A League of Their Own
- Creator: Abbi Jacobson, Will Graham
- Starring: Abbi Jacobson, Chanté Adams, D’Arcy Carden, Nick Offerman, Roberta Colindrez, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Kelly McCormack, Priscilla Delgado
- Three episodes watched for review
Listen: I’ve never believed that art is sacred, that a film or TV show or comic or book shouldn’t be re-made once it’s put out into the world. For a large swath of people, the prospect of transposing Penny Marshall’s 1992 classic film of the same name for a streaming service sounds borderline sacrilegious. For every Cape Fear or Solaris, there’s a thousand forgotten remakes of movies like Total Recall or Point Break or Bad News Bears. So what could be gained from remaking A League of Their Own?
For starters, an expansion of the film’s premise could yield some interesting results: a TV show could easily explore another team in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Not to mention the show – helmed by Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham – can explore the gender, racial, and sexual politics of the era that the film was either too timid or uninterested in exploring in 1992. Which is why, despite an honest portrayal of these themes, the first three episodes of the show are a bit of a disappointment, creatively speaking.
The show hews painfully closely to the events of the film in its main characters, while making the slightest tweaks to their personalities to make them feel fresh. Jacobson also stars as Carson Shaw, a prospective player for the Rockford Peaches and a stand-in for Geena Davis’ Dottie Hinson. Jacobson is a reliably solid comedic actress and excels at scenes where her character is thrust into an unfamiliar situation, as in her work on Broad City, and it’s essentially what constitutes Carson’s journey throughout the early-goings of the show. That she has palpable chemistry with D’Arcy Carden’s Greta and the rest of her teammates goes a long way in keeping the show afloat. Carden has been a favorite of mine since her days on The Good Place and it’s great to see her get a meaty role with some real dramatic weight. Early on, Greta senses something about Carson that leads her to believe she’s not being honest with herself. It’s not long until the two share a kiss that blossoms into an interesting push-pull throughout the next two episodes, as Carson denies her real feelings. Not only is she lying to her husband – stationed in Europe – about even wanting to play baseball, but she’s lying to herself about her own sexuality.
Also providing a fresh update to the material is the introduction of Chanté Adams’s Max, a Black Chicagoan with the skill to make it in the league, but isn’t given a shot because of the color of her skin. Also holding Max back is her obligations to her mother’s salon, and the lack of opportunities for Black women, even in a country that advertised itself as open to providing opportunities to anyone that could contribute to the war effort. Eventually Max gets a job at the local screw factory just so she can try out for the company team, which she’s overlooked for as well. The show is divided nearly equally between the Peaches’ storyline and Max’s, and Chanté Adams’ determined performance is another bright spot for an otherwise serviceable show.
I can already see the show setting up Carson and Greta’s relationship as a sort of riff on Geena Davis and Lori Petty’s rivalry from the film. In fact, many of the show’s early moments are – to put it nicely – homages to notable scenes and moments from the film. But people don’t want to invest 8 hours of their lives to watch what’s essentially something that they’re already familiar with. Characters like Jo (Melanie Field) and Jess (Kelly McCormack) don’t get fleshed out as much, but are clearly meant to remind us of their silver screen counterparts. At least Jacobson and Graham do something unique with Nick Offerman as Casey “Dove” Porter in the Tom Hanks role, as a washed-up former major leaguer who presents himself as an ally to the women and their defender to the press; though he’s just as likely to go on about his friendships with famous baseball stars as he is to talk about his own players. Offerman smartly doesn’t try to overshadow Hanks, but puts his own exasperated spin on the character.
There’s potential here for A League of Their Own to be a decent, breezy show. It won’t break new ground in the television landscape, nor will it serve as a template for how to reboot or adapt a movie to the small screen. But there are still elements to it that have me eager to watch the rest of the season. No expense has been spared to recreate the atmosphere of Chicago in 1943 (even if most of the backdrops are CGI), and the costuming, especially on D’Arcy Carden, is fantastic. The cast is clearly having fun together and it features enough solid writing to feature dynamic, interesting characters. Here’s hoping that the show can get out of the film’s shadow soon enough to make a footprint of its own.
The entire first season of A League of Their Own will be available to stream on Amazon Prime on August 12.