There was much discussion when it was announced that the 1992 film, A League of Their Own was being made into a television series. Following the short-lived series of the same name that aired on CBS in 1993, anticipations for the most recent adaptation were high. Each, including this version, tells the story of one of the original teams of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), the 1943 Rockford Peaches.
The previews for this year’s “league” revealed a much more diverse cast with the possibility of forbidden romance. The representation of underrepresented communities alone may be a draw for many. However, Hollywood tends to promise diversity only for audiences to be let down with one-dimensional and stereotypical characters. This adaptation attempts, and quite successfully, puts diverse stories and characters at the forefront. Their histories are relevant and profound and will leave viewers with a greater sense of who these characters are and their desires.
Amazon’s A League of Their Own follows Idahoan catcher, Carson Shaw (Abbi Jacobson), as a member of the 1943 Rockford Peaches of Illinois. Like many of the wives of the time, her husband, Charlie (Patrick J. Adams), is drafted to fight in WWII. Carson takes full advantage of his absence to (literally) run from her duties as a housewife and toward her dreams of playing professional baseball. As bold of a move it is, she’s unsure of herself. She stammers when inundated with questions and moves about awkwardly when conversations have the potential to become confrontational. Carson has much room for growth and there’s no better way to achieve it than leaving her comfort zone.
Upon her arrival in Chicago, she meets Jo Deluca (Melanie Field) and Greta Gill (D’Arcy Carden), two baseball besties who travel the country together. The pair are also on their way to try out for the AAGPBL. While Jo is reluctant to allow Carson to follow them to tryouts, Greta doesn’t believe she is much competition and invites her along. Greta is the ideal foil to Carson’s apprehensive nature. Even physically, the two are opposite in stature and build. But there’s an instant connection between the two that initiates a silent trust that plays out through the series.
At tryouts, the trio is in awe at the number of women present and their skills. Viewers are introduced immediately to the core characters and their quirky personalities. Maxine/Max (Chanté Adams), a talented Black pitcher, arrives with the support of her best friend, Clance (Gbemisola Ikumelo), with the hopes of trying out for the All-American league.
However, the two are swiftly turned away as the league does not allow Black players — an unwritten rule but one that the league upheld until its disbandment in 1954. The white man who confronts Maxine and Clance emphasizes that it is an All-American league and when the women, rightly, state that they are American, he asks if they think that they look like them, gesturing to a sea of white faces and flowing locs. The message is clear. But before they exit, Maxine is able to give them a glimpse of what it is they’re missing.
Notably, a Cuban, a Mexican, a Canadian, a Swede, and an Irish player earn a spot on the team without fuss. Even the AAGPBL’s theme song proclaims other nationalities as American while African Americans are denied the acknowledgment. What it came down to, and continues to come down to today, is what you look like.
The rejection of Maxine is what most signifies that this series is not like the others. And it’s a good thing. It’s common for period pieces to gloss over the harsh realities of minorities, women, and LGBTQ+ characters. Though it isn’t always a necessity and it can be a tremendous relief for people of color, specifically Black people, to not have to be reminded of their trauma.
Maxine and Clance are instantly a loveable duo. Clance is a fast-talking, energetic, comic book nerd who shows up for those she loves. She’s the embodiment of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Maxine is ambitious and persistent. Rightfully so. She has a talent and deserves an opportunity to share it. The two can read each other like Clance reads comic books but Maxine holds secrets so close to her heart that, even though Clance holds a place in it, has no clue. The chemistry between them is lighthearted and tender despite the pervasive racist society that surrounds them.
The series toggles between the lives of Carson and Maxine. And while Carson’s appears to be the ‘A’ story, Maxine’s serves as a very close ‘B’ story. Her narrative is just as compelling and interesting. Her narrative is just as compelling and interesting, if not more because it’s uniquely unknown to many. The stories of the Maxines of the world often go untold and ignored. Her experiences will be eye-opening to some and will resonate with others.
Still, the writers do well in balancing out screentime between the two creating worlds that are multi-dimensional. And when they collide, it isn’t forced. Audiences will await impatiently to see whether Carson invites Maxine to play with the Peaches. The answer may disappoint some but ultimately, the right choice is made. They are both aware that even with their similarities, they live under different circumstances. Maxine’s story is heartbreaking and triumphant.
There are simply more obstacles for her to overcome than her white female counterpart. While Carson is accepted into the league, Maxine struggles to find a team. Carson has much to lose as well but despite her obstacles, she can blend in and have access to a world and opportunities that Maxine cannot. Of course, this doesn’t mean that Carson has it easy. She just has it differently. The beauty in their two stories is the way they come together and despite their differences, can confide and be themselves in each other’s company. In a heart-wrenching moment, Maxine declares, “There’s no version of myself that makes sense for the world.” That reality is one that not even Carson can relate.
Surprisingly, Carson’s arc changes but not to the extent that one would expect. Though she finds her voice in challenging situations and becomes more confident, it doesn’t feel complete. She still holds back. Her relationship with Greta is the sole source of her strength and it is a beautiful thing to observe. Truthfully, her arc would be nonexistent if it weren’t for her. Greta’s arc, on the other hand, happens in the shadows and only a few (Carson and Jo) are privy to it. This discretion makes the story even more exciting because audiences are in on the secret. Jacobson and Carden mesmerize on screen together as they figure out what it is they truly want and what they’re willing to risk to get it.
The Rockford Peaches is full of distinct personalities. Even their chaperone, Beverly (marvelously played by Dale Dickey), has a sense of humor and a motherly nature hidden behind her terse presentation. While these varying personalities bring tension, most of the drama tends to come from outside forces such as the owners of the team and the rules of society. Though teammates clash, things take an interesting turn when their manager, Casey “Dove” Porter (Nick Offerman), takes over the team and is… nice?
But as viewers learn, appearances can be deceiving and his influence on the team is where most, if not all, of the team’s drama stems. Dove is portrayed in stark contrast to Tom Hanks’ hard and rugged portrayal of Jimmy Dugan. Without revealing too much, the Peaches are eventually tasked with looking to one another for support if they want to keep the team together and possibly play another season.
The characters and their relationships are wonderfully written and superbly portrayed. Viewers are going to care what happens to the characters and want the best for them. Each character is perfectly cast. Lupe (Roberta Colindrez) and Jess McCready (Kelly McCormack) bond over their tough, suck-it-up attitude. Not just towards baseball but life in general. We’re given snippets of their relationship but what’s clear is their loyalty to each other. Kate Berlant plays Shirley rather convincingly as a paranoid, sheltered, on-the-brink-of-a-breakdown ballplayer with an intense fear of, well, everything. Esti (Priscilla Delgado) is a young Cuban who struggles with English but wants nothing more than to communicate and fit in with her teammates.
Maybelle (Molly Ephraim) is an easygoing platinum blonde who gets along with just about anyone. Last but not least is Jo, a loyal and caring friend whose lucky arm is the team’s good luck charm. There are other women on the team who act more as fillers than additional characters. Their faces appear throughout some of the episodes but are often framed just out of the shot in team gatherings. It would play much better to just remove them or give them something to do. Team gatherings, including at the games, look weird when the number of players constantly changes. Also, I’m certain these characters are switched out throughout the season and it’s distracting. In one episode, drama arrives at the team house and Beverly prevents two players from entering a room to see what’s going on. I had no idea who these women were and where they came from.
The series makes clear that though women were given the opportunity to play professional baseball, it wasn’t on their own terms. To get a better sense of their subordination, Carson mentions how she is unable to open a bank account without her husband. In addition, the players are required to attend a training session where they are taught how to behave like ladies and also must abide by a strict set of rules. One rule forbids the wearing of pants in public. Breaking any of the rules results in fines deducted from their paychecks. Their ladylike personas are put to the test throughout resulting in some fraught moments.
It is Maxine, however, who undoubtedly shoulders the most burdensome situations and tasks. The world of Maxine is complex. Her character alone could carry a show. Truthfully, it would be nice to see more stories like hers told. In between her mother wanting her to take over the salon, her mysterious family history, her ambitions to play baseball, Clance’s husband being drafted to fight in a war where segregation is still law, her beau (Gary played by Kendall Johnson) being on an endless pursuit to win her affection… It goes on!
Still, it doesn’t feel overwhelming. Instead, you’re left wanting more. It’s almost impossible to not be invested in her character as she finds herself and explores parts of herself that she never knew were there. At times, Maxine is overwhelmingly selfish but that criticism wanes when we’re shown how many times this young Black woman gets knocked down and picks herself back up. Maxine is so interesting because of the intersectionality and the exploration of what that meant for a Black woman at that time. Unfortunately, it’s similar to what it’s like even today.
While the series is set in 1943, and the rules and laws reflect that time, it sure doesn’t sound like it. The lingo is very modern and can even feel a bit jarring at times. Whether this was done intentionally, (perhaps as a nod to the future), it’s surely something viewers will notice. Phrases like, “She beers,” “fuckin’ fuckers,” and “just let it happen,” will sound familiar.
Even though this adaptation carries the bare bones of a sports show, it’s much more than that. I find the lives of the players to be just as exciting as the sports action. Okay. Maybe a little more exciting. The stories being told just aren’t portrayed often. Some have complained that there isn’t that much baseball in the show. To that I say, it’s an adaptation, not a remake. I’d argue that their stories make the baseball games more intense because we know what’s on the line if they don’t perform to expectations. The sports scenes are not exactly plentiful but there is a balance of sports drama and character drama. My biggest critique regarding the sports scenes is the overuse of CGI. It’s excessive and makes certain scenes look incredibly unrealistic. Surely, these actors can catch and toss a ball without the need for such heavy effects.
The true gem of this picture, however, is in its representation. There is a character for everyone. Whether you’re LGBTQ+, heterosexual, BIPOC, white, man, woman, or other, there is going to be a character, or a situation, in which you’ll relate. But as expected, there have been some who claim the series is “too woke.” It isn’t woke. Telling the stories of people who exist isn’t woke. Put into context, Top Gun: Maverick received complaints for being “woke” because there was a female pilot and two Black male pilots! Maybelle Blair, who inspired A League of Their Own, and was portrayed by Madonna as “All the Way” Mae Mordabito in the original film, shared that she is a lesbian for the first time publicly. She also disclosed that when she was first invited out to a bar by her teammates, it was a gay bar.
It’s also worth noting that Maxine is a Black woman. Not biracial or racially ambiguous but a Black woman. This is important because the experience of a Black woman is different than the aforementioned. Typically, the Black women cast as leading characters in most productions are of lighter complexion or biracial. And if they are Black, their characters are often one-dimensional, shallow, and stereotypical. It’s refreshing (and necessary) to see a non-racially ambiguous actress take the lead. We also see Black love as it is — tender, gentle, and honest. There’s a scene where Guy (Aaron Jennings) confides in Clance that he is afraid to go to war. During the scene, he kisses her tenderly on the cheek. And Black love isn’t just limited to heterosexual couples but to the wide range of pairings that existed back then and today. Furthermore, it’s exhilarating to see same-sex relationships between two Black characters.
Trans characters are also represented in the series. And much like the gay and lesbian characters, their existence isn’t “othered” in ways that they have been in the past. Their sexual identities and preferences aren’t treated as grandiose. Instead, they just exist. Their identities come second to simply being human. Their worlds, and the places in which they congregate, are not fetishized. While we know these spaces are as secret as they are important, they’re presented with such normalcy that you can’t help but feel joy and relief that they get to simply exist. In one scene, Carson is surprised after finding out one of the players in the league is a lesbian because “she’s so girly.” Another player explains that presentation doesn’t equate to sexual orientation. A minor, but vital, statement as these assumptions are common.
There’s authenticity in the stories and the characters. Generally, it doesn’t feel as if the creators were trying to meet a quota. Rather, it feels as if there were BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and women in the making of the project. Not just in front of the camera but behind it as well. There are also very real situations where people of color come into contact with other people of color and are glad to have met someone with which they can potentially bond. But their hopes are dashed when the person is not who they initially thought. For instance, Esti is thrilled to meet Lupe but Lupe is brash and doesn’t share the same enthusiasm. Also, Maxine comes across another Black female baseball pitcher but instead of perceiving Maxine as an ally, she treats her like a threat.
Every storyline isn’t perfect, however. A scene that should have been left out is the stereotypical Black person talking loudly during a movie. In a theater full of white people no less. After putting so much into the series for it to not feel stereotypical, it seems silly to undo some of that progress with a lazily written comedy bit that plays into a racist trope.
One storyline does come across as if it was attempting to meet some sort of quota — an effort to squeeze in one more storyline regarding race and white privilege. A member of the Rockford Peaches has an opportunity taken away from her and it’s made out to be because of her race. When, truly, she doesn’t deserve the opportunity to begin with. The player is stubborn, selfish, and petty when she doesn’t get what she wants. She consistently puts herself before the team. Race aside, she was unfit and unprepared for the leadership role she seeks. The storyline could have been handled much better and been much more impactful if the character didn’t use her ethnicity as an excuse for not getting the role or for being reprimanded. To me, this storyline could have left race out of it.
Overall, this adaptation is a homerun. Albeit, based in 1943, some of the language sounds modern, which might come as a curveball for some but the set design, costumes, and social life feels true to that era. The characters are multidimensional with rich backstories, enticing secrets, and strong motives. The cast is superb. Though this is quite different than the original film (there is a tasteful surprise appearance of a character from the movie that fans will adore), it stands on its own without losing the excitement of the game.
The portrayal of so many diverse storylines and characters is the best part of the series. Not only is it bingeable, but it’s also relatable. Coming in at nearly 8 hours, it certainly doesn’t feel like it. Viewers will likely enjoy every minute. Loose ends need to be tied up by the end of the season making a second season a necessity. Viewers who have felt that their stories have been underrepresented, marginalized, and misrepresented will feel like they too have finally found a league of their own.