‘American Auto’ finally in production for NBC

Rick's Reviews

Ana Gasteyer (right) – shown here with Carol Mansell – plays an inept executive in “American Auto.” (Photo courtesy of NBC)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — There is a pattern to the type of television programs Justin Spitzer feels comfortable making. The fact he was a producer on “The Office” and created “Superstore” shows that his comfort zone is comedy – especially those that generate laughs at the sake of big business.

Spitzer is at it again with the new NBC comedy “American Auto” set to debut with a sneak preview at 10 and 10:30 p.m. Dec. 13. It will air at 8 p.m. Tuesdays starting Jan. 4. The cast of the workplace comedy that takes on the automobile industry stars Ana Gasteyer, Harriet Dyer, Jon Barinholtz, Humphrey Ker, Michael B. Washington, Tye White and X Mayo. 

Ask Spitzer why his career has made him such a bulldog nipping at the heels of big business and he will tell you that he really doesn’t know how to write action or drama programs.

“I would love that challenge, but I think I’m in comedy for now,” Spitzer says.

Spitzer was ready to poke fun at the auto industry before he tackled the laughs and giggles that come from a big box store. He pitched the idea in 2013 after spending years working on “The Office.”

Preliminary work was being done to get “American Auto” on the network television production line but it stalled. Spitzer took bits and pieces of what he had written for “American Auto” and used them when creating “Superstore.”

He kept checking in with top executives in terms of starting up the production line of “American Auto” until NBC bought the show in 2020. The pandemic slowed production but Spitzer’s latest production finally got made.

“When I left ‘Superstore,’ it felt like an opportunity, and it felt like an even better time. You ‘Superstore’ is so much a show about people whose lives are dictated by corporate, and they seem like antagonists all the time,” Spitzer says. “It seemed fun to get a peek on behind the scenes of how the decisions get made.

“The people at corporate aren’t bad people; they’re good people doing their best to try to make the company work, and, sometimes, their decisions have bad effects on the employees.”

With “American Auto,” those decisions are being made in Detroit where the corporate executives of Payne Motors are at a crossroads. They must adapt to the changing times or be sent to the junkyard.

Shaking things up is a good idea except the new CEO (Ana Gasteyer) lacks skills in leadership, experience and savvy. It also doesn’t help that she knows nothing about cars and can’t drive.

Gasteyer – best known for her time on “Saturday Night Live” – says she has been waiting decades to play this kind of role. It was a combination of getting to the age where her casting would come across as correct and the lack of these kinds of strong boss roles for women in comedy in the past.

“Frankly, 10 years ago, this role wouldn’t have existed. I think just the opportunity to play a female CEO was really exciting to me because I like characters who are, sort of, lost in a moral dilemma, and Katherine definitely is,” Gasteyer says. “I think she definitely personifies the aspirations to do right by the company, but maybe not always there can be a human sacrifice in that.

“It’s a fun gray area, comedically.”

The casting of Gasteyer is an example of the way Spitzer likes to find the right people for his shows. He looks at the jokes that are written for each week’s scripts as a “safety net” for the actors. That gives them a safe enough feeling to bring their own approaches to the work. He knew Gasteyer would be able to handle improvising while filming.

Spitzer felt the same confidence in Jon Barinholtz because they had worked together on “Superstore.” He had worked with Humphrey Ker on a potential series years ago that never happened.

The confidence Spitzer has in Barinholtz shows as he goes from playing a down-and-out warehouse guy on “Superstore” to his talking on the role of the most privileged and wealthy character on “American Auto.”

That means going from being a sympathetic character to someone who will be generally disliked. Spitzer stresses any ill feelings toward the character Barinholtz plays should lessen as the show goes along.

“As the episodes go on, you want to start people with an edge or at least I like to. I would never want to create characters that are all soft, all immediately too easily likable,” Spitzer says. “There’s no place to go.

“But, I think we’ll see – I can think of one or two moments – of real vulnerability in Wesley, and when you see those moments, they give you little windows. You empathize with them – and with all the characters – as we learn about them.”

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.