Remakes tend to come about for a few different reasons. The chance to make more money is obviously appealing, but it’s usually more than that. A new version aims to do what the original did better, or at the very least just as well. The 2005 action-comedy Mr. and Mrs. Smith, starring Brad Smith and Angelina Jolie, was not by any stretch a great movie but a fun outing for the future married couple, and it would be foolish to attempt to find actors with better chemistry. But a new take on the concept could be worthwhile, theoretically, and this occasionally effective Prime Video series seeks to do just that.
This isn’t the first time that this story about assassins posing as a married couple has been set for the small screen. A 2007 series didn’t end up getting picked up with the film’s director, Doug Liman, and writer, Simon Kinberg, on board, and Martin Henderson and Jordana Brewster in the lead roles. Before that, a short-lived 1996 CBS series starring Scott Bakula and Maria Bello featured a similar premise. Once this iteration was announced, it still took time for proposed female star Phoebe Waller-Bridge – who surely would have been fantastic given her success in the latest Indiana Jones movie – to exit due to apparent creative differences with Donald Glover, and for Maya Erskine to be added as a replacement.
What both Glover and Erskine have in common is that they’re talented comedians whose lighthearted humor is best captured in projects like Community and Plus One. But they’re also both known as the creative forces behind their most recent Emmy-nominated TV series, Atlanta and Pen15. Both are ostensibly comedies but boast deeply dramatic underbellies. While they are undeniably talented, are those qualifications the most fitting to propel them to a mainstream action-comedy? Not necessarily.
It does take some time for these two actors to find their groove together, and for the show as a whole to demonstrate that it knows where it’s headed and what it wants to be. Many of their initial scenes together as a pair of spies posing as husband and wife are rooted in awkwardness and discomfort, both playing coy and not revealing much of their true feelings. But as time goes on, they do get close and this show morphs into something different, featuring two people still not totally equipped for their routine missions who care deeply for each other, the ultimate liability.
While Mr. and Mrs. Smith are meant to be the focus of this show, it certainly doesn’t skimp on guest stars. Nearly each episode features a notable appearance or two by well-known performers, reminiscent of something like Poker Face, which was able to enlist top-tier talent for one-shot guest spots. Some, like Wagner Moura and Parker Posey, are put to great use opposite Glover and Erskine, while others, like Sharon Horgan, are given disappointingly little to do. Evidently, getting to be in even one episode of this show is considered a big get given the people enlisted, even if they don’t all get to shine as they should.
Action is also central to this series but can’t quite match the intensity of the Pitt-Jolie pairing, given that both are also experienced action stars who can do their fair share of running, shooting, and hand-to-hand combat. There is some of that here, and seeing Glover and Erskine spring into action when the circumstances compel them can be decently appealing, but the focus is more on the comedy, even if that’s of a more nuanced brand that might inspire enjoyment more than outright laughter. Much of Glover’s behind-the-scenes team from Atlanta, including Co-Creator Francesca Sloane and Director Hiro Murai, join him on this project, implying the closest and most accurate indicator of tone.
While Atlanta was a critical darling, that’s not what Prime Video is likely going for here with its latest effort. This isn’t Reacher or The Terminal List, and will require a more patient audience. That Glover and Erskine are best known for projects streaming on Hulu also doesn’t help with any potential built-in viewership, since Prime Video subscribers just may not know who they are. All eight episodes dropping all at once is an asset in this case, since the series does improve and get more engaging as it goes on, which means that watching the whole thing in quick succession may greatly improve the overall taste this perfectly decent show leaves for its audiences.
Awards Potential: Golden Globes nominations for Glover and Erskine, maybe
Renewability: If it’s a hit with audiences, season two will surely be swiftly on the way! The concept also allows for recasting one or both leads if desired, which could be helpful with longevity.
Overall Score: B
All eight episodes of Mr. & Mrs. Smith will debut on Prime Video starting Friday, Feb. 2.
Network: Prime Video
Principal Cast: Donald Glover, Maya Erskine
Showrunner: Donald Glover, Francesca Sloane
Directors: Karena Evans, Hiro Murai, Amy Seimetz
Writers: Adamma Ebo, Donald Glover, Francesca Sloane
Producers: Amazon MGM Studios, New Regency
DP: Christian Sprenger, Stephen Murphy
Production Design: Gerald Sullivan
Costume Design: Madeline Weeks
Editor: Greg O’Bryant
Score: David Fleming