If Mr. and Mrs. Smith was a spy series on Netflix, it’d be the best spy series in the history of the streaming network. But this is not a Netflix spy series, and it’s not competing with The Night Agent, The Recruit, or FUBAR. This is a long-in-development spy series from the “visionary” mind behind Atlanta that at one point had Phoebe Waller-Bridge as its co-creator before Donald Glover decided it wouldn’t work because he wasn’t comfortable enough to roast her allegedly bad ideas.
Against those higher expectations, Mr. and Mrs. Smith comes off as a solid Netflix binge but only a mediocre Donald Glover offering. What might set a uniquely Donald Glover series apart from a routine Netflix spy show? A Donald Glover spy series would present better, more complicated, and more dynamic characters, and that’s where Mr. and Mrs. Smith falls short. There are eight episodes that follow the trajectory of a marriage between two spies, and the series seems so intent on sticking to that formula that it doesn’t do what Atlanta often did so well: Marinate. Explore the characters. Go on diversions. Get weird. Breathe a little.
Worse still is that Maya Erksine’s Jane Smith is written as a cold, detached self-described sociopath, which feels like a cheat, a way for Donald Glover to avoid writing a well-rounded female character while holding his own character out to be the charming but flawed man we love to root for because he loves his mother! John Smith is a dashing screw-up with whom we are clearly meant to sympathize when Jane Smith has to clean up his mess while she gets personality points deducted for being good at her job. In fact, one of the few traits that Jane Smith has is jealousy, something that seems to be laughably beneath John Smith, which almost feels like a reason a female co-creator might want to abandon the project.
But again, as a formulaic, paint-by-numbers spy series that goes through all the stages of a marriage while shooting at various bad guys, it’s a great series. But if that’s what Amazon had wanted, they could have hired anyone. Why bring in Donald Glover (and Phoebe Waller-Bridge) if they just wanted a solid, run-of-the-mill B+ series featuring strong performances and a few decent action sequences? Mr. and Mrs. Smith is a fun binge, entertaining, and occasionally even clever (hihi!), but there’s nothing special about it. And that ending — no spoilers — doesn’t make it unique or indie. It just feels like another way to avoid putting the effort into writing.
If it sounds like I’m being overly harsh, it’s because I am being overly harsh. Mr. and Mrs. Smith is a good binge that should have been a compelling, thought-provoking series with a distinct vibe that would have given us something to mull over each week. It’s not. It’s just a well-made spy series that is fun to watch but leaves little lasting impression, save for some strong guest performances from Paul Dano, Michaela Coel, Parker Posey, and especially Ron Perlman. For a guy who bragged about his vision six times in a recent interview, it’s surprising how little any such vision exists here.