New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Review: ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith’ makes vulnerability sexy

Co-created by NYU alum Donald Glover and a twist on the 2005 film of the same name, the series is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
The first episode of “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” was released on Feb. 2, 2024. (Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video)

Warning: This review contains spoilers for “Mr. & Mrs. Smith.”

You probably didn’t watch “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” (2005) for the plot, unless that counts ogling at Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as they fire guns haphazardly and grimace at one another. But if you were disappointed by the shallow storytelling and lack of character complexity from the original, the 2024 Amazon Prime Video series — co-created by Francesca Sloane and Donald Glover — is the perfect remedy, offering both sexy spies and a captivating portrayal of marriage in just eight episodes.

“Mr. & Mrs. Smith” (2024) are inverses of the 2005 spy couple; they’re complete strangers forced into a union under aliases John (Donald Glover) and Jane Smith (Maya Erskine), tasked with cooperating on high-risk missions for a mysterious agency in order to live a life of luxury and affluence. Not only are their espionage abilities and physical strength tested with each mission, but their marriage is too.

From the first episode, it’s hard to envision John and Jane being a perfect pair, especially since they initially agree to cut ties and cash out after a few missions. In their job interviews, they describe themselves in starkly opposite ways — John is aware that he’s “emotionally unintelligent,” and Jane owns up to her “antisocial tendencies.” A sociable mama’s boy and reclusive cat lady shouldn’t work together — and they don’t in many ways — but those incompatibilities are what make their relationship compelling and authentic.

The pair frequently engage in awkward, endearing banter as they learn to embrace each other’s vulnerabilities. They share their disdain for violent cartoons before having their first kiss and sharing a moment in bed laughing about Jane being fart shy as they navigate physical proximity. The Smiths’ dialogue throughout the series feels natural, reflecting common marriage issues like peer comparison, sexual dissatisfaction, and addressing microaggressive comments and arguments. Unlike the characters from the 2005 film — stereotypical man-woman caricatures lamenting about the woes of suburban life and losing the spark of marriage — their 2024 counterparts are attractive and charming because of their flaws, not in spite of them.

The missions sent by the organization’s chat-bot “Hihi” parallel the couple’s development, with their challenges exposing weaknesses in the Smiths’ relationship. In the second episode, John and Jane accidentally over-administer a truth serum to a real estate mogul due to a miscommunication. As the chat-bot instructs the couple to get on all fours like dogs and kiss, the hijinks are overtly comical. His frantic stream of consciousness reveals the couple’s insecurities and fears of being alone, which ultimately pushes them to learn how to trust one another. Episode five broaches the all-too common question of starting a family when the Smiths have to babysit a fully-grown criminal. While he stands in their doorway declaring he got sick, the couple bicker back and forth about their contrasting opinions on children, revealing Jane’s lingering discontent with their marriage.

The Smiths’ relationship is as much of a mission as their careers in espionage. In leaving their old lives behind, John and Jane are solely responsible for how much they let each other in. John tries to hide the fact that he secretly chats with his mother each day, and Jane won’t open up about her strained relationship with her father. The two ebb and flow between finding comfort in the mystery and putting their skills to the test to uncover the truth about their past lives. They learn to communicate and cooperate in all parts of their lives, be it when sharing their whereabouts, bugging phones and delivering packages of explosive cakes, or when discussing their boundaries and outlooks on marriage in therapy.

While their track record as spies is less than favorable, with them failing three missions and accidentally killing high-profile targets, they grow to embrace their incompatibilities and their feelings for one another, which quickly snowball into that of a real marriage. The finale lends itself well to a possible second season, with the two sharing an earnest moment about their budding love while being hunted down by other agents, leaving the audience unsure if their escape plan was as strong as their affection for one another.

Much of “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” is absurdly comical, like Jane planting cannibal porn on her laptop to catch John spying on her, or Paul Dano being their hot, well-read neighbor. Still, the series is truly elevated when it spotlights the rawness of human relationships. Neither John nor Jane are portrayed as the perfect partner. Both of them cause pain to one another as they cross emotional boundaries and clash head-on — like Jane paraphrases from the book “The Prophet,” both joy and sorrow are inseparable, fundamental parts of being.

John and Jane are spies in a crazy, high-tech universe, but they don’t hesitate to remind you that they’re unabashedly human. And while that might not be fan service like dominatrix-assassin Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s buzzcut, being vulnerable in love is arguably the new sexy.

Contact Dani Biondi at [email protected].

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