Privacy Policy Create Site Map

NBC’s ‘American Auto’ Finds Comedy in the Car Industry

It may be scripted but there’s truth in comedy

By Audrey Davis
December 21 2021

So, the American auto industry isn’t perfect, and over the years, Detroit’s out-of-touch execs have made more than a few missteps and mistakes. What else is new? 

Turning those missteps into a TV show – and it’s about time. Cars were a ripe source of laughs in goofy motorsports parodies like Talladega Nights and Hot Rodand now a new NBC show is turning its attention to the inner workings of the car industry, reimagining the trials and tribulations of auto execs as a workplace sitcom. 

American Auto is set in the corporate offices of the fictional Payne Motors, an American car company that seems to be loosely based on Ford. Payne’s newly hired CEO Katherine Hastings, played by SNL’s Ana Gasteyer, is a classic fish out of water character who openly admits that she knows very little about cars. After spending most of her career in the pharmaceutical industry, Katherine must work with her new team to learn the ins and outs of selling vehicles instead of pills. 

Although there are plenty of things that American Auto gets wrong about how the car industry works, it finds some of its best comedy in the details it gets right, like the uncertain viability of today’s self-driving cars. In the pilot episode, Katherine and her team are set to unveil a new autonomous model, only to discover in a test drive that the car has a troubling racial bias (it has a hard time detecting darker-skinned pedestrians). The team must assemble a new car almost entirely from scratch, and it goes…well, about as well as you’d think.  


American Auto/NBC 

Of course, in real life, a glitch in the AI wouldn’t be nearly enough to stop an automaker from announcing a new product – even if that glitch had murky moral implications. It’s unclear if the writers of the show are aware that there can be an incredibly long waiting period between unveiling a car and putting it on the market (as anyone who has ordered a Cybertruck will tell you), but it’s still fun to watch them roast the hubris of it all.

At the moment, the first two episodes of American Auto are available for free on NBC’s website, although the show doesn’t officially premiere until January 4. And if you’re intrigued by the premise, it’s worth moving on to the second episode, which isn’t weighed down as much by exposition. Instead of self-driving cars, Katherine now has to deal with a serial killer who’s on the loose in a Payne vehicle, which can apparently be tracked using company technology. It’s tempting to want a little more info on what kind of tracking we’re talking about here, especially if the car is an old, beat-up van, but the real humor lies in Katherine’s determination to use a horrible situation to generate good PR. It’s a pretty harebrained scheme, but you’re left wondering if a real-life auto CEO might make the exact same call. 

Related: HBO MAX Succession: Storytelling Through SUVs



Featured Podcasts