine The Americans set in the age of the gig economy and dating apps.

Glover and Erskine’s on-screen chemistry is undeniable, infusing their characters with a charming blend of wit and vulnerability. The series leverages their comedic backgrounds, trying to offer a counterintuitive yet deeply allegorical narrative. The show cleverly mirrors the absurdities of modern technology-impaired relationships as John and Jane navigate a world filled with missions, all-knowing chatbots and luxurious backdrops. The humour punctuates the drama, striving to turn the violence inherent in their spy lives into a heightened form of dramedy.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith stars Donald Glover and Maya Erskine

As the narrative unfolds, the creators take a page from Sloane and Glover’s playbook, echoing the structural evolution seen in Atlanta. Initially at the forefront, the spy element subtly becomes peripheral, and the relationship takes centre stage. The episodes, named after relationship milestones rather than espionage feats, emphasize the couple’s journey over the covert missions. It’s an intelligent shift that adds layers to the narrative, trying to elevate it from the typical action spy thriller series. What sets Mr. & Mrs. Smith apart is its ability to blend genres seamlessly. It’s a rom-com, a John Wick-inspired gun-fu action series and a relationship drama about a couple trying to find their footing while balancing their work and family dynamics. 

Mr. & Mrs. Smith thrives on the mystery-of-the-week style, fused with relationship drama-of-the-week elements, introducing a succession of intriguing guest stars and cameos, including Alexander Skarsgård, Eiza Gonzalez, Paul Dano, Wagner Moura, Parker Posey and even Beverly Glover — yes, Donald Glover’s actual mother playing John’s mom, adding a special pinch of wholesomeness to the world. In many ways, the approach to casting and storytelling is quite reminiscent of another great TV show, Poker Face, starring Natasha Lyonne. 

But the show’s central focus is John and Jane’s real and intimate moments, from a tentative first date to a revealing vacation whose roles and eccentric cameos perfectly intertwine with the heightened reality of Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s spy universe. The format is unpredictable, keeping each episode engaging and ensuring the series doesn’t fall prey to its formulaic traps often associated with this kind of spy/relationship drama. The show immediately takes a satirical turn into the realm of the app-driven rhythm of modern times, portraying John and Jane as a pair of operatives put together by an app and forced by constant notifications into navigating short assignments with the casualness of an Uber-esque spy agency. The company communication is done via a text message AI chatbot app, adding a layer of relatability and dark humour, making every mission feel like another soulless, precarious gig.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith review
Mr. and Mrs. Smith brings the spy genre into the 21st century, with satirical, surrealist edges

The series features an all-star cast of modern prestige television. Long-time Donald Glover collaborator Hiro Murai (Atlanta, Barry, The Bear) directs the first two episodes, and Karena Evans (P-Valley, Snowfall, Dead Ringers) directs two more. Another Glover collaborator and cinematographer of Atlanta, Christian Sprenger, actress, writer and producer Amy Seimetz and Donald Glover direct one episode each. All together with Sloane’s sensitivity as the showrunner, they expertly navigate all the shifts and turns, experimenting with the show’s tone while trying to maintain a captivating, stylish world of original characters, cool settings and immersive situations. 

Off-screen, Mr. & Mrs. Smith made waves with a viral guerrilla marketing campaign, shrouded in secrecy. The campaign fuelled speculation, confusion and frustration, unfolding with a series of seemingly unrelated inexplicable events: a daring art heist at Timothy Goodman’s exhibition, Tyra Banks sandwiched between furries at an NBA game and stand-up comedian Mark Normand’s unexpected stage evacuation mid-set in a small New York comedy club. 

The campaign was documented on the mysterious Instagram page @hi_hi_, later revealed as an extension of the show, where Mr. HiHi turned out to be the all-knowing AI-chatbot-like entity. These real-life incidents sparked massive online speculation, but rather than bringing attention to a stylistic, artistically rich work of elevated TV, these shenanigans only detract from the overall experience. As cool as the show might be, the campaign was cringy, killing the coolness and quality, reducing it to another empty product, a piece of content to go viral and be instantly forgotten. 

As the season concludes, Mr. & Mrs. Smith doesn’t just rely on a simple cliffhanger. It wraps up with a sense of finality, a rarity in the streaming era, leaving us both wanting more. I hope we get more seasons so I can dive back into this exciting world and have more quality time with these characters I fell in love with. The show’s success lies in its unpredictability and ability to craft a story and characters as sexy and mysterious as they are humorous and relatable, leaving me longing for more. ■

Season one of Mr. and Mrs. Smith is now streaming on Prime Video.

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