If you like cars or you enjoyed “Superstore” then “American Auto” is worth your time. NBC previewed the punchy sitcom last night ahead of the series premiere Jan. 4, and it offers a humorous take on the U.S. auto industry as seen through the team at fictional Payne Motors.
Overseen by Justin Spitzer, the creator of “Superstore” and a producer on “The Office,” the two episodes that dropped Monday show Payne executives trying to navigate the challenges of the modern auto business.
“Saturday Night Live” alum Ana Gasteyer stars as a pharmaceutical exec turned Payne CEO. The cast also includes Harriet Dyer as stressed-out PR boss, Sadie; Tye White as Jack, a factory worker who gets promoted to the C-suite; and former “Superstore” cast member Jon Barinholtz as the company scion, Wesley, who has no job responsibilities and is employed because of his name. The cast also includes X Mayo, Michael Benjamin Washington and Humphrey Ker as executives.
Autoblog -- that’s us -- gets name-checked early in the second episode (2:37 into the show) for "our" critical take on Gasteyer’s introduction of the Payne Ponderosa, a car the company scrambled to build in time for its auto show reveal.
Gasteyer’s CEO character walks in on a meeting between Sadie and Jack -- their budding romance appears to be part of the story arc -- and blurts out “Autoblog says hasty Hastings’ premature launch,” apparently a reference to a headline that pans the Ponderosa. Looking at the cartoonish wagon-like thing, it’s well-earned criticism. Perhaps the writers know of us -- we’ve been around for nearly 18 years and are read by millions each month -- or thought ‘Autoblog’ sounded like a good name for a car website. Either way.
The pilot is centered on the Ponderosa and its troubled development (the first version of the car ran over people). Episode 2 features a Ponderosa Magellan van being used by a serial killer in a police chase. Titled “White Van,” the episode is obviously reminiscent of O.J. Simpson’s 1994 chase in a white Ford Bronco.
There’s also some Michigan references, which help to set the scene. One character has a Wayne State degree on the wall and the Magellan flees on Interstate 94, which runs through the state. The Weekly Drive, a publication that also criticizes the Ponderosa, looks just like Automotive News, and the local NBC affiliate provides news coverage. Plus, cast member Tye White is a Detroit native who attended the University of Michigan.
“American Auto” is about as realistic as “Superstore,” though the Ponderosa looks like something from the mid-90s. Perhaps it’s an attempt to play up the hapless nature of Payne Motors, though a more contemporary prop might appeal to the car people watching the show. Mainstream viewers won’t care. That’s the general vibe of the show. Car enthusiasts will roll their eyes at some parts even if they chuckle while doing so, and people who enjoy comedy will simply laugh along.