Reimagining “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” into something very different from a 2005 movie made notable by the smoldering chemistry between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (who met on the set), co-creator/star Donald Glover has delivered an Amazon series remake that somehow manages to feel both bold and boring while adhering to the same general log line. The result is arty and ambitious in a way that will likely be enjoyed very much by a very few.
The premise throws together two people – played by Glover and Maya Erskine (“PEN15”) – with scant background regarding who they were before trading in their names for nondescript but married (to each other) aliases, carrying out dangerous jobs for an unknown espionage agency.
Understandably paranoid given how little they know about who they’re working for and who they can trust, the pair agree to keep the marriage cover story as just that initially, until of course they don’t, complicating the relationship.
What really defines the show, though, on which Glover shares creator credit with fellow “Atlanta” alum Francesca Sloane, is the quirky array of guest stars, from Paul Dano as a nosy neighbor to therapist Sarah Paulson to a seemingly way-cool couple (Wagner Moura, Parker Posey) that the pair encounters. Other familiar faces that pop in include John Turturro, Ron Perlman, Michaela Coel, Billy Campbell, and Sharon Horgan.
Yet after the best opening sequence for any new show in recent memory, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” settles into a much more sedate rhythm, as its principals engage in mundane banter and go through that awkward getting-to-know-each-other phase under the most trying and potentially deadliest of circumstances.
Although there’s much to be said for that off-kilter style, which was also evident in Glover’s last Amazon series, “Swarm,” applying it to this particular concept distinguishes the show from the pack (there’s a hint of the old “I, Spy” in its breezy template) without making it particularly engaging. Nor does it help that episodes occasionally make viewers feel as if they missed something significant that happened between them.
Glover has a demonstrated knack both for toying with conventions and finding networks and services willing to let him explore that vision. The tradeoff is producing shows with the kind of avant-garde qualities that tend to dazzle critics while blunting their commercial appeal, a formula that works perfectly well in the confines of streaming.
Seen that way, it’s possible to be impressed by “Mr. & Mrs. Smith’s” audacity in creating an anything-but-generic series, conjuring something that goes beyond the usual exploitation of a familiar title, and still come away feeling as if the hours spent watching it could perhaps have been put to better use.
“Mr. & Mrs. Smith” premieres February 2 on Amazon’s Prime Video.
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