Donald Glover is known as a provocateur, taking aim at pieties around race, celebrity, and the entertainment industry in dark comedies like the shape-shifting Atlanta and last year’s stan satire Swarm. But he also has a romantic side. It has fueled Atlanta story lines about his character Earn’s relationship with his daughter’s mother (Zazie Beetz) and some of the best music he’s released as Childish Gambino.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Glover and co-creator Francesca Sloane’s reimagining of the 2005 action romp that birthed Brangelina, is his first series to foreground that sweeter sensibility. In fact, it’s more reminiscent in tone of Rian Johnson and Natasha Lyonne’s (mostly) lighthearted detective dramedy Poker Face than of its high-octane inspiration about two married assassins who lie to each other about their professions until they’re assigned to kill one another.
In this version, Glover’s John and Pen15 star Maya Erskine’s Jane are desperate strangers united by a mysterious employer in a sham marriage. She’s a super-smart risk taker who got rejected from the CIA due to “antisocial tendencies.” He’s an affable military vet with a dishonorable discharge. Together, they risk their lives in missions that are equal parts glamorous and awkward. One episode has them spying on the collapse of a mogul’s (Sharon Horgan) marriage during a ski vacation in the Dolomites. In another, they indulge the perverse sexual appetites of a billionaire played by John Turturro in a quest to inject him with truth serum.
There’s plenty of action on offer. But, as in Poker Face, the show’s real emphasis is on the characters—and a list of delightful guest stars that includes Michaela Coel, Parker Posey, Alexander Skarsgård, and more. John and Jane fall in love fast, yet their relationship is tested by job-related stress, incompatible priorities, and their very different personalities. Through goofy pillow talk as well as angry confrontations, they hash out violently heightened versions of the problems any couple trying to build a life together might face.
As a metaphor for the us-against-the-world hubris of marriage, it mostly works. Glover and Erskine have a playful sort of chemistry. Yet despite all the combat and chase scenes, the pace sometimes drags; episodes that feel flabby at 45 minutes might’ve been more captivating at a half hour. At the same time, there’s something endearing about the story’s shagginess. Mr. & Mrs. Smith may not be a classic like Atlanta, but it can be a whole lot of fun.Leave a comment