Almost a Home Run
A League of Their Own: Season 1
I suppose I didn't realize that the 1992 baseball film A League of Their Own was considered a classic. I know it did reasonably well back when it came out, returning a very respectable $132 Mil against a $40 budget, meaning the studio made plenty of the flick as well as more from TV rights and home video (back when home video actually mattered to a studio's bottom line). It wasn't just a success for the studio, though, it went on to become a regularly watched film for a lot of people, apparently.
It wasn't, however, a film I regularly watched. I saw it once in theaters when it came out, and then caught it occasionally (in bits and piece) on its regular plays on cable. Then it just faded from memory for me. It wasn't that it was a bad film -- it actually has a decent cast, including Geena Davis and Tom Hanks -- but the story always felt a little to saccharine for my tastes. Maybe it was just the various times all the ladies sang the "Girls Baseball Song" (as I thought of it), and that bothered me. Singing for no reason in movies annoys me. Whatever the case, A League of Their Own didn't stick around for me.
It did for other people, even after a disastrous attempt to turn the movie into a TV series in 1993. No one cared about that show, but they still watched the film for years and years. Now, three decades later, we have a reboot of the franchise. It's the same concept, "documenting" the start of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) in its inaugural year, 1943, and the ladies that played in it. The new show, hosted on Amazon PrimeWhile Netflix might be the largest streaming seervice right now, other major contenders have come into the game. One of the biggest, and best funded, is Amazon Prime, the streaming-service add-on packing with free delivery and all kinds of other perks Amazon gives its members. And, with the backing of its corporate parent, this streaming service very well could become the market leader., does take things in different directions from the original film though, in a lot of ways, helping the keep the overall story new and fresh.
The series focuses on two main characters: Carson Shaw (Abbi Jacobson), a white woman with dreams of playing professional baseball who they gets picked up by the Rockford Peaches (Shaw is the closest we have to a Geena Davis / Dottie Hinson analogue), and Maxine Chapman (Chante Adams), a Black woman who also wanted play for the Peaches but was turned away because of her skin color. Each takes their own path through the first year of the AAGPBL, with Shaw working her best on the team before getting promoted to coach when their original coach, Casey "Dove" Porter (Nick Offerman), goes off to coach "real" baseball on a men's team. Meanwhile, Maxine has to find a way to play baseball any way she can, even trying to force her way onto a factory's baseball team (which doesn't entirely go well).
But along with the ladies finding their way through baseball they're also finding their way through life. Because these are women playing in what is considered a "male" sport, many of these ladies are lesbians, either closeted or not. Shaw is so closeted she doesn't even realize she's a lesbian (and maybe really be bi before that was truly considered a "thing"). Max knows who she is and who she likes (women), but for her it's realizing she can be more "manly" in her style and dress, edging towards trans (which wasn't really a term tossed around back then). Both women, and the rest of the players they work with, have to figure out what they want out of life, and who they want to be with, but the time the season ends.
Creating a reboot of a film does require the creators to decide just how much fidelity they owe to the original work. In the cast of 2022's A League of Their Own there isn't as much fidelity as some might have expected. There are characters you can kind of slot into the original roles -- Shaw in place of Dottie, D'Arcy Carden's Greta Gill in place of Madonna's "All the Way" Mae Mordabito, Melanie Field's Jo Deluca in for Rosie O'Donnell's Doris Murphy -- but the characters aren't one-to-one. We do get one cameo from Rosie O'Donnell (in a new role), but for the most part this show doesn't really seemed concerned with recreating the original film in TV form. The teams may have the same name but the stories are very different.
This time around, though, the focus is really on lesbian stories. I think that's honestly fair; back in 1992 an LGBTQ-friendly plot line would have been all but unthinkable (let along any trans-supporting storylines, considering this was also the era of The Crying Game and Ace Ventura). You couldn't have put these kinds of stories in the old film, as much as they would haven been realistic and true for the ladies playing the game, but you can have them now, and it works to the show's benefit.
I have seen some reviewers complain that the show doesn't hew to the same themes as the the previous, "kid friendly" movie, but I have to wonder about that. Yes, the characters here cuss a little more but I wonder how many of them are still living under the illusion that realistically showing lesbian love (even if there's no nudity) is somehow "illicit". It shouldn't be and I can respect the show for diving in and making that the focus of this season. They are stories worth telling and the series commits to it.
With that being said, the greatest issue I have this this show is that, despite it nominally being about baseball, there really isn't that much baseball being played here. I'd say in a standard 45-minute episode, maybe two minutes or less are actually devoted to the teams playing baseball. We get the occasional montage, or a shot of a single game, but nothing that makes you feel like you're getting any kind of sense of how good these ladies really are at their chosen sport. Are they underdogs? Why are they underdogs? How bad is their play against other teams? Why are those teams better. The show does talks a lot at us about baseball and how the Rockford Peaches are doing but rarely does it really show it to us.
The other thing that bothered me was that despite Max being an important character to the show for her perspective, she has barely anything to do with the actual league that is, you know, the focus of this show. She doesn't ever make it onto an AAGPBL which leaves her whole side of the show feeling like this superfluous thing. Her story is important to the era, giving us her perspective, but it isn't actually important to the plot of the show. Everything she does and goes through could be excised entirely, removing every appearance of her character, and you wouldn't even realize it. That's how inessential she is to the plot, and that's something that really needs to be remedied. She needs to be better worked into the show as a whole.
All that being said, the show is a very magnetic watch. It has a great cast and they deliver solid performances all around. It's not nearly as saccharine as the film was, in part because it does have some heavier material to deal with (LGBTQ stories, stories of institutional racism), but also because this show has a better grasp of how to tell a story about women in baseball with out making it "cute". The original movie dragged on men back kin the day for treating these women like supermodels, but it feels like this show even tries to rebuke some of the depictions of the women from that film. It's grown up a bit more, getting the right style for this more modern era.
What flaws the show has can easily be fixed in the second season, and Amazon has already announced there will be a second season. I hope the show does give us a little more baseball in this baseball show but, more importantly, I how it integrates Max into the plot just like she's fighting to integrate herself into baseball. It can and should happen and that will make A League of Their Own even better. It's a good show right now, but it can really sing (pun intended) once it works out these kinks.