Mr & Mrs Smith review – Donald Glover and Maya Erskine’s romance feels like it makes the universe better

<span>‘Every episode is like a tiny slice of Mission: Impossible’ … Donald Glover and Maya Erskine as John and Jane in Mr & Mrs Smith.</span><span>Photograph: David Lee/Prime Video</span>
‘Every episode is like a tiny slice of Mission: Impossible’ … Donald Glover and Maya Erskine as John and Jane in Mr & Mrs Smith.Photograph: David Lee/Prime Video

The greatest of the many triumphs of the new spy caper Mr & Mrs Smith is that it handles the sex so well. In the 2005 film, which was mostly an experiment to see whether the combined presence of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt could set celluloid on fire, the stars were spouses who discovered that they were secretly working for rival agencies and had been commissioned to kill each other.

In this eight-part Prime Video series, the reimagining is almost total. This “John” and “Jane” – played by Donald Glover and Maya Erskine – are strangers who are ready, for reasons that reveal themselves over time, to sign their lives over to a mysterious (but well‑paying) organisation and pose as a married couple. How long will it take them to fall in love and complicate their already fraught situation beyond measure? Let’s find out!

It is a great demonstration of the charm and intelligence that infuses the whole that they pivot from strangers to colleagues to lovers so seamlessly. They learn they work well together on missions, they grow on each other, then their first kiss takes place under circumstances so refreshingly bizarre that it makes getting together seem not just right (these are two very attractive people, my friends), but a necessary corrective to the order of the universe. Later, there is a fart scene that will make you fall in love with them both.

The strange intimacies and intricacies of marriage are at the heart of Mr & Mrs Smith and elevate it above the ordinary, if stylish, caper it would be otherwise. Well, that and the performances of Glover (who co-created the series with Francesca Sloane, the producer of his earlier baby, Atlanta) and Erskine. Glover cast her after Phoebe Waller-Bridge left the role amicably due to creative differences – “Some marriages don’t work out,” she told the Hollywood Reporter – but Erskine brings the kind of unshowy strength to the part that complements perfectly Glover’s light‑footed grace and charisma, which is so abundant that it could easily overwhelm a lesser actor.

Every episode is like a tiny slice of Mission: Impossible. The anonymous corporation communicates with them only via messages from “Mr HiHi” and leaves scant instructions. The first assignment appears to be an underwhelming test run; they admit they were hoping for something more: “Like lasers,” suggests John. By the end of the episode, though, it is clear that they are not to be denied their action needs.

Despite that, Mr & Mrs Smith remains – even as the stakes increase and the guest-star appearances mount – a surprisingly talky enterprise. At first, the couple negotiate the practicalities of their new life together. He notes how helpful it is to do the dirty dishes while waiting for his meal to cook, rather than leaving them in the sink; she leaves cannibal pornography on her laptop when it becomes clear that they are snooping on each other.

Then, as the relationship deepens, they tackle the emotional obstacles that arise when you work together in a potentially fatal job. Theirs is a life in which contact with the in-laws, for example, is not merely boring or annoying, but could lead to their cover being blown and swiftly put them in mortal danger.

There is also the question of just whom they are working for. They seem to have faith that it is working towards a greater good, but this feels naive, to put it mildly. Plus, a passing comment from another agent raises the spectre of how free they are to leave this job, as they plan to do when they have made enough money.

If I am giving the impression that this is a worthy or sombre show, I apologise. It is not. It is fast, fun and witty. Care has been taken with every aspect. It gives unexpected spins to expected beats and traditional tropes: the disposal of an unplanned corpse; the navigation of a mission in the Dolomites when you can’t ski. At one point, a man jeopardises their situation because he won’t break contact with his mother; usually, this character is a woman unable to resist keeping in touch with her child.

It is a glorious and moreish treat – and that is even before Parker Posey turns up as a high-risk proposition (in every possible respect). Go, enjoy.

• Mr & Mrs Smith is on Prime Video from 2 February