A new remake of the iconic 2005 spy caper Mr and Mrs Smith that gave the world Brangelina? At hindsight the idea did not sit right. Then there were delays and major casting changes with Fleabag star Phoebe Waller-Bridge initially attached to star with Donald Glover. Phoebe was soon replaced by Maya Erskine. So many changes? Not a good sign, one would say. But rest all the cases, because the new Prime Video series, which is co-created by Glover and Francesca Sloane, is unexpectedly good- even better than what the 2005 movie gave us. This is a rare update on a known central setup that is refreshing and utterly charming. (Also read: Expats review: Nicole Kidman leads Lulu Wang’s poignant and well-crafted series)
Does it work?
From the smartly crafted second episode itself, when John (Donald Glover) and Jane (Maya Erskine) share their first kiss in a truly weird moment midway into their assignment, it becomes palpable how this show is a departure from what was expected. For all its dazzle, the 2005 feature was mainly about the hypertension knocking off between the two, where the emphasis was more on action and aggression, rather than trusting onto the actual relationship that developed between them. Here, with a much wider space in a new television series, the creators find a dynamic alternative to the action set pieces. Instead, the focus is on the two people- cleverly mining out the details and revealing with each new mission. Plus, a set of terrific cameos from Paul Dano, Sharon Horgan, Michaela Coel, and Sarah Paulson add to the charm.
The introduction is rather sly- where the two Smiths die on a mission so an alternate replacement is worked in place quickly. Glover and Erskine find themselves covering up as a pair, and communicating through a computer who informs them about their next job. These two are an idiosyncratic pair, cackling with nervous energy and charm. Each new episode brings a new assignment for the two, and by the end they know themselves a bit more. These are spies who belong to the real world: they make mistakes, and have each other’s back. It puts the characters first and foremost, where the missions play out from their shared, intimate spaces, interweaving the (darkly funny) personal to the (tactical) professional codes. “Let’s make a certain amount of money that we both feel good about, and then we can part our ways,” Jane tells in the beginning, to which John cheekily nods. We all know things don’t work like that.
Each episode is constricted with a patient, unshowy eye for contemporary detail. David Fleming’s wondrous score lifts up the mood when required, as director Hiro Murai elegantly switches between slow burn to climactic. The passage of time is so evident between the two- in the small ways they tend to operate and trust, navigating each new mission like seasoned operators. The nervous energy of their newbie-selves are long gone. Sometimes it is deliberately slow, while at the next moment, the intrigue dials up a few notches with breathtaking precision and clarity. Its a spy action-thriller, a character study and an incisive study on governance all rolled into one. Glover and Erskine work like a dream, and share an easy and beguiling chemistry, which is essential to the show as it dials up a few notches of tension in the final episodes. Glover makes a confident presence in steadily revealing his attraction, while Erskine is a riot as the impassive and warm counterpart. Together, they make every second of Mr. and Mrs. Smith a consistently wicked delight. Do not miss it.