American Auto just keeps getting better and better. The NBC sitcom centered around a Detroit-based car company was funny from the start, but in Season 2, which wrapped up on April 18, the show really found its voice. The comedy is currently on the bubble — NBC hasn’t yet announced whether or not there will be a third season. Here’s hoping that the renewal announcement comes through shortly, because American Auto’s hilarious ensemble and creative bits have made it one of the best shows of the year.
Ana Gasteyer leads the cast as Katherine Hastings, the CEO of Payne Motors in Detroit. In Season 1, she was new to the job, fresh off a run with a pharmaceutical company. By Season 2, she’s mostly acquainted with how the car business works — at the very least, she finally got behind the wheel of one of Payne Motors’ vehicles — but a series of escalating crises prove that her run will be anything but easy.
Theoretically, Katherine has help from her supporting staff, like communications manager Sadie (Harriet Dyer), legal counsel Elliot (Humphrey Ker), product designer Cyrus (Michael Benjamin Washington), assistant Dori (X Mayo), and Wesley Payne (Jon Barinholtz), who, well, no one is exactly sure what he does. But this crew isn’t necessarily a competent one. These are employees at the highest corporate level who know exactly how to fail up.
The sitcom comes from Justin Spitzer, the Superstore creator who brings a similar sensibility to American Auto. Most of the action takes place at the office, but each season has slowly revealed more bizarre details about each character’s personal backstory. Cyrus, for instance, knows just a little too much about serial killers, and Sadie is so genuinely into cars that her shower head is in the shape of a fuel nozzle. The main difference between the group at Cloud 9 and the one at Payne Motors is that the latter is mostly made up of extremely unlikable people.
But more than any of NBC’s more wholesome workplace comedies, American Auto follows in the footsteps of Veep, showing that behind closed doors (or even on very public TV broadcasts) those in the C-suites aren’t looking out for anyone but themselves. It makes it all the more satisfying to laugh at their failures.
The comedy doesn’t waste an opportunity to pack as many punchlines into an episode as possible. One of the best recurring bits is the company’s whiteboard brainstorms. In Season 2, Payne Motors is looking for a new celebrity spokesperson to revive its image after a series of PR disasters — a serial killer found with bodies in his Payne Motors van, a raging wildfire caused by defective parts in a Payne Motors car, and a potentially homophobic commercial among them. The whiteboard in the background of the scene is only briefly mentioned, but a glance at it shows who the company sees as the ideal spokesperson, with options like “Any Kardashian but Rob” and “Daenerys Targaryen.” Blink and it’s easy to miss, but anyone who notices gets a delightful pay off, not to mention it makes the series worth watching more than once to catch all the references.
The show also boasts an impressive roster of guest stars ranging from celebrities like Seth Meyers and Andy Richter, both unafraid to play unlikable versions of themselves, to comedy vets like Eric Stonestreet, Martha Kelly, Jim O’Heir, and Jerry Minor, who fill out the ever-expanding world of the company. Ryan Reynolds pops on Zoom because, why not? Spitzer brings over some Superstore alum as well, in some cases as potential Easter eggs hinting that these two shows just might take place in the same universe.
This is a fraught time for network sitcoms — though ABC’s Abbott Elementary has garnered awards and universal acclaim, other half-hour shows remain on the bubble or seeing more budget cuts. But there’s a lot of potential in NBC’s sitcom lineup, which includes Grand Crew, Night Court, Lopez vs. Lopez, and Young Rock. American Auto could very well become its crown jewel if the network just allows its momentum to keep going. The time to renew American Auto is now.
Seasons 1 and 2 of American Auto are streaming on Peacock. 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: American Auto, NBC, Ana Gasteyer, Harriet Dyer, Humphrey Ker, Jon Barinholtz, Michael Benjamin Washington, X Mayo