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Series / My Mother the Car

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In 1965, NBC was looking for a show to air on Tuesday nights opposite Combat! and Rawhide. Their answer: this Fantastic Comedy series about a woman who has been reincarnated as an automobile.

Jerry Van Dyke starred as Dave Crabtree, an attorney and typically hapless sitcom family man who discovered that the spirit of his deceased mother (voiced by Ann Sothern) had returned to inhabit a 1928 Porter open touring car. Most plots involved Dave getting into situations with his family and neighbors, and dealing with the various headaches of owning a vintage car. The show even had a recurring villain in Captain Manzini (Avery Schreiber), an obsessed automobile collector who was bent on acquiring Mother to complete his collection. (Apparently it was the only make and model of the car to exist.)

There is no real-life "1928 Porter"; the company was meant to be fictional and the actual car used on-set was one of two variations of a Ford Model T. One version was made for normal driving shots. The other was a "stunt" car, built to be driven by a hidden driver (to make it appear like a Sentient Vehicle). The "stunt" version was modified by the then-ubiquitous George Barris, who also helped to create the Monkeemobile and the 1960s Batmobile. Both vehicles survive; the normal version is owned by a fan, and the "stunt" car is on display at the Star Cars Museum in Tennessee.

The show was critically lambasted, and led NBC to become something of a laughingstock for green-lighting it in the first place. The ratings were horrid across the board, save for viewers in the younger demographics who were more inclined to watch something fun and silly than the two serious dramas competing in the timeslot. (While that might actually be enough to keep a modern show on the air, in those days the networks only looked at total viewership numbers in deciding which shows to renew. Also, most households at the time only owned one TV set and parents were generally the ones who decided what to watch, limiting the potential audience further.)

Despite this, NBC let the show air for its entire 30-episode season, probably to burn off the episodes and recoup some sort of investment (a common tactic in television). It should be noted that James L. Brooks, now well known as a film director and as one of the executive producers of The Simpsons, worked on this show as a writer. His disdain for the series allowed The Simpsons to poke fun at it a few times.

My Mother the Car is considered by many people to be one of the worst television series ever made. However, to people who have deemed it So Okay, It's Average, there are other shows much worthier of that title. Still, despite—or perhaps because of—its reputation, it has enough of a cult following to have gotten a complete release on DVD. It has also aired on Antenna TV, and you can find episodes (including the pilot) on YouTube.

This show provides examples of:

  • And Starring: Miss Ann Sothern.
  • All Just a Dream: "The Blabbermouth" finally has the family learn of mother, as does the entire town, the news media and Manzini, setting up for more interesting stories... only to end with the revelation that Dave was dreaming all of it.
  • Artistic License Law: Dave is a licensed attorney but often shows himself to be far too timid or lax in regards to his profession. While he has a few competent moments, Dave is more than willing to overlook Manzini's numerous felonies and even writes it off when his own mother-in-law commits several crimes to frame him so he will be arrested.
  • As Himself/The Cameo: In the episode "And Leave the Drive-In to Us", Dave and his family brave a cold day in order to take Mother to a Drive-In Theater, where a movie co-starring Mother's favorite actor Sonny Tufts is playing. When the picture is finally over, there are two cars left in the lot, and the other car is driven by Sonny Tufts himself.
  • Back from the Dead
  • Christmas Episode: "Many Happy No-Returns", which has Dave and Barb bidding on one another's hideous artworks at a charity auction to give to each other for Christmas.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Mother doesn't actively seek out Dave in the pilot—he discovers her accidentally while shopping for a car. She merely happens to be at the lot he's visited that day and had he passed that specific car by instead of checking it out, probably never would have even known his mother was in that particular vehicle.
  • Cool Car: The series itself never really regards the Porter as such (outside of Manzini's obsession with owning it due to its collectability), but once Dave fixes it up in the pilot episode, a vintage 1928 car in top condition today would be considered a valuable collector's item.
  • Dastardly Whiplash: Captain Manzini is a pastiche of silent movie villains, complete with sinister mustache.
  • Dead Person Conversation
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: It's a show about a man and his relationship with his mother, who is a car.
  • Expository Theme Tune: Complete with Follow the Bouncing Ball!
    Everybody knows in the second life we all come back sooner or later
    As anything from a pussycat to a man-eating alligator
    Well, you all may think my story is more fiction than it's fact
    But believe it or not, my Mother dear, decided she'd come back
    As a car
    She's my very own guiding star
    A 1928 Porter, that's my Mother dear
    She helps me through everything I do
    And I'm so glad she's here
    My Mother the Car
    My Mother the Car
  • Invincible Classic Car: Granted, the show was made in the era of invincible classic cars, but Mother is particularly resilient.
  • Magical Guide: This is Mother's reason for coming back: to help her son. Justified in that her son is somewhat lacking in common sense.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Done as a Running Gag with Captain Manzini. ("I'll get my hands on that Porter yet, Crankcase." "Crabtree." "Whatever.")
  • My Beloved Smother: Surprisingly averted. Mother is actually very reasonable. (Well, usually. She does have her moments).
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Mother, although in one episode ("I Remember Mama, Why Can't You Remember Me?") it's revealed that her maiden name was Gladys Brown.
  • Pilot: Filmed in black-and-white and originally unaired, it was re-shot in color and that version was broadcast as the first official episode.
  • Poe's Law: Series co-creator Allan Burns has said that My Mother the Car was intended to be a parody of the fantastical sitcoms that were popular the time, but it ended up playing the trope so straight that nobody realized it was supposed to make fun of the genre.
  • Reincarnated as a Non-Humanoid: An elderly woman dies and comes back as her son's classic car.
  • Sentient Vehicle: Sort of zigzagged. Mother can drive herself to some extent, and can outright refuse to be driven. She does seem to need some sort of driver behind the wheel to go long distances though (yet this is all Depending on the Writer, as a few episodes show her doing this just fine). She can also do things like open the car's door.
  • Shout-Out: The name "Porter" was one to Don Porter, Ann Sothern's former costar on Private Secretary and The Ann Sothern Show.
  • Simple Solution Won't Work: It's mentioned repeatedly that Mother is the only Porter car in existence, so the audience will understand that telling Captain Mancini to find another Porter to buy (or a wreck to refurnish) is out of the question.
  • Signature Sound Effect: Mother has a very distinct "ooga-ooga" horn sound.
  • Temporal Paradox: How does a dead mother get reincarnated into a car that already exists? The explanation from the show is that you don't get to choose what you come back as when you 'apply' for it in the afterlife.
  • What a Piece of Junk: Everyone except Dave and Captain Manzini treat it like The Alleged Car. It actually performs rather well, for an old car. This is aided by Dave taking it to the mechanic very often.