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'Mr. and Mrs.': Smith by a Mile

By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 20, 1996; Page D01

Calling the central characters "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" is one indication of how much cleverness and imagination went into the show of the same name. Another is that Mister Big, the boss of a hush-hush espionage operation called The Factory, is named "Mr. Big." Nobody's stretching anything on this show, except maybe credulity.

The only impressive thing about it is the neato pair of Polaroid binoculars that the spies get to use on the job. Gotta get me somma them!

In the opening moments of this latest belabored loser from CBS, at 9 tonight on Channel 9, it's clear that Something's Going Down. What's going down? A viewer's eyelids, probably. The games of cat-and-mouse, peekaboo and tag played by Scott Bakula and Maria Bello in the title roles are tired and trying, and the attempts at "Moonlighting"-style hip flippancy unfortunately go flip-floppanzee.

The two alleged cuties meet cute, real cute, while on a nifty caper involving a brilliant physicist who has invented a new energy source, "cheap, abundant and clean." Oh, that again! "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" could use a new energy source itself. Anyway, big bad oil companies are out to snuff or at least frighten the inventor, and the intrepid agents must stop them at all costs.

When they aren't yelling at each other, they are grouching at each other. Of course we know that's merely camouflage for a mutual electric attraction, but there's no point in waiting around for spontaneous combustion. Neither Bakula nor Bello generates much wattage -- especially not Bakula with his big, heavy, corrugated face.

Roy Dotrice plays Mr. Big as an effete fop, and Timothy Olyphant is in there for the youth demographic (anything under 55 at CBS) as Mr. Smith's cool assistant, Scooby. He gets to exclaim exclamations like "Rock and roll!"

Writer-producers Kerry Lenhart and John J. Sakmar try to keep the carping couple moving so we don't notice how colorless they are. It's chasey, chasey, chasey all over town -- the town being Seattle -- by bus, by subway, by motor scooter, by skateboard, by train, by foot, by hook and by crook. You hope, for their sakes, that the cast is getting paid by the mile.

It's no way to treat an actor, even a bad one. And "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" is no way to treat a viewer.

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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