- a new nbc sitcom called american auto looks at the struggles of 100-year-old payne motors as it tries to navigate the world of self-driving cars and other 2021 industry challenges.
- the producers and actors have ties to the office, superstore, and saturday night live, so rest assured that they're not as bumbling as the characters they play.
- two episodes are out now on hulu and itunes, with nbc's official start of the series coming on january 4.
workplace television comedies can be genius, as the office and 30 rock proved. they can also fall flat and disappear before anyone can pay attention enough to remember them (if you can name the early-1990s doctor's-office sitcom that featured a young ellen degeneres without google's help, you're in the minority). with two episodes already out ahead of the january 4 debut, you can be the judge as to which category the new nbc sitcom called american auto belongs in.
as the name might give away, american auto is about a car company, in this case the fictional 100-year-old company payne motors. while the setting is a detroit-based automaker (and there's a joke about a former ceo being anti-semitic that more than hints at henry ford), it's still a relatively standard hollywood workplace comedy. the cold open to the first episode is pretty damn funny, though, if you've ever wondered if the chevy nova naming debacle might repeat itself today.
the show has a strong production pedigree. its creator, justin spitzer, previously worked as a writer on the office and also created the sitcom superstore, which followed a group of workers at a walmart-like big box store. the cast is led by former saturday night live star ana gasteyer, who plays the new ceo of payne motors, and jon barinholtz as the grandson of the retired payne motors ceo. barinholtz was also in superstore.
spitzer has been working on american auto on and off since 2013, before superstore. while that show was about the workers, american auto is more about the executives. early in the development work, he said, it didn't even matter which industry the executives worked for."the fact that it's the auto industry came later," spitzer told deadline. "i just wanted it to be about a big multibillion-dollar american industry."
barinholtz said this focus on the higher-ups gives american auto a different vibe than superstore, even if the creators and actors tried to put some of the same quirky heart into the new show.
"just because [the execs are the] decision makers doesn't make them any more capable than the workers whose decisions they're affecting," he told the detroit free press. "so we see how these decisions are made, and it's not with as much thought as you would hope it is, if you're a worker. it's sometimes kind of just flying by the seat of their pants."
be that as it may, based on the pilot episode, american auto is up to date with issues in the modern auto industry. the episode features development and testing of a self-driving car called the payne ponderosa that has no brake pedal, with dangerous results. the second episode explores the idea of whether all publicity is good publicity after a serial killer makes another of the company's vehicles, the payne magellan, famous after using it in a crime. you know, just feel-good family fun.
the first two episodes of american auto aired on nbc this past week, before the season kicks off for real on january 4. you can watch the already released episodes on hulu or on itunes or apple tv with a season pass to the show or a subscription.