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American Auto Has Given Ana Gasteyer the Lead Role She's Always Deserved

The Saturday Night Live alum’s comedic chops make the NBC sitcom one of the best on air today.
  • Ana Gasteyer in American Auto (photo: Greg Gayne/NBC)
    Ana Gasteyer in American Auto (photo: Greg Gayne/NBC)

    Ana Gasteyer breathes fresh air into every series lucky enough to have her. During her tenure on Saturday Night Live, she perfected a balance of being hilariously polite yet dominant with characters like Margaret Jo McCullin (known best for “Schweddy Balls”) and impressions of Martha Stewart. And that spirit has followed her through several supporting roles, like the overly controlling Sheila Shay on Suburgatory and the eccentric Karen Grisham (agent) on Lady Dynamite. It’s all been leading up to American Auto, the NBC sitcom that finally gives Ana Gasteyer the starring role she’s always deserved.

    Gasteyer stars as Katherine Hastings, the newly appointed CEO of Detroit-based Payne Motors who tackles the role even though she not only hates cars, but doesn’t know how to drive. She’s Michael Scott meets Selina Meyer with just a sprinkle of Leslie Knope — somewhat incompetent and delusional, not afraid to let her staff take the hit, constantly inappropriate, but really does care about what she’s doing.

    In Season 1, Hastings is there to prove that she’s fit for the role as the company’s first female CEO, faking it until she makes it. Along the way she has to deal with a number of scandals that are not of her own making: a self-driving car that seems programmed to run over people of color, a factory built in a country known for human rights abuses, a potentially homophobic car commercial. It all sounds like pretty dour stuff, but with Gasteyer behind the wheel, it’s fertile ground for one of the best comedies on TV today.

    Season 2 gives Gasteyer even more room to shine. Her character is settled into her role and is now focused on one big scandal, wildfires caused by Payne Motors. It’s that calm but chaotic sweet spot that Gasteyer has always lived in, the biggest laughs coming from watching her trying to contain a bubbling volcano of panic while simultaneously staying in complete control of the situation. She’s optimistic that everything will work out not because she’s full of hope and good spirits, but because she’s wealthy and knows that things always work out for the most privileged.

    In Season 2, Episode 4, “Cost Cutting,” this spirit comes with the extra joy of a top-notch costume gag. While preparing to make a TV appearance, Katherine spends the day getting touched up with Botox, dye jobs, and more to make her look younger, only to pivot at the last minute into extremely shoddy 80-year-old cosplay to combat accusations of ageism at the company. Katherine pastes on a smile even when her team changes tactics yet again, causing her to talk herself into a corner on live television until she’s very confidently spewing false facts about how many hearts cows have. (No, the question she was asked wasn’t even close to being about livestock.)

    The show, created by Superstore’s Justin Spitzer, is at its core an ensemble comedy, one that has given relatively unknown performers, like X Mayo, Michael B. Washington, and Harriet Dyer as Katherine’s support staff, a chance to show the world just how funny they are. Gasteyer has long proven that she works well in an ensemble, and American Auto is no exception. Only this time, she’s the leader of the group, finally.

    American Auto airs on NBC on Tuesdays at 8:00 PM ET and is available for streaming on Peacock the next day. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R. 

    TOPICS: Ana Gasteyer, NBC, Peacock, American Auto, Saturday Night Live