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Not for the first time, off-camera drama has threatened to upstage on-screen action in Mr & Mrs Smith. Twenty years after Doug Liman’s movie blockbuster about married assassins was eclipsed by the love affair between leads Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, the TV remake has had to weather a professional split between Donald Glover and co-star Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who left the project in 2021.
We may never know what those “creative differences” were, or what might have been had the Fleabag creator remained, but Prime Video’s slick, easy-viewing series bears no sign of disrupted development — and gladly little trace of the rather second-rate film on which it’s based. While the movie was largely content to place sexy people near big explosions, this reincarnation, co-created by Glover and Francesca Sloane (who collaborated on the outstanding Atlanta), is a more satisfyingly dialogue-driven, character-led comedy.
Glover and Maya Erskine take the husband and wife roles formerly played by Pitt and Jolie. But unlike the movie — where each spouse was unaware that their partner was also a contract killer — this Mr and Mrs Smith are two (pseudonymised) operatives coupled together by a shadowy organisation. Neither knows anything about who hired them or who the other person really is — besides the less-than-reassuring fact that they too are an amoral gun-for-hire with a life they’re willing to abandon.
At her recruitment interview, we see Jane reveal that she’s been held back by what she is told are “antisocial tendencies”. John meanwhile recalls being characterised as “emotionally unintelligent”. Not exactly qualities that are conducive to a successful marriage, even a fake one. Yet as we follow the “newly-weds” both at home (an enviable Manhattan townhouse) and on various weekly missions of spycraft and sabotage — many involving eye-catching guest stars such as John Turturro, Sharon Horgan, Wagner Moura and Paul Dano — we see their initial mistrust develop into a tentative curiosity. Then a sparky repartee. And finally a full-blown romance.
Familiar and slight though the set-up may be, the series rarely feels contrived or stale thanks to the show’s breezy screwball energy and a pair of charming performances by Glover and Erskine, who exude an effortless, effervescent chemistry.
On Amazon Prime Video from February 2
First appeared on www.ft.com