NBC’s new car-industry comedy needs a tune-up

The storied American auto industry is a prime target for a sitcom, given today’s seismic changes in mobility.

Take your topical pick. The shift to electric power from gasoline. The development of self-driving vehicles. The newly minted billionaire technologists driving both. Not to mention those sidewalk-strewn scooters we’re all tripping over of late.

NBC’s “American Auto” (previews Monday, 10 p.m. ET/PT, ★★½ out of four), from the creator of “Superstore,” wisely exploits a niche brimming with options for comedy writers looking for an on-ramp to the next workplace-set hit.

Take it from this one-time automotive writer, the gags are there to be had, from lampooning the process of creating a new model’s name to skewering the incestuous relationship between car magazines and auto companies. Comedy gold awaits in a brand new mine.

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Ana Gasteyer stars as Katherine Hastings, the new CEO of fictional Payne Motors in NBC's new workplace sitcom, "American Auto."

But while parts of the first two episodes of “American Auto” cruise effortlessly down this promising comedic highway, the show could stand a bit more time on the assembly line before it’s fully roadworthy.

The best features of the show start with star Ana Gasteyer, the “Saturday Night Live” alum who plays former pharmaceutical company executive Katherine Hastings. She has just taken taken the wheel as CEO of 100-year-old, Detroit-based Payne Motors, a thinly disguised Ford Motor Company, given all the jabs at an intolerant founder that have distinct echoes of Henry Ford.

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