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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

'My Mother The Car: The Series' DVD: Classic Fantasy Sitcom With Great Sothern Exposure

Today's 5-disc DVD release of all 30 episodes of the 1965-66 fantasy sitcom "My Mother the Car" removes one of the few remaining titles off a personal wish list for such releases. This renews hope that fellow '60s fantasy sitcom "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" and '70s Saturday morning show "The Kids from C.A.P.E.R." will once more see the light of day.

An even more exciting element regarding this release is that "Mother" distributor TGG Direct recently released fellow wish list series the Saturday morning cartoon series "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures, which is based on the film of the very similar name. A review in the not-too-distant future (but not next Sunday A.D.) will share thoughts on that one.

Most classic sitcom fans are only familiar with "Mother" through occasional jokes regarding it on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." Some of us also caught it during a block of "limited run" sitcoms, which included the "Happy Days" spinoff "Joanie Loves Chachi" that TV Land ran between 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. on Saturday nights in the mid-90s. Other syndication and cable runs seem scarce.

An even more unbelievable fantasy element of "Mother" than the titular character passing away in 1949 and being "reinCARnated" as a 1928 Porter automobile in 1965 is that her son David Crabtree is a practicing attorney who is a nice guy and has excellent ethics. 

Star of the large and small screen alike Miss Ann Sothern provides the titular car's voice; Jerry Van Dyke, who is best known for the '90s sitcom "Coach" and lesser known for turning down the roles of Gilligan in "Gilligan's Island" and the successor of Don Knott's Barney Fife on "The Andy Griffith Show," plays David.

An interesting aside related to the casting of "Mother" is that the truly great (and very nice guy) Bill Daily of "I Dream of Jeannie" only appears as the best friend/neighbor in its second episode. This arguably demonstrates that Daily has more finely tuned career instincts than the funny and adorable Van Dyke.

Character actress Maggie Pierce rounds out the primary cast as David's wife Barbara, who fills the role of the clueless character who does not understand the odd behavior related to the fantasy element of the show. In this respect, she is most like Carol Post of the very similar "Mister Ed," which involves a man owning a horse who only talks to him.

The pedigree of "Mother" also includes having Rod Amateau, whose numerous impressive credits include producing the earlier classic sitcoms "The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show" and "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,"as producer. Comedy legends Chris Hayward and Allan Burns are the creators.

The good news is that "Mother" has a great deal going for it. The successful early "Herbie the Love Bug" movies and numerous sitcoms show that the combined elements of a car with a mind of its own and a loving mother whose concern can lead to nagging make for great comedy. Additionally, Van Dyke and Sothern do great jobs with their roles and have nice on-screen chemistry.

Also, like "Ed," "Mother has a very catchy theme song that conveys its premise in the same manner as both that series and more famously in "Gilligan." 

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, is of this catchy ditty but unfortunately lacks the bouncing ball sing-along element of the opening credits. 



It is also very cool that "Mother" shares the same driveway/garage set of the mother of all '60s fantasy shows "My Favorite Martian."
 
The first bit of less good news is that several plots in this genuinely cute an amusing series are very derivative of the earlier "Ed" and other shows. Examples include episodes that borrow heavily from "Ed" episodes in which horse owner Wilbur must pose as a ventriloquist with the titular Ed as his dummy to maintain the secret regarding Ed's vocal abilities and another one in which Ed badgers Wilbur for a television set.

In defense of "Car," its episodes in which the Porter is shrunk to toy car size and it seems that the entire world learns David's secret predate similar plots on "Jeannie" and the comparable series "Bewitched."

Additionally, having legendary over-the-top comic Avery Schreiber play Captain Manzini, who is uber-obsessed with acquiring the Porter, in roughly two-thirds of the episodes adds a nice element of hilarity. It shows as well that Schreiber and VanDyke had potential to be the '60s Abbott and Costello.

The second bit of not-so-great news is that Maggie Pierce is not especially well cast. Her gorgeous looks advertise the successful modeling career that research reveals, and she delivers her lines well. Pierce simply lacks any spark (subtle pun intended) or chemistry with Van Dyke and does not demonstrate any warmth or other emotion. 

The research for this post additionally consistently reveals that Pierce is known for stating in the '70s that smoking has many harmful effects but offers the benefit of making boring people disappear within a few minutes of lighting up. This further confirms a personal conclusion that I very casually know Barbara Eden, and Maggie Pierce is no Barbara Eden.

Another amusing factoid about Pierce is that she passed away from fatal injuries sustained in a car crash roughly 45 years after starring in "Mother." There are no reports that the car involved in that incident has any element of reincarnation.

The results of this inspection of "Mother" is that it easily passes the standard for being worth buying. The good performances by Van Dyke and Sothern, the interesting concept, and the great '60s sitcom vibe of the series largely offset the decently written but derivative plots and miscasting of Pierce. Further, the two-volume set coming in a sturdy cardboard box makes it easy to wrap as a holiday gift.

Anyone with questions regarding "Mother" or any of the numerous other topics that this review discusses is welcome to email me. You can also follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.