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The TV reboot of 'Mr. and Mrs. Smith' is a savvy and emotional spy story

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Donald Glover and Maya Erskine co-star in "Mr. And Mrs. Smith." Glover helped reinvent the 2005 espionage thriller as a streaming series for Amazon's Prime Video. It debuts today, and NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says it's a savvy and entertaining reboot which emphasizes the personal over James Bond-style theatrics.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: What would two spies look like in marriage counseling? Well, for one thing, Maya Erskine, who balances playing steely and vulnerable as ambitious spy Jane Smith, can't be honest with a therapist, played by Sarah Paulson, when she describes problems with her husband, Donald Glover's John Smith.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MR. AND MRS. SMITH")

MAYA ERSKINE: (As Jane Smith) I think John's under the impression that our boss favors me.

DONALD GLOVER: (As John Smith) Well...

ERSKINE: (As Jane Smith) But...

GLOVER: (As John Smith) He does. I mean, well, he wanted you to replace me.

ERSKINE: (As Jane Smith) To which I...

GLOVER: (As John Smith) He asked you to replace me.

ERSKINE: (As Jane Smith) ...Said absolutely not.

SARAH PAULSON: (As therapist) So you two work together.

DONALD GLOVER AND MAYA ERSKINE: (As Jane and John Smith) Yes.

PAULSON: (As therapist) And what is it that you two do?

GLOVER: (As John Smith) We're computer...

GLOVER AND ERSKINE: (As Jane and John Smith) Software engineers.

DEGGANS: Their thinly disguised stories about marital problems make therapy difficult. But when the therapist leaves the room, they say what really bugs them about a mission gone wrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MR. AND MRS. SMITH")

GLOVER: (As John Smith) You almost got me killed.

ERSKINE: (As Jane Smith) I didn't get you killed. I saved you.

GLOVER: (As John Smith) You didn't save me. I didn't need your help.

ERSKINE: (As Jane Smith) Oh, really?

GLOVER: (As John Smith) Oh, yeah.

ERSKINE: (As Jane Smith) Did you die? Are you dead right now?

GLOVER: (As John Smith) Am I dead right now?

ERSKINE: (As Jane Smith) Yeah. Are you?

GLOVER: (As John Smith) What - are you insane?

DEGGANS: This is the wonderful twist about the modern Mr. and Mrs. Smith. They're spies whose cover is playing a married couple, each of them fighting to figure out how much of their emotional connection is genuine and how much is spy tradecraft. That struggle begins in the first episode, titled "First Date," where John and Jane Smith have just been hired by a mysterious spy agency. They meet for the first time in their first day on the job at their fake home, a tony renovated brownstone in New York City. John opens a mysterious package.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MR. AND MRS. SMITH")

GLOVER: (As John Smith) State license, banking card, carry permit and marriage certificate.

DEGGANS: Including two wedding rings.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MR. AND MRS. SMITH")

GLOVER: (As John Smith) We're married.

ERSKINE: (As Jane Smith) Yeah, I guess we're married now.

GLOVER: (As John Smith) Yeah. It's weird.

ERSKINE: (As Jane Smith) It's pretty weird.

GLOVER: (As John Smith) Yeah.

DEGGANS: It gets weirder. Throughout the series, they face the same issues most new couples face, but it's on a vastly different magnitude thanks to their day jobs. The situation also allows for a host of excellent cameo appearances by performers like Paul Dano, who plays a nosy neighbor, Michaela Coel as a beautiful friend of John's who makes Jane seriously jealous and John Turturro, who plays a rich businessman they accidentally give a little too much truth serum, causing him to be brutally honest about his illegal income during an art auction.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MR. AND MRS. SMITH")

JOHN TURTURRO: (Eric Shane) Billions and billions of illegal dollars. I don't feel bad about it at all. I really don't. I mean, is that totally weird?

DEGGANS: This is a far different and more expansive canvas than the disappointing 2005 film starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as assassins in a long marriage. The TV show, co-created by Glover, features many of his creative partners from the TV show "Atlanta," including series co-creator Francesca Sloane, director Hiro Murai and Donald Glover's brother Stephen Glover as a producer. The show also features a Black man and Asian woman as characters who reflect their cultural heritage in ways that are modern, relatable and compelling. This Mr. and Mrs. Smith are new to the spy game and to romance. They don't know much about the shadowy company which hired them, and each of them may not even know the real name of the fake spouse they've entrusted both their life and heart to. It's an incredible reinvention of a middling movie into a TV masterpiece, reinvigorating both spy movies and romance stories in the process. I'm Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF LUPE FIASCO SONG, "I'M BEAMIN'") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.