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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's been reincarnated as an automobile.

Jerry Van Dyke stars as Dave Crabtree, an attorney and typically hapless sitcom family man who discovers that the spirit of his deceased mother (voiced by Ann Sothern) has returned to inhabit a 1928 Porter open touring car. Most plots involved Dave getting into situations with his family, neighbors, and the hazards of owning a vintage car. There was even 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 create the Monkeemobile and the 1960s Batmobile. Both cars survive. The normal version is owned by a fan, and the "stunt" car is on display at the Star Cars Museum in Tennessee.

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

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

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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 more worthy of that title. In spite of (or perhaps due to) 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.
  • 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: The entire show is from the era of invincible cars, but Mother is very 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.
  • 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 says this show was meant to be a parody of fantastical sitcoms that was popular the time, but it ended up playing the trope so straight that nobody realized it was supposed to make fun of the genre.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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.

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