The New “Mr. And Mrs. Smith” TV Show Misses The Mark On Marriage

The season of movie remakes continues in Donald Glover’s rebooted TV adaptation of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” How does this new, diversity-led adaptation live up to the original film?

By Jillian Schroeder5 min read
Prime Video/ Mr. and Mrs. Smith/2024

True confession: I missed the Mr. and Mrs. Smith train back in 2005 when the classic blockbuster was first released. I was vaguely aware of its release and the accompanying Brangelina tabloid insanity that peppered magazines in grocery store aisles that year. But when the new television adaptation was released on Amazon Prime at the beginning of February, I sat down to watch both versions and compare them. 

Turns out, the 2005 version of Mr. and Mrs. Smith isn’t the Brangelina-hyped fad I once thought. Mr. and Mrs. Smith is more than a fun and sexy action-adventure film, though watching two beautiful people fall in love on screen is certainly one of the film’s perks. It is a romantic, clever examination of what really makes a marriage tick and the things that get in the way of real intimacy as a couple.

And the new Amazon Prime TV adaptation of Mr. and Mrs. Smith? Not so much. The new show has turned everybody’s favorite assassins into the stars of a spy drama billed to be more “realistic” this time (code for just plain boring). The difference between show and movie reveals how far our modern culture has fallen out of love with real romance – and the enduring appeal of the original reminds us of our hunger for true intimacy.

*Spoilers ahead*

Why Mr. and Mrs. Smith is a Classic Rom-Com of Remarriage

I’m almost grateful I waited to watch Mr. and Mrs. Smith until the Brangelina tabloid dust had cleared. Twenty years later, the film’s story has proved more enduring than the real-life love story it inspired.

From the first scene of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, we’re presented with a vision of the perfect suburban couple. Immaculate house, dinner at 7 p.m., therapy visits “for a routine checkup.” But Jane (Angelina Jolie) and John (Brad Pitt) have a rut in their marriage that’s becoming a chasm. “There’s this huge space between us,” Jane tells their therapist during a private session, “And it just keeps filling up with what we don’t say to each other.”

20th Century Fox/Mr. and Mrs. Smith/2005
20th Century Fox/Mr. and Mrs. Smith/2005

There’s lots that the Smiths don’t say to each other – their real jobs, for starters. To one another, they masquerade as boring white-collar professionals. In reality, they are master assassins for rival firms, living hidden lives of danger and adventure. Returning from the excitement of the field, Jane and John have slid into petty arguments over curtains and the salt shaker. It’s not that they don’t love each other – “Let me clarify, I love my wife,” John tells their therapist with confidence – but the secrets they keep from one another have started to make their marriage feel stale. It’s a fine but important distinction. The Smiths aren’t happy with giving each other a surface-level devotion. Real emotional intimacy is missing; their inability to be truly vulnerable with each other is causing their unhappiness. What’s really holding the Smiths back is the way they have been holding out on each other.

When Jane and John discover each other’s secret, all bets are off. They begin to pursue each other (ostensibly to finish a hit job), but we can see that they are really pursuing the truth of their relationship. Was their relationship just a cover, or even worse, a job? This, I think, is where the writing and acting in Mr. and Mrs. Smith strikes its best chord. As an audience, we can tell that the Smiths never stopped loving each other. Their conflict is driven by a desire to strengthen their relationship, not end it.

In one of the film’s finest sequences, Jane and John have done their best to take each other out – shooting, throwing knives, martial arts. With their guns finally trained on each other, John slowly lowers his weapon. He admits he can’t do it and offers to let Jane take him out. In the moment of self-sacrifice, the real truth of their relationship is revealed to one another. The Smiths’ relationship was never about using each other, and knowing this, they are finally able to be truly intimate with one another.

20th Century Fox/Mr. and Mrs. Smith/2005
20th Century Fox/Mr. and Mrs. Smith/2005

Not surprisingly, the Smiths are fantastic partners once they finally start working together. As they break down their emotional walls (and some real walls in the process), John and Jane do more than reignite the spark in their marriage. They learn to cooperate as a team against the forces that attack them and to lean on one another, and not themselves, to survive. 

Behind the action-packed scenes, Mr. and Mrs. Smith is really a rom-com of remarriage, where we follow the hero and heroine on their journey into closer intimacy with one another. From The Awful Truth to The Philadelphia Story, many early comedies focused not on the love story of boy meets girl, but of a husband and wife re-discovering their love for each other. Mr. and Mrs. Smith may have more explosions and fight sequences, but the story it’s telling is ultimately the same. Falling out of love wasn’t really an option for the Smiths, but learning to be truly vulnerable with one another is.

Why the New Mr. and Mrs. Smith Gets Everything Wrong

When the television Mr. and Mrs. Smith released its first film stills, the internet expressed concern that the show was just another diversity reboot. The story has been updated – new diverse leads, a townhouse instead of a suburban home – and the tone has been shifted to one of grittier realism. But Mr. and Mrs. Smith is even worse because it doesn’t even try to tell the same story. 

When we first meet Jane (Maya Erskine) and John (Donald Glover) in the show, they’re meeting for the first time on assignment as a married couple. They agree to stay friends despite their cover – though this resolution only lasts about an episode. The next five or six episodes – the bulk of the show, in fact – are dedicated to John and Jane slowly defining their relationship behind the facade of their fake marriage. But this is ultimately why we don’t ever buy into this new version of the Smiths – their marriage is fake, and nothing that Glover and Erskine do can convince us otherwise. It may have seemed like a small change in the writers' room, but it makes a huge difference to the meaning of the story overall. We’re supposed to be rooting for Jane and John to become closer as a couple, but their relationship feels as fake as their marriage. After all, for them, it’s really just a piece of paper they received in their onboarding paperwork.

Prime Video/ Mr. and Mrs. Smith/2024
Prime Video/ Mr. and Mrs. Smith/2024

There are still problems in Jane and John’s relationship, though – big ones. Jane needs to be in control of her relationship with John, and ultimately, John is just looking for somebody who will let him love them. John goes out of his way to try to get to know Jane – is this always what she wanted in life? Is the cat really hers? – but Jane isn’t interested in sharing her deepest vulnerabilities with him, even after they really decide to get together as a couple. She needs to be in control; he needs her to love him. This creates an emotional imbalance between them that the show never rectifies. It almost feels as if Mr. and Mrs. Smith believes all relationships – especially married ones – are ultimately about who has more power over the other.

Donald Glover, the show’s star and creator, has an interesting history with the idea of marriage. In 2018, he told The New Yorker in an interview that he was “not the marrying kind,” and he compared marriage to a form of cultural ritual that is ultimately meaningless. Yet during the filming of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Glover appears to have changed his mind when he married his partner Michelle White before reporting for filming one day. “Whatever she needs me to be, that makes me happy,” Glover told The Hollywood Reporter in a recent interview. Certainly, the signs of Glover’s new approach to marriage can be seen in his characterization of John Smith. What little there is to enjoy in the show comes from his consistent pursuit of Jane and his attempt to break down her emotional walls.

Prime Video/ Mr. and Mrs. Smith/2024
Prime Video/ Mr. and Mrs. Smith/2024

Even that isn’t enough to save Mr. and Mrs. Smith from its emptiness, though. In the new show, Jane and John don’t actually choose to tell each other the truth about how they feel and where they come from. Only after John injects them both with truth serum – that’s right, truth serum – can they finally open up to each other about their inner thoughts and desires. The scene comes close to the show’s end, and it should fill us with satisfaction that our lovers have finally chosen to be vulnerable with each other. But the choice – the most important part of the vulnerability – is taken away from the characters and from us, their audience. We may want a rom-com of remarriage, but that’s not what this Mr. and Mrs. Smith gives us. The Smiths’ marriage isn’t real, and ultimately, their decision to become more intimate with one another isn’t either.

Closing Thoughts

The original Mr. and Mrs. Smith isn’t just a sexy, action-filled blockbuster. It’s a surprisingly clever meditation on the importance of emotional intimacy in marriage, and the film’s enduring appeal speaks to our hunger for relationships that last. Donald Glover’s new television adaptation of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, however, presents audiences with a bleaker view of marriage, one in which one spouse will always have to have emotional power over the other. The difference between them shows how much our culture has turned on marriage, and it provides a sad illustration of the emptiness that the mainstream view of marriage creates.

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