We all come back sooner or later
As anything from a pussycat
To a man eating all-i-gator
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
'Cause she helps me through
Everything I do
And I'm so glad she's near.
Though it only lasted a single season, My Mother the Car has gained a reputation for being one of the worst shows to ever air on American TV. It has been the punch line for jokes about bad TV for decades but now TGG Direct has released the entire run of this infamous series and... it's actually not that bad. There have certainly been much worse shows and when taken in context of other network shows of the time, it doesn't really seem like such a stretch. The entire series arrives on five DVDs with a surprisingly good image quality and, most important of all, no laugh track.
Dave Crabtree (Jerry Van Dyke, brother of Dick Van Dyke) is looking for a station wagon for his family when he stumbles across a very run down 1928 Porter. He laughs a bit as he sits down behind the wheel, but stops laughing when he hears his long dead mother's voice (Ann Sothern) coming out from the radio. She tells him that she's decided to 'come back' to help her son out. He needs her guidance and advice. Not many people want to return to earth (the application box is usually empty she explains) but people can come back... they just don't get to decide what form they'll take when they return. Poor Gladys came back as a car.
For her first piece of advice, Gladys tells her son not to let anyone know the Porter is really his mother. They'll think he's crazy or they'll put her on display in a museum. She doesn't want that! So she'll only talk to Dave.
Dave isn't about to lie to his wife Barbara (Maggie Pierce) and two young children however, and dutifully explains that he bought the old heap because it's his mother... and they think he's crazy. He reluctantly claims it was a joke, and the next day gets the car totally restored including a new bright red paint job.
Dave's problems aren't over however. Captain Manzini (Avery Schreiber) is an avid car buff and he's only missing one thing from his collection: a 1928 Porter. He's been looking for one for years, and when he hears that Crabtree has one, he starts pestering him to sell. Dave tells him that he'll never sell the Porter, but that doesn't stop Manzini from pestering him about it.
Yeah, the concept is pretty stupid. But is this 1965-66 series anymore outlandish than a man who has a talking horse (Mr. Ed 1961-66), an astronaut who lives with a millennial-old genie (I Dream of Jeannie 1965-70), or a man who rooms with a sometimes invisible, mind-reading, Martian (My Favorite Martian 1963-66)? The biggest problem was the title of the show. It screams 'stupid idea' where as Bewitched sounds like it could be anything from a sitcom to soap opera. If the show had been named "Oh Mother" or "The Old Porter" it wouldn't have been such a magnet for criticism.
The other problem is that they change two things. There's an old adage in fiction: if you change one aspect of reality people will swallow it. If you change two things it will come across as silly. This show did the latter. If they had a man being visited by the ghost of his mother, it would have been okay (like Topper, both the film series and the TV show). If the show had been about a man who has a talking car (ala Knight Rider) it wouldn't have elicited chuckles. Have a mother that is reincarnated as a talking car, and that's just changing too much.
Is the show as wretchedly horrible as the name and reputation would imply? Not by a long shot. There are many sitcoms that were much, much worse (Family Matters anyone?) and this had some decent laughs. Each episode starts with an odd situation and that soon grows to become absurd. Dave starts to worry about the gang of 'car strippers' that have been plaguing the city for example, and starts taking reasonable measures to ensure his mother's safety. But as Barbara points out the flaw in Dave's reasoning he goes to greater and greater lengths and that's where the humor lies. Is it realistic? No, not at all, but it did make me laugh a couple of times every show, and that's the important thing.
Jerry Van Dyke does a very good job in the show. He's not quiet as funny as his brother Dick, but he manages to carry the show. The pretty and perky Maggie Pierce was also very good as Dick's more sensible and loving wife. It's a shame that she didn't do more work after this show because she had a natural way about her that grounded the show somewhat. Ann Southern voiced the car (it's too bad she never appeared) and though she hammed it up in a few episodes (you don't want to hear her speaking English with a Spanish accent...) she did her best with the role that wasn't as large as you would expect.
When all is said and done, My Mother the Car is a hokey show that gives some decent laughs and is not anywhere near as bad as its reputation would have you believe.
All 30 episodes of this series arrive on five DVDs that are housed in two multi-disc keepcases, which come inside a nice, illustrated box.
The original mono audio track sounds pretty good. It was limited by the recording technology of the time but the audio is still clear and the dialog is easy to hear. One thing that I'd like to compliment TCC Direct on is that they wiped the laugh track from the show. Normally I like shows to be presented as they originally aired... I don't care for colorization or 5.1 audio created from a stereo track. This is different because laugh tracks are incredibly obnoxious and they can ruin a show. There is at least part of one episode that has the laugh track included, and watching that episodes serves to remind viewers just how much worse the show is with canned laughter.
The full frame picture is surprisingly clean and clear. I was pleasantly surprised when I popped the first disc in. The colors are bright, the level of detail is very good and the image is crisp. Print defects (spots and dirt) are at a minimum. Overall this is a really good looking show.
Unfortunately there are no extras. I would have really enjoyed the unaired pilot, but I can live without it.
If you enjoy the other fantasy-comedy series that were somewhat prevalent in the 60's (I Dream of Jeannie, Mr. Ed) then you'll like this show. It's not nearly as bad as its reputation suggests, and there are some quite funny moments. The A/V quality is excellent too. As astounding as it sounds, this set is recommended.