A League of Their Own is sharp, nuanced, and multilayered with constant surprises. Round the bases for this modern update of a comedy classic.
This review of the Amazon originals series A League of Their Own (2022) season 1 does not contain spoilers.
When Amazon Studios first announced the A League of Their Own remake, I immediately worried the updated series would aim for that feel-good show that fails to take oppression seriously. You know, the kind where big studios looked at the despotism through a lens with rose-colored glasses. A time when big studio films touched upon repression with stories that were primarily white and no worse than mansplaining a woman her place in this world. To my relief, while sacrificing much of the fun from the 1992 original, creators Abbi Jacobsen (Broad City) and Will Graham’s (Movie 43) show is layered and flawlessly produced. The final product is a streaming series that offers insightful themes on how these women operate in the shadows.
Jacobsen also stars as Carson Shaw, a married woman from Idaho. Shaw travels by train to Chicago to try out for the All-American Girl’s Professional Baseball League (AAGBPL). Along the way, she tags along with Greta (The Good Place’s D’Arcy Carden) and Jo (You’s Melanie Fields). Both are off to the same field of dreams. All three make into the hallowed, well, in this case, hollowed halls of the AAGBPL. They are all placed on the Rockford Peaches roster. Another player who tries out, Maxine Chapman (Bad Hair’s Chante Adams), is denied the opportunity. Why? Because of the color of her skin. Even if she can throw the baseball from deep centerfield to the first base dugout stands. She is accompanied by her best friend, Clance, played by Sex Education’s Gbemisola Ikumelo, who is responsible for most of the streaming series’ comic relief.
Chapman’s Max is the other main character and is treated equally to Jacobsen’s Shaw. She is an African American woman living in Rockford, Georgia, who has dreams of playing in the Negro leagues. However, in the classic trope, her mother, Toni (an excellent Saidah Arrika Ekulona), wants her to take over the family business. Max’s journey to professional baseball has multiple roadblocks that have to do with her intersectionality — being a woman and black in the deep south increases her odds of being oppressed and discriminated against. However, nearly all the main characters carry a secret and live in constant fear.
If you are looking for a version of Tom Hank’s making women cry and producing laughs by yelling, “There’s no crying in baseball!” you will be sorely disappointed, which is surprising considering Jacobsen’s pedigree with the critically acclaimed comedy Broad City. Yet, that makes this remake so compelling and interesting and better for it. We have our beloved, heartfelt comedy that is 30 years old this year and is a timeless classic. We need something that goes deeper. This update touches on issues that directly affect the LGBTQ+ community of a group known as the Invisible Generation. This was a time when same-sex relationships were illegal. At worst, it would result in severe consequences, such as jail, being placed in psychiatric facilities, and even killed.
There is not a huge star in the cast besides a short guest stint by the always welcomed Nick Offerman, who doesn’t exactly raise the electricity. But you have standout performances here. As I mentioned above, the show’s breakout star is Ikumelo, who is comedically stellar here. Carden has always struck me as a performer born in the wrong era. She is statuesque and looks like a vintage movie star from a century prior. Her Greta slowly and inexpertly turns in the show’s undercurrent of paranoia. For instance, in the series’ best episode, “Stealing Home”, the final scene is visceral and brings credence to her fears. Not to mention your original cast member Rosie O’Donnell, who is unrecognizable in a powerful cameo.
Jacobsen and Graham’s writing is sharp, nuanced, and multilayered with constant surprises. Never better than exploring the world of Maxine. The character themes are sexual orientation and family shame. At the time, this often came with the label of sexual inversion. Adams does a wonderful job exploring social norms, what it means to be a woman, and the constraints of the 1940s.
Do not get me wrong, the remake of A League of Their Own is not perfect. There was a need for more comedy. The series seems to have one foot in each genre. It’s admirable to put less emphasis on this to deal with serious themes that took a back seat, But there was no need to sacrifice the baseball side of comic relief as much as he shows here — there are times it is in desperate need of elevating the mood. Yet, this series finds a voice and shines a light on the complexity of social justice issues of an era long forgotten.
This is worth rounding the bases for.
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