Hurry! Who do we call before it is too late? A crime taking place and it is happening right before our eyes. At the time of writing this, almost halfway through June, NBC has yet to renew American Auto, the hilarious workplace series from Justin Spitzer (creator of Superstore). Not only does the series deserve a renewal (multi-year preferred) it is worthy of being a major player in the awards conversation. American Auto is criminally under appreciated and something needs to be done about it.
The series tells the story of Payne Motors, the struggling automobile manufacturer and the employees, each funnier and possibly more inept than the last, who are doing everything they can to keep the company afloat. Leading the charge is CEO Katherine Hastings, played to perfect imperfection, by Ana Gasteyer. Like the company itself, Katherine is a work in progress. Not only is she learning a lot about herself and her employees, she is also learning about the cars themselves. It seems this CEO of a major auto manufacturer knows absolutely nothing about cars. Perfect choice.
Over the last two seasons American Auto has documented the endless and hysterical challenges of turning Payne Motors around. It seems with just about every step is a misstep. When one fire is put out another is sparked. Quite literally, actually, as one of the company’s cars cast off sparks igniting a massive brush fire. The cast, including Harriet Dyer, Jon Barinholtz, Tye White, Humphrey Ker and Michael Benjamin Washington all bring their own unique comedic sensibilities to the Payne Motors head offices. While making us laugh, the smartly written series also tackles social and political issues in such clever ways it keeps you thinking long after viewing.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Ana Gasteyer to talk to her again about American Auto and her work on it. Her deep appreciation for the work behind the laughs, from the writing to the performances and beyond, is quite admirable and evident throughout. We discuss her character’s intelligence, her physical comedy, the engaging story arcs the series takes on, and much more. Read excerpts from our conversation and watch the conversation in its entirely (above). As you do I am going to find a TV cop to put an end to this crime spree.
On just how topical and current the series can be:
“We are writing about contemporary social issues in real time. I mean, I’m not writing it, but they are. Tthere are episodes, which are now somewhat beloved in amongst writers. Episode 6 when we made the politically correct commercial, in season one – and episode 206 where we dealt this actually with the millennials taking on Katherine and asking for her to take a stand on the company’s policies around abortion. So they’re very topical. “The Commercial” and “The Letter” are the names of the episodes. They’re topical, they’re awkward. They’re hot button. No one is right. No one is wrong. I think Justin is uniquely really gifted at taking extremely uncomfortable social issues, and talking about them from every angle, so that you can really find what’s funny in the human behavior around controversy,” said Gasteyer. “I feel like corporate America has an identity and a relationship to human beings now in our American culture, that’s different than it’s ever been. It’s a mirror, it has less power, it has more power, it’s vulnerable. It’s trying to do the right thing, but at the end of the day, the bottom line matters. I think this show is talking about that in a way that is fascinating.”
On Payne Motors being a character itself:
Actually no one said that before, but it is true that the company itself is a character in the show. Sort of the fate, the ups and the downs of the whoas, the ways in which it impacts us and the ways in which we impact it. It developed really well this year. I thought and allowed for some freedom of movement for the characters in the ensemble as a result, because we were all kind of working in the service of this massive organism. I really think that’s what distinguishes this show as a half hour single camera comedy, that it is really dealing with its workplace as as a piece of the story and a character in and of itself.
On the rhythm of her comedy
“I’m so wordy. When you’re on SNL, you become best known for the things that you write, So wordy things tend to be my thing. Obviously, Catherine speaks at mile a minute. Justin’s shows are very dense, verbally. Our scripts are long, we have to talk, we talk fast, it’s that that was probably the bigger, sort of, literal physical challenge, meaning learning to move quickly through topics. I always have to -I’m always getting information out incredibly quickly, because and it’s important information because we only have 20 minutes and you gotta get a lot of plot in these episodes along with comedy. Being able to carry that, so my primary focus was always that. Then what’s delightful about playing someone who’s in control and tightly, tightly managed is these explosions. The explosion in the premiere of season two, when I finally after this entire episode of promising everything to everyone, that it’s all gonna go great and I lose my mind, has to have been one of the most fun things I’ve ever done on camera.”
Watch both seasons of American Auto now streaming on Peacock.