A remake (or reimagining) usually comes from a couple of different mindsets. The first reason is that it’s to take another stab at an effort that fell short (Dune, Disney+’s upcoming Percy Jackson series, Dexter). The other, more weighted and complicated reason, is to center a different perspective, challenge its predecessor, or offer a kind of course correction if you’re dealing with either history or Hollywood’s abysmal record of inclusive storytelling (High Fidelity, One Day at a Time, DuckTales).
A League of Their Own
Aug. 12, 2022
Will Graham and Abbi Jacobson
Amazon Prime Video
Based on Penny Marshall’s beloved 1992 film, a new cast of characters go through the first season of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in 1943. It’s a gentle course correction, one that allows the show to explore themes that were only a passing mention or reduced to subtext in the film, but its two halves don’t always coalesce: One series that’s often a pale imitation of the film and another, almost entirely separate show with promise.
A League of Their Own, the new Amazon Prime Video series from Will Graham (Mozart in the Jungle) and Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson centered around the first season of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), falls very much into the latter category. The 1992 Penny Marshall film starring Tom Hanks and Geena Davis is a classic, one that remains incredibly quotable and a touchstone of both baseball and sports movies 30 years later. It’s a shadow that looms large over the series as it explores the themes that Marshall’s film nodded to in passing or was reduced to subtext, and it essentially results in two shows, one of them more interesting than the other, and in its early episodes, struggle to coalesce.
One of those shows goes through many of the same motions as the film with some similar shades, albeit with an entirely new cast of characters who collaborate and clash in a league most people view as a joke. It features character outlines we’re familiar with, scenarios we’re familiar with, and some familiar character beats. (“There’s no crying in baseball,” naturally, makes its way into the show at one point.) But A League of Their Own often puts its spin on certain events so it’s not always a 1:1 comparison, even if it’s near-impossible to shake off how the film handled it.
The series is centered around Rockford Peaches catcher Carson Shaw (Jacobson), a small-town wife whose husband (Patrick Adams) is off fighting in World War II in Europe while she runs off to play baseball. But she’s not the calming leader that Geena Davis’ Dottie Hinson was: Carson is much more uncertain about her choices, and she’s in a constant struggle to stand up for herself. The Peaches’ head coach, Casey “Dove” Porter (Nick Offerman) is a washed-up player who has no interest in coaching the team of women assembled before him, but he’s more of a Tahani Al-Jamil-level namedropper than an alcoholic a la Hanks’ character. But baseball isn’t the only thing shaking up Carson’s life: Sparks fly when she meets Greta Gill (D’Arcy Carden, whose closest analog is Madonna’s Mae Mordabito), leading her to confront her own sexuality.
Queerness has always been an underlying film currant, but the League of Their Own series makes the subtext explicit text: The AAGPBL was incredibly queer. (Maybelle Blair, one of the last surviving players in the AAGPBL who only recently came out, ventures that more than half of the players in the league were probably gay.) That layer puts a darker inclination on some of the mainstays of the film, such as the league-mandated makeovers and etiquette lessons to ensure that even though it had women playing baseball, they would present as feminine as possible; those who weren’t married could be trotted out as dates under the keen eye of the team chaperone (Dale Dickey). “It’s to make sure that we don’t look like a bunch of queers,” one character bluntly tells Carson.
The other show takes the essence of a 15-second clip from the film acknowledging the Black women who were never allowed to play in the AAGPBL because of institutionalized racism and vastly expanded upon it. That’s mainly put upon the shoulders of Max Chapman (Chanté Adams), a talented pitcher who can’t play for the majors because she’s a woman and won’t even be given the chance to try out for the AAGPBL because she’s Black, although the people in charge seem hesitant to say that explicitly at first.
She’s far better than just about every player on the team and knows it—when Carson compliments her throw, she replies with, “I know” with no showboating attached—but in Jim Crow America, that doesn’t mean anything. But she just sets her sights on getting a job at a nearby factory in desperate need of workers that might finally offer her the chance to play, even if it means going behind the back of her mother Toni (Saidah Ekulona), who would rather Max step up and help her run the salon she’ll inherit one day.
A League of Their Own has a lot on its mind as it keeps race, gender, and sexuality at the forefront. It’s almost too much plot to juggle, to the point where the actual baseball is more of a backdrop, and some of the dialogue is on the modern side to a somewhat distracting degree, but the cast alone offers a reason to tune in. The supporting cast, which includes the likes of hotshot pitcher Lupe (Roberta Colindrez), Greta’s childhood friend Jo (Melanie Field), and Max’s best friend (and budding artist) Clance (Gbemisola Ikumelo), are often more compelling than the leads.
To its credit, A League of Their Own throws some mighty curve balls as it faced a daunting and unenviable task. But not a home run, either.
All eight episodes of A League of Their Own’s first season debut on Amazon Prime Video on Aug. 12
*First Published: Aug 12, 2022, 7:00 am CDT
Michelle Jaworski is a staff writer and TV/film critic at the Daily Dot. She covers entertainment, geek culture, and pop culture and has covered everything from the Sundance Film Festival, NYFF, and Tribeca to New York Comic Con and Con of Thrones. She is based in Brooklyn.