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Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2024)

When we heard that Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino), stars in, wrote, and is executive producer of the new Amazon Prime series Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2024), we had to take a look. If you recall, Glover received great acclaim with his musical project, Childish Gambino which included songs like This is America (2018) which featured searing political commentary about race. Glover is also famous for the breakthrough FX dramedy series Atlanta (2016-2022) which received wide critical acclaim. For Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Glover is a force behind the series which is co-created and written by Francesca Sloan and co-stars Maya Erskine from the series PEN15. Glover’s adaptation follows the premise of the 2005 Hollywood film of the same name which featured Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as a married couple and secret agents whose spy credentials were initially unknown to each other. (Indeed, it was on that film set that Pitt, who was married to Jennifer Aniston at the time, began his romantic relationship with Jolie whom he later married.) But unlike the original film in which Jolie and Pitt’s characters start off as a married couple, this series begins with two complete strangers agreeing to work for an intelligence agency. The catch that drops Glover and Jane (played by the Japanese-American Maya Erskine) into an unexpected “professional” situation is that they are paired up as a married couple for cover, John and Jane.

While Glover’s acting chops are also known for his comedy projects like the TV sit-com Community that aired on NBC (2009-2014) and Yahoo! Screen (2015), as we know too well, black male leads in action films or TV series have been rare outside of the blacksploitation genre of the 1970s (think Richard Roundtree and Jim Brown) or often stereotypical gang and crime-related representations. So, with this new incarnation of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Glover joins an elite group of  black men in Hollywood who have been able to break through in this genre, including the Black Panther himself – Chadwick Boseman (may he rest in peace) – John Boyega, Mike Colter, Curtis James Jackson (aka 50 Cent), Idris Elba, Jamie Foxx, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Michael B. Jordan, Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr. (aka Common), Shemar Moore, Mark Sinclair (aka Vin Diesel), James Todd Smith (aka LL Cool J), Will Smith, and before them, Laurence Fishburne, Danny Glover, Samuel L. Jackson, Wesley Snipes, Denzel Washington, and Carl Weathers.

Reasons to sit up and take notice? For one, we found this story unique for its multi-racial, non-white leads and the way their identities are authentically intertwined with their characters’ stories. Glover’s reboot is similar to the original and 2023 remake of White Men Can’t Jump in how it centres a cross-racial relationship and its tensions in a way that does not feel forced, but instead is a natural part of the story and the evolution of its characters. (Of course, a quick assessment of the media landscape means that a very different, white-washed version of this series was always the more likely studio choice.)

Glover plays John Smith, a black spy in New York City who must partner with his assigned wife and co-spy Jane. Both characters use their racial identities to their advantage. In one scene at a luxurious art auction, John decides his best bet for cover is to enter through the kitchen and circulate at the event as part of the catering staff. Similarly, the two sleuth around Chinatown and the grimy streets of New York blending in effortlessly to their surroundings. It’s a fresh departure from the white picket fence, and white-coded suburbs where the Pitt and Jolie film was originally set.

The background of the two leads also plays into how they navigate family and relationships. Jane finds it difficult to open up to John who is her “husband,” fellow agent, and a complete stranger with whom she must now share her life. For much of the series she insists that they sleep in separate beds and rejects intimate advances from John. As he falls in love and gives in to his attraction to Jane, she coldly wants to keep things “professional,” focusing instead on their missions rather than a romantic relationship. She eventually discloses that she has “sociopathic tendencies” and can be quite cold and un-empathetic, something she insists comes from her father with whom she is estranged. Jane’s background plays into tropes of the “dragon parent,” hard personalities who value discipline and achievement. In contrast, John is not only a black spy but a devoted family man. Despite the instructions of the agency, he maintains contact with his mother, moves her into a new apartment with his new intelligence agency salary, and helps her with errands. Glover’s real life mother Beverly Glover plays John’s fictional mom Denise who provides sage advice to the couple as they navigate the rocky path of their relationship. Part of John’s strong connection with his mom comes from his deceased father and grandmother, and his desire to start a family of his own to honour his parents and keep their names alive.

Just like the action film, the series provides lots of excitement from car chases, explosions, shoot outs, and combat scenes. The action sequences are interspersed with John and Jane’s developing relationship and excellent comedic relief. From racing through the streets of New York, hiding from a hit squad in Italy, or a kidnapping attempt at an Alpine ski resort, the story delivers the adrenaline rush of suspense and danger across various episodes and scenes. Fans of the original film will also know to expect a scene in which the spies are supposed to “terminate” each other. In the last episode of the season, we found this scene to be a glorious destruction of their domestic environment; a loaded symbol that gives this action-thriller an edge when compared to other depictions of happy, gendered representations of femininity, the home, and marriage. John and Jane fight each other explosively with knives, guns, and even potted plants.

The series combines eight beautifully shot episodes with stunning settings and camera work. The costumes are stylish as the spies shift between professional city attire, ritzy ski apparel, and slouchy crewneck sweaters at home in intimate moments. The costumes have an old money aesthetic with crisp layered basics, clean solid colours, and matching sets. We found John’s style and costuming noteworthy for its cool and retro feel. In early episodes he wears wide jeans, a black tank top, and a leather jacket blending into the New York scenery. Later he wears preppy staples like striped polos and turtlenecks. The last outfit he wears is a white turtleneck and matching trousers in a fight scene in which his clothes get stained and splattered with blood.

Ultimately, this adaptation of Mr. and Mrs. Smith is a deep meditation on relationships, as much as it is about action and comedy. John and Jane know each other through fake personas and that analogy of a façade is likely not lost on many people who are navigating adult, romantic relationships. Even though they are spies, many of the conversations and struggles they share feel familiar and relatable. We found ourselves thinking about our own relationships and how many of us fail at trying to navigate the “getting to know you” phase, while still clinging to the mask of a not-so-authentic persona. In a hilarious scene with the two spies under truth serum, the phoniness is removed, and the couple is finally able to open up, be vulnerable, and be honest with each other. Indeed, Mr. and Mrs. Smith has a wonderful through line about surrendering control and letting down your guard to truly fall in love. The series ends in an emotional and ambiguous way, with a suspenseful conclusion about the fate of the couple. Perhaps there will be another season with the same cast, or a new pairing of John and Jane. At the moment, Amazon has yet to confirm a second season. But regardless, Glover has delivered a compelling story with stylish visuals, intense action, some good laughs, and lots of food for thought about what we reveal of ourselves to those we love.