There’s nothing more classically American than old-fashioned baseball, trailblazers, glass-ceiling breakers, and remakes of beloved films from the 90s. Amazon’s new original series, “A League of Their Own” (comedy/historical drama), is a vibrant combination of them all. The first season debuted in August, with eight lengthy episodes available for streaming. Starring Abbi Jacobson, D’Arcy Carden, and Chanté Adams among others, the reboot has a few things to say beyond the original film’s flowery message of “girl power.”
For those unfamiliar with “A League of Their Own,” both the film and series tell the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), the first in America’s history. During the 1940s when men were drafted in droves to fight in WWII, those left behind (namely women) were given the opportunity to reframe the status quo so the jobs traditionally held by White men could be expanded to them. With Joe Dimaggio and John Feller fighting fascism in the East, the country’s lack of male baseball stars took a toll on the league, and thus, the AAGPBL was formed. “A League of Their Own” follows the Rockford Peaches as they play ball in the face of heckling crowds, fear-mongering journalists, and an America in desperate need of social reform. It’s a classic story of good sportsmanship, both within the game and with their fellow (wo)man.
While loosely following the plot and iconic scenes of its predecessor (directed by Penny Marshall), “A League of Their Own” has plenty of contemporary spins to keep it fresh, with new characters to better represent LGBTQ+ experiences during the early mid-century. Nearly all lead roles are Queer characters, but because the show takes place in a time when homosexuality was viewed as a mental illness or contagious disease, romance scenes take place in secret hideaways. Additionally, if you thought the original movie didn’t have enough make-out scenes against killer baseball montages, then you’ll be more than pleased with this edition.
The series also includes more POC as lead characters, which is an improvement from the original film. A prevailing example is Chanté Adams as Max Chapman, who arguably undergoes the most dramatic changes throughout season one. Adams’ lovability makes you root for Max through it all. When she’s happy, you’re happy. When she’s pissed off, you’re pissed off. When she realizes that she’ll never make the Peaches or the Screws, you say she’s too good for them anyways. Her character is based on Mamie Johnson, Toni Stone, and Connie Morgan, all baseball players who played for the American Negro League (after being prohibited to play for the AAGPBL). The only hint of her character in the original film is an odd, very brief scene in which an unnamed Black woman throws a strong pitch and nods in solidarity to hitter Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis). As opposed to barely addressing Black experiences in the original film, the “A League of Their Own” series follows Max as she tries, fails, and tries again to make it in a sport that refuses to make room for her. While White women make the League with a good curveball, Max must suck up to her bigoted boss, be kicked out of her childhood home, blackmail, lie, be rejected upwards of a dozen times, and have a good curveball.
These new characters, faced with societal norms that shun their basic existences, largely contribute to the show’s bittersweet portrait of the early mid-century. “A League of Their Own,” as far as I can tell, makes no attempts to over-glorify a period that has been dubbed “The Good Old Days” by many. In fact, the series makes a point of exposing the opposite, with its depictions of racism, misogyny, transphobia, and homophobia (and casual lobotomy jokes). However, while the series draws much of its plot from the trauma and intolerance of this period in America’s history, it likewise sources small but significant moments of joy from it as well. Whether that be experiencing pizza for the first time, or slow dancing with a beautiful stranger in a friend-of-Dorothy lounge. The result is an accurately nuanced depiction of the time period. “A League of Their Own” is overwhelmingly funny, but laced with poignant, at times heartbreaking, moments that make you want to cry into your pillow for a few minutes, but not stop watching, of course.
With an overall superb cast, there are few weak links in the “A League of Their Own” lineup. Abbi Jacobson, as Carson Shaw, doesn’t disappoint with the trademark awkwardness she brings to her character. A parallel to Geena Davis as Dottie in the original film, Jacobson acts as the straight man in the bunch, although, maybe not-so straight. As an executive producer and creator of the new series, Jacobson had a heavy hand in the decision to make “A League of Their Own” more inclusive to LGBTQ+ people. Jacobson, who came out as bisexual in 2018, told IndieWire, “Queer people didn’t just show up at Stonewall; we’ve been around forever.” D’Arcy Carden plays the uber-confident, somewhat-promiscuos lesbian New Yorker, Greta Gill, a near-mirror image of Madonna’s character, Mae. Charming in a 1940s fashion, Carden is almost corny at times. However, her ability to convey raw emotion through her tragic backstory is tear-jerking (this viewer would know). And it would be heinous to exclude Gbemisola Ikumelo as Clance Morgan, Max’s confidant. Ikumelo brings joy to nearly every scene, whether she’s searching hysterically for crab or talking to her comic books (“Speed Jaxon K.O.s nazis, just like you will!”). Roberta Colindrez stands out as well, playing Lupe García, a strong pitcher from Mexico. She’s blunt and at times easily aggravated, a trait that leads to some ridicule by the media. Colindrez’s dry delivery is undeniably funny, and as Lupe’s softer side comes to light, it’s hard not to adore her.
Fans of the original “A League of Their Own” may be wondering what happened to the hilarious, exaggerated, bumbling Coach Dougan played in the film by Tom Hanks. What about the iffy-alcoholism punchlines, and terrible (but improving) misogyny? What about there being no crying in baseball, and being weary of the Clap? Well, in this regard you won’t be given a more “contemporary” actor to fill that role and reboot the character to its former glory. Nick Offerman (well known for “Parks and Recreation”) plays Coach Dove, a has-been ex-Cubs pitcher desperate for a stepping stool to anything above women’s baseball. There’s no redemption arc, or gradual lovability. Offerman is cold, and as Jacobson states in an interview, he’s meant to be that way. “We do not have a redemption story with Dove, and that was really important because this is the POV of the women on the team,” Jacobson tells IndieWire. Tom Hanks will forever be the most iconic character of “A League of Their Own,” which as implied by Jacobson, is odd for a movie that is about women. Offerman’s subtle but blood-boiling performance is necessary to keep us invested in the women of “A League of Their Own.”
“A League of Their Own” is one of very few film reimaginings that, in my mind, surpasses its predecessor. Often remakes and sequels feel like shameless money-grabs, or an excuse to use dated, marketable catch phrases; not as an opportunity to expand upon a great story and make it better, or more inclusive to wider audiences. “A League of Their Own” is an excellent exception, with refreshing perspectives, modernized storylines, and characters that have personalities deeper than “jealous sister,” or “unattractive.” Equal parts funny and sweet, with just enough historical drama to keep you invested in a show that can technically be called educational. As the reviewers say, it’s everything you might’ve loved about the original film and more. It’s also worth mentioning that the words “there’s no crying in baseball” weren’t spoken until 22 minutes and 40 seconds into episode five. And, the line was delivered by a woman. So, ha.