I am sick to death of franchises and reboots, so I was a little bit trepidatious about Abbi Jacobson’s update of one of my favorite movies ever, “A League of Their Own.” (I don’t even remember the first time I watched Penny Marshall’s classic, it’s just always been a part of my life. I’ve been quoting it as long as I’ve been talking.) Thankfully, I was needlessly worried. The new “A League of Their Own” show is comparable to TV’s “Fargo” — it evokes a similar tone and perspective as its source material, but it is very much its own thing. There are Easter eggs and homages, and some characters definitely have analogs in the film, but this is not a scene-for-scene remake or a clumsy modernization. Jacobson’s “A League of Their Own” is a celebration of everything that made the 1992 original great, as well as a corrective to its shortcomings.
The “League” film, for example, only hinted at the racial segregation in World War II-era baseball, specifically that of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), in one brief scene. Non-Black women of color were completely shut out, as were queer women characters. There might have been a hint, here or there, about the women ballplayers being masculine or butch, or somewhat uncomfortable with gender norms, but none of the characters were explicitly portrayed as LGBTQ+.
Thirty years later, in the new “League,” there is a genuine reckoning with America’s history of anti-Black racism. There are also Latina women who make the Rockford Peaches and several storylines involving lesbian, bisexual, and questioning women. If that sounds like a ham-fisted inclusion smorgasbord on paper, rest assured that the show’s on-screen representation is deliberate, thoughtful, and reflective of the real world. This isn’t a project that’s patting itself on the back for its wokeness; the series wanted to craft an ensemble of nuanced women from many different walks of life, and did just that.
In terms of plot specifics, the “League of Their Own” reboot once again follows the Rockford Peaches, one of the AAGPBL teams organized when the professional male players were off fighting overseas. First thing, we are introduced to Carson (Jacobson) as she makes her way to tryouts in Chicago. She will eventually become the Peaches’ catcher, and begin to question her sexuality when she meets her teammate Greta (D’Arcy Carden). Greta is probably the most femme woman in the series, and is seemingly the most comfortable with being queer — possibly because she “passes” as straight — yet she is the first to worry about the league’s survival when an etiquette teacher is brought in to show the players how to be more “ladylike.” Other Peaches include Lupe (Roberta Colindrez), Shirley (Kate Berlant), Jo (Melanie Field), and Esti (Priscilla Delgado). In a clever twist on the Ann Cusack character in the original film, who initially didn’t know how to read or write, Esti only speaks Spanish and relies on Lupe and body language to communicate with the rest of the team.
In a parallel story, Rockford resident Max (Chanté Adams), a skilled pitcher who was barred from even trying out for the AAGPBL because she’s Black, is determined to find a league of her own. The AAGPBL is a no-go, so she sets her sights on a local factory’s integrated company team. At the moment, only male employees are allowed, but Max figures if she gets a job and shows off her incredible arm, she’ll finally be able to play in serious games. The person who helps Max bring her complex plans to fruition is her best friend and confidant, Clance (series MVP Gbemisola Ikumelo), a newlywed comics aficionado. The person who doesn’t really understand Max’s love of baseball is her mother, Toni (Saidah Arrika Ekulona). She believes, and is trying to instill in Max, that the only way a Black woman can excel in America is to build something of her own, as she did when she opened her salon.
None of this careful world-building would work if Jacobson’s “League” didn’t do what the best stories about women in sports — “GLOW,” “Whip It,” “Love & Basketball,” “Bend It Like Beckham,” “Bring It On,” the original “League of Their Own” — do, which is to showcase the pleasure and satisfaction these women derive from realizing their own power. Because the ballplayers don’t just love the game: They love that they have finally found a place where they fit in. They love seeing what their bodies are capable of. They love being athletes. The love each other. They love themselves.
I love that the new “League of Their Own” recognizes how significant that is, for both the characters on-screen and the viewers at home.
“A League of Their Own” is now available on Prime Video. Jacobson created and executive produced the series alongside Will Graham.