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John Turturro's puppy play brings 'Mr. and Mrs. Smith' to life

John Turturro in

Mr. and Mrs. Smith is packed with star power, thanks to its titular assassins — played by Donald Glover and Maya Erskine — and its misson-of-the-week structure, which allows for a bevy of exciting guest stars. While that’s a thrill for viewers, it runs the risk of the main characters being outshone. And when it comes to John Turturro as a kinky art-collecting real estate mogul, that’s exactly what happens. 

In episode 2, “Second Date,” John (Glover) and Jane Smith (Erskine) attend a luxurious silent auction to inject a high-bidder with a truth serum. Their target is Eric Shane (Turturro), an art collector with a $15 billion net worth and — as the spies will soon discover — a fetish for puppy play. When the billionaire pushes John and Jane into playing out his fantasies. Mr. and Mrs. Smith takes a turn that makes this new show dazzle. 

Turturro proves looks can be deceiving.

John Turturro poses at "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" premiere.
John Turturro poses at the "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" premiere. Credit: Marion Curtis / StarPix for Prime Video

This black-tie event is peopled by posh outfits and formal wear, but Eric stands out slyly by favoring a more muted look. He wears a simple, dark blue blazer, a white shirt and pocket square, and a gray scarf, with no tie. This outfit, plus Turturro's subtle confidence in it, suggests Eric is a man so wealthy he knows he doesn’t need to follow a dress code to be part of the inner circle.  

Most famous for playing a bowling-ball-licking eccentric named Jesus in The Big Lebowski, Turturro is an actor who relishes in the unexpected. In Mr. and Mrs. Smith, he’s clearly enjoying playing a character who seems just like everyone else – at first. Yet the actor's presence informs us that Eric isn’t going to be just another rich guy, as few performers have committed to bringing weirdos to life quite like him. (See also: Barton Fink; Miller’s Crossing; O Brother, Where Art Thou?; Severance.)

Eric's quiet demeanor also means most people walk straight past him, which is especially impressive since Turturro has such screen presence that you can't help but be drawn towards him. Eric speaks in soft, grumbled tones. And while Jane talks to him, he flirts with a male waiter, adjusting his bowtie and looking straight into his eyes. Turturro establishes Eric as a man who prefers to be unapproachable, quietly enjoying his wealth. But when Jane suggests taking Eric to a private spot and paying one of the cater waiters (specifically John, in disguise) "to do whatever we want," he looks at John with lust in his eyes. It's an offer he can't refuse.  

Turturro gets kinky in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. 

Donald Glover and Maya Erskine are on the floor in "Mr. and Mrs. Smith."
Donald Glover and Maya Erskine are on the floor in "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." Credit: David Lee / Prime Video

When Eric is alone with John and Jane, he comes alive, his posture more rigid and his tone sharper. It’s a shift that Turturro nails, though he's careful not to take anything to an extreme, grounding his character in a way that stops him from feeling cartoonish. His intensity and excitement in this scenario feels electrifyingly authentic as Eric commands John to get on his knees. Then he orders Jane to do the same. And here's where Eric reveals his true desire: He wants John and Jane to act like dogs.   

Turturro leans into this role perfectly. Eric feels like both a nonsensical portrait of extreme wealth and a dedicated character study. Turturro plays his character with incredible sanctity. While John and Jane (and everyone watching) find the experience funny and outrageous, this imaginative exploration is something very important to Eric, as if watching the Smiths gamely lick each other is nothing less than holy.

It turns out this isn’t just some exercise for Eric to enjoy his power over people with less money than him. His kneeling turns to a crawl on all fours, and soon Eric is also acting like a dog. This incredible vulnerability allows him to tap into his deepest desires. Unfortunately, while Eric's belly is metaphorically exposed, John takes the opportunity to inject him with the truth serum. Actually, both Smiths inject him at the same time, defying strict instructions to only give Eric one dose.

The double dose has an adverse effect on Eric, allowing Turturro to tap into the silliness of the scene, undulating between terror and horniness. In this way, Turturro can unfurl the layers Eric has been trying to keep tied up. He becomes erratic, tones shifting, eyes darting, and arms flying about as he reveals the non-kink secrets John and Jane need to complete their mission. 

Turturro’s turn is a necessary 180 in Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Donald Glover and Maya Erskine flirt in "Mr. & Mrs. Smith."
Donald Glover and Maya Erskine flirt in "Mr. & Mrs. Smith." Credit: David Lee / Prime Video

Up until Turturro’s appearance, my patience with Mr. and Mrs. Smith was dwindling rapidly. The show's exciting concept is paired with a low-key approach that feels jarringly mumblecore. The first episode commits a cardinal sin – it’s boring! I was ready to give up on the series, but Turturro’s gonzo yet controlled performance brings the show’s potential to life.

His character injects a much-needed comedic element to the show, which largely exists in an overly serious register until Turturro appears. He blows the roof off the thing, completely reimagining the show's tone as something stranger, more heightened, and far more intriguing. His polymorphously perverse billionaire opens up the possibilities of the show, giving a look at the curious areas it might go as its stumbling spies dash about New York. It exposes John and Jane in a vulnerable circumstance, where they are pushed out of their comfort zones and toward each other. That makes them more relatable and a great deal more interesting.

Perhaps most importantly, Eric Shane made me excited for what was coming next — could anyone else possibly live up to Turturro’s brilliant turn? Mr. and Mrs. Smith was floundering, but John Turturro makes it a doggone good time.

 Mr. & Mrs. Smith is now streaming on Prime Video.

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