Halfway through the Prime Video reboot of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, the titular spies are in a high-speed chase across Lake Como, having kidnapped a “high-value target” right as he was about to enjoy a healthy snort of blow. Bullets ricochet off their Maserati, then they temporarily shake off their opponents only to be trapped in a town square by wedding-goers who are unbothered by their honking. “Go!” Mrs. Smith urges. Mr. Smith rolls down the window, stammering all the Italian he knows: “Attenzione! uh, per favore, uh.” No one moves. Somebody get this poor man Duolingo.
If the original Mr. and Mrs. Smith were lethal operators, the new John and Jane often appear too inept even to hop a subway turnstile. They are winded by asthma; they neglect to charge their phones. The 2005 Brangelina action-comedy was essentially a high-fashion advertising concept stretched into a movie, “If looks could kill” personified. The premise was two sexy people being sexy together with additional pew-pew-pews. The new television version sends this up in the first few minutes with a buzz-cut hunk (Alexander Skarsgård) and a pouty vixen (Eiza González) slayed by snipers. Rest assured: There are still highly choreographed fight scenes, mega-explosions, weapons extracted from a garter. But this Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Donald Glover and Maya Erskine) are awkward Brooklyn-coded millennials, the type of people whose big-brain idea is probably ordering Chipotle so they can eat the leftovers for next day’s lunch.
They are also strangers to each other, set up by a mysterious commander-cum-chatbot they call “Mr. Hihi” for the oddly chipper way he greets them before introducing a mission. “You draw less attention as a couple,” Jane explains. “It’s an old KGB tactic.” Their relationship is tentative at first — they struggle with small talk, then say “I love you” by the fourth episode. The ludicrous setup allows for a smirking read on relationships in the “situationship” era: Like many, theirs is a romance facilitated by an algorithm, with tenuous parameters negotiated on the fly. Sure, together you just snapped a dead billionaire’s limbs, but maybe it’s too soon to connect on Find My Friends?
Lest we forget that this adaptation was written by Glover, certified weirdo, it is rife with discomfiting quirks. The duo’s romance kick-starts with furtive text exchanges about a pedophile Jane ate pancakes with when she was a teenager and laughter over how she baits a snooping John into thinking she’s into cannibal porn. “You’re sick,” John says, and then the two have sex right after he eggs Jane on to do a blaccent. It’s all a little much, and even more squirm-inducing is how Glover uses Erskine’s casting to double down on his usual off-color race jokes. Phoebe Waller-Bridge was originally slated to play Jane but backed out due to creative differences, so now the guy who once pretended to be a Japanese girl on Tumblr can get meta about his reputation for being obsessed with Asian women.
Consider this exchange in the sixth episode when John is playing poker with a group of Black men he’s targeting. They notice his wedding ring:
“Asian, actually,” John says.
“You a lucky man, because I love me some Asians — they’re low-key conservative. They know their place.”
“Not mine. She’s not like that at all.”
“She must be Filipino.”
“She’s Japanese, but I’ve never met her family so she could be low-key Korean.”
I hate to say it, but Mr. & Mrs. Smith is often funny, an intimate look at the absurdities of bourgeois coupledom. When they’re not being held at gunpoint by children in the Salvadoran jungle or rescuing rich women from armed kidnappers, John and Jane get bogged down by mundanities — fussing over the cheese plate on a double date and bickering in front of a cooing white therapist (Sarah Paulson) who insists on being paid via Venmo. The show’s synopsis contains the tagline “What’s riskier: espionage or marriage?” and the obvious point is to show how coupledom is its own form of treacherousness. As quickly as their relationship accelerates, it dissolves. The show may sometimes smack of Glover fan fiction, but Mr. & Mrs. Smith says something real about intimacy — that you can still stubbornly crave someone’s loyalty and companionship even when you know they’re not the One. And the closer you get, the more likely you are to face disappointment. Mr. and Mrs. Smith flirt and get jealous; they literally want to kill each other. By the time I clicked “play” on the final episode, I had started to root for their relationship, and really, that’s the most fucked-up thing of all.