Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Friday, Feb. 23, 2024
The Observer

Panethiere Mr Mrs Smith Web Graphic Color

‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’ and its captivating humanity

Amazon Prime Video's “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” triumphs not through its fights or spy sequences, but through the genuine, stirring romance that its genre elements ultimately service

“Mr. and Mrs. Smith” does not need its sharp and varied action and espionage to succeed. The action in the series can feel incidental beside the central romance; this is a love story about two people who happen to be spies. While its tonal experimentations may not always land for the audience, its confrontation between the cold, corporate and inhuman with its central love and warmth makes the show resonant and relatable through its impossible scenarios.

The best element of the show is the central romance between the Smiths, which unfolds through unusual yet resonant and believable dialogues and encounters, as well as relatable difficulties that feel genuine. Donald Glover and Maya Erskine’s performances as John and Jane, respectively, are naturalistic and outstanding, fully selling the audience on their relationship during all its turns. Their jokes and attraction are as palpable as their frustration and concealed self-hatred. Their dialogue is so clever and convincing that their relationship needs no espionage action around it to be compelling. A late-night conversation in an early episode in which the two begin to explore their feelings for each other is more enrapturing than the car chase and interrogation immediately preceding it.

The show does wait a long time before unveiling many of the motivations for the two. While Glover and Erskine embody their motivations perfectly throughout, the audience could have known sooner without disengaging from the narrative, and the show would have avoided the massive exposition dump it eventually needs.

The espionage element of the show effectively amplifies the show’s tensions. The faceless “company” for which the Smiths work presents a dehumanization that juxtaposes with the achingly real romance. The chatbot interface the Smiths use throughout the show, named Hihi, is one of the most persistent examples of this juxtaposition, as Hihi compresses the Smiths‘ human complexity into their pure corporate success. The insecurity of the world of espionage builds upon the Smiths’ relational insecurity to heighten the tension, with uneasy music and cinematography bringing the audience into the anxiety of the show.

The lavish yet cold sets in which many key scenes unfold also unsettle the audience and bring viewers into the emotional experience of the leads. Sometimes, though, the unease the show creates can distance viewers instead of intriguing them, to the detriment of the romance. As for the action scenes, while they are good, they are seldom as compelling as the dramatic conversations that are the center of the show. The final episode is the exception for this, as it features the show’s most extensive action sequences and loads them with great emotional weight, making them by far the show’s most evocative fights.

The marriage of the show’s romance, which could carry a story by itself, with its genre elements makes magic. A couples therapy session takes on a comedic dimension when the disagreements are between spies who cannot explain the work situations that are dividing them. A debate on having children takes a twist when the Smiths have to guard the infantile, foul old man Toby, played by Ron Perlman, who needs the same care as their hypothetical child would. Truth serum makes two appearances in the show, once for comedic effect and once in one of the emotional climaxes of the show, a moment that may bring the audience to tears. Not all the show’s scenarios succeed, such as a spy scene early on extending a gross and uncomfortable sexual joke, but for the most part, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” builds upon the excellent foundation of the romance with its espionage and action concepts, serving as an excellent example of how to build a genre piece around a unique idea — here the relationship between these specific characters.

“Mr. and Mrs. Smith” is a romantic adventure worth joining. The genre elements are not exemplary, but they are also not the point of the show. This is a story about two people with genuine and genuinely messy flaws falling into and fighting to sustain a relationship. No matter the circumstances, that story is captivating.