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How Mr. & Mrs. Smith Redefined the Spy Genre for a Modern Age

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When Mr. & Mrs. Smith was announced as a TV series for Prime Video in 2021, there were plenty of reasons to be skeptical about the project.


It was based on a movie of the same name that did reasonably well but isn’t especially well-remembered.


The announced starring duo of Donald Glover and Phoebe Waller-Bridge was intriguing, especially considering that both performers were credited as creators.

On the Floor Together


Both had a history of starring in and creating successful series, including Glover with Atlanta and Waller-Bridge with Fleabag. Plus, Waller-Bridge served as the showrunner in the first season of Killing Eve, another prestige series about an assassin.


But then Waller-Bridge dropped out of the project just a few months after it was announced due to “creative differences,” with Maya Erskine replacing her as the show’s female lead. Glover and Francesca Sloane are credited as the co-creators.

Maya Erskine and Donald Glover, on Prime Video's "Mr. & Mrs. Smith"


Beyond that, the series had its premiere delayed repeatedly, from 2022 to 2023 and then again until early 2024, once the strikes hit last year.


However, once Mr. & Mrs. Smith did arrive, it was almost universally praised by critics, and audiences appeared to respond well, too. The main reasons were strong casting, a stylish visual cadence, and consistently witty writing.


It all added up to something new compared to past shows about assassins and the show’s source material.


Two very different assassins

Maya Erskine on Mr. & Mrs. Smith


The original Mr. & Mrs. Smith was a movie released in 2005, directed by Doug Liman and starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.


It was the story of a married couple who each learn that the other is an assassin, with the two of them working for rival criminal outfits.


The film, which has the two in love at other times and gunning for each other at others, starred Pitt and Jolie at the height of their movie stardom.


And, of course, the film is better known — to Hollywood gossip mavens, anyway — as the movie where Pitt and Jolie started dating than for anything that happened on screen.


A TV adaptation was in the works not long after the movie, with Martin Henderson and Jordana Brewster cast as the couple. However, that version never progressed past the pilot stage, and the project remained dormant for over a decade.

Maya Erskine and Donald Glover


Following the delays and behind-the-scenes difficulties, Mr. and Mrs. Smith finally went forward this year and were almost universally well-received.


The key differences


Mr. & Mrs. Smith, like the movie, is about a married couple who are assassins. But the show has a premise that’s a bit different.


Rather than a couple who each find out the other is an assassin, the Prime Video version is about a pair of assassins in an “arranged” marriage and navigating whether they should become an actual couple.


Plus, the new series utilizes more modern spy tech rather than a traditional spy handler character or messages that self-destruct like on the old Mission: Impossible, with the question of who they’re working for kept mysterious. 

On a Stakeout on Mr. & Mrs. Smith


The plot has more in common with that of another spy show, The Americans, although without the historical and geopolitical resonance.


Both versions of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, however, feature a plot turn in which the two Smiths are in a position to try to kill one another.


One main reason that the show works is that Glover and Erskine are believable as spies and action stars. Another is that the series puts the characters in a wide variety of different situations.


Glover is known to audiences for his work on Community and Atlanta and his rap work as Childish Gambino. Erskine is best known for the TV series Pen15 and the movie Plus One.


Their chemistry proved very strong, and the show likely would not work if it weren’t.

Deadly Duo


Meanwhile, the show differs from most other spy TV series because it’s more about marital complications than spycraft.


In between missions, we see them arguing about whether they want to have kids, which is not typical spy TV fare.


The show also leans into TV’s episodic nature, telling outstanding standalone stories. The best was the fourth episode, featuring Wagner Moura and Parker Posey as the “other” Mr. & Mrs. Smith, with whom the couple compares notes.


The premise also made room for quality guest appearances from John Turturro, Ron Perlman, Paul Dano, and Alexander Skarsgard.


A visual feast

Donald Glover for Prime Video


One outstanding thing about Mr. & Mrs. Smith is its stylized look.


The show uses several directors throughout the season, including Atlanta veteran Hiro Murai for the first two episodes, Karena Evans for the third and fifth, Amy Seimetz for the sixth and seventh, and Glover himself for the finale.


Action-oriented streaming TV series don’t always have the budget to portray major setpieces believably, but Mr & Mrs. Smith never had that problem.


The series is as comfortable with elaborate outdoor shootouts and car chase scenes as in a therapist’s office.


Will there be more?

Maya Erskine for Prime


While Mr. & Mrs. Smith ended on a cliffhanger, it’s unclear whether the series will return for a second season.


Amazon has not announced a renewal, and the first season took a lot of delay and complication to get off the ground.


However, Amazon has said that the series was one of its most popular debuts ever, so the audience appetite for more of the Smiths appears to be there.

Stephen Silver is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. You can follow more of his work on his Substack The SS Ben Hecht, by Stephen Silver.You can follow him on X.





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