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4 August 2017

What would you do if you bought a car that was the reincarnated form of your dead mother?

By Matthew PritchardMatthew Pritchard
It's exactly what it sounds like. (Image from: 'My Mother the Car' - Season 1: Episode 1 - Created by Allan Burns and Chris Hayward)

Unless you've actually watched it, My Mother the Car is one of those shows you're pretty sure you've heard of, but you're not sure if it was real.

The series revolved around an attorney named David Crabtree, played by Jerry Van Dyke (Dick's younger brother), who buys a 1928 Porter Touring Car which turns out to be the re-incarnation of his dead mother. Here, watch the show's theme tune, it'll explain everything:

If all this is sounding familiar, there's a chance you know it from the 'Lovematic Grandpa' section of The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase. Fun fact, one of James L. Brooks' (executive producer for The Simpsons) earliest writing credits was for an episode of My Mother the Car.

Now, as someone who didn't grow up on shows like these I have to admit a lot of them start to feel a bit... well... same-y. I say this knowing full well that two of my favourite cartoons growing up were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Street Sharks, so, you know... glass houses and all that. But my point is, it's easy to lump a lot of these '60s and '70s family sitcoms into the 'classic' tv category.

The jokes are cheesy, there's a laugh track so you know what's funny, and all the driving is on one of those great 1960s rear projection screens.

You know the one, any show where infomercials for the DVDs show up during Doctor Phil's ad breaks. Your Bewitched, Brady Bunch, Gilligan's Island, anything you can see airing on a 'classics' Foxtel channel. But My Mother the Car is not a classic. in fact, it's the opposite of that.

My Mother the Car is so infamously bad that one of its two creators has described it as being, ”What turned out to be the worst idea for a series, in the history of the world." Which seems a bit extreme, considering human beings have managed to squeeze entire TV franchises out of child beauty pageants, random breath testing and Donald Trump.

My Mother the Car was created by Allen Burns and Chris Hayward, the writing team responsible for The Munsters and in an interview with the Archive of American Television Burns admits he spent most of his career trying to live it down. But is it really that bad?

Eh... kinda.

Weirdly enough, if you watch it today, and don't have a huge frame of reference for shows of the era, it doesn't feel that different to something like Bewitched or My Favorite Martian.

The jokes are cheesy, there's a laugh track so you know what's funny, and all the driving is on one of those great 1960s rear projection screens.

There are some genuinely entertaining moments, and the premise leaves itself open to some interesting ideas.

The difference is My Mother the Car just feels a bit too... silly. Which seems so weird to say, considering a beloved show from that era is about an average dude, living with an alien, posing as his uncle.

That said, the silliness is also part of the show's appeal. There are some genuinely entertaining moments, and the premise leaves itself open to some interesting ideas.

For example, in one episode, Crabtree is driving to a wedding in the mountains. During the trip his mother (the car) ends up drunk on antifreeze. It's a weird idea that raises some questions about exactly how the world of the show works, but there's a little part of you that wants to know more.

Can the mother taste different types of petrol? How does she feel about air fresheners? If she had an engine swap would she stay the same? Is her soul in the engine? The chassis? The cigarette lighter? What!?

The show's main villain is another highlight. Captain Manzini is a classic car collector who is hellbent on stealing the Porter and claiming it for himself. He also looks like this:

If there was ever a uniform for 'rich baddie' it would be this... (Image from: 'My Mother the Car' - Season 1: Episode 1 - Created by Allan Burns and Chris Hayward) If there was ever a uniform for 'rich baddie' it would be this... (Image from: 'My Mother the Car' - Season 1: Episode 1 - Created by Allan Burns and Chris Hayward)

Yep. The baddie is literally a moustachioed villain with a riding crop. Each episode sees him hatching a different scheme to take ownership of Crabtree's mother (my god Freud would have a field day with this show).

One episode features him hiring a team of thieves to steal the Porter, replacing it with a replica, and establishing an alibi for himself. Sounds crazy, right? But keep in mind this is also a show with such plot points as 'a guy's car wins a chance to be on a game show', and 'same guy is up for a job as a judge, but has trouble when he gets roller skates stuck on his feet'.

There's even an episode where mummy-car-est tries to stop Crabtree and his wife Barbara from going on their honeymoon (Again. Freud. Field day).

What's interesting about the show is that in the same Allen Burns interview mentioned earlier, he explains it was intended as satire. The goal for the show had been to skewer the genre, and instead it became the worst example of it.

My Mother the Car made an interesting impact on pop-culture. Because it failed so badly it was the punchline of jokes for years to come, particularly through talk show host Johnny Carson.

My Mother the Car almost stopped Knight Rider from being made.

In 2002, it was ranked as the second worst TV show of all time, beaten only by The Jerry Springer Show. Now keep in mind we've had a LOT of bad TV since 2002, but still...

My Mother the Car almost stopped Knight Rider from being made. Yep, one of the ultimate '80s TV classics may never have seen the light of day because NBC (who had aired My Mother the Car) were justifiably terrified of broadcasting another show about a guy and his talking car.

If you want to see for yourself whether the show really is that bad you can find episodes of it floating around on YouTube. Or if you're an upstanding member of society who pays for their entertainment like they should, you can find the DVDs on Amazon.

Get a bunch of friends around and make a drinking game out of it. Just drink responsibly; 'casual night in with friends' level, not 'David Crabtree's car mother three bottles of antifreeze deep' level.

What kind of car would you want to be reincarnated as? Wax philosophical in the comments below.