A League of Their Own (★★★★☆), Amazon’s sweeping, 1940s-set dramedy created by Will Graham and Abbi Jacobson, doesn’t rehash or reprise characters made famous in Penny Marshall’s beloved 1992 film. Dottie, Kit, Doris, and “All the Way” Mae aren’t in the lineup, and neither is Tom Hanks’ irascible Jimmy Dugan, manager of the Rockford Peaches in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
Of course, there’s still no crying in baseball — the movie’s best-remembered quote does earn a reprise — and the spotlight is still on the Peaches of Rockford, Illinois. They’re represented here by a team of new, compelling characters, women from all walks of life with a shared dream of playing pro baseball.
Jacobson, best known as one-half of the talented Broad City duo, stars as Carson Shaw, the hard-swinging Idaho housewife who emerges as the Peaches’ team leader. The squad gels quickly around catcher Shaw, slugger Jo (Melanie Field), pitcher Lupe (Roberta Colindrez), and leggy wisecracker Greta (D’Arcy Carden), who stirs unexpected pangs of desire in Shaw.
The series moves delicately yet assuredly in depicting the myriad facets of romance between Shaw, a married woman with a husband off fighting the war, and Greta, a single, liberated-but-not-out lesbian. Living as teammates under the watchful eyes of team chaperone Beverly (Dale Dickey), the other Peaches, and the public, Shaw and Greta wrestle with feelings of attraction, confusion, exhilaration, and guilt.
But ALOTO‘s eight-episode season isn’t interested only in them. The series broadens its focus to include women in Rockford who aren’t playing for the Peaches — and, in the case of young Black pitcher Maxine (Chanté Adams), likely never will.
Despite a phenomenal throwing arm, Max is shut out of the league without so much as a tryout. That rejection sends her on a journey to prove herself a player worthy of a spot on a pro team, and opens up an avenue for the series to explore a world of women outside the bounds of baseball.
Off the field, we meet Max’s stern mother, Lynn (Diane Sellers), a hard-working salon owner and pillar of Rockford’s Black community, and Max’s lifelong best friend, Clance (an outstanding Gbemisola Ikumelo), whose sweet life with her love, Guy (Aaron Jennings), will be upended by the war.
Also, Max meets more than one fine woman who turns her head, as she, too, comes to terms with whether she might be gay or bisexual. Through one of her long-lost relatives, the show even ventures a look at trans lives in an era with different terms and options for a person born as a woman but living as a man.
One episode follows Shaw, Greta, and a few other Peaches to a queer speakeasy, where Rosie O’Donnell pops up in an excellent cameo, and folks of all genders and orientations are living their fantasy — until reality comes crashing through the door.
A League of Their Own transmits a genuine passion for all these women’s stories, examining the choices available to mothers, daughters, owners, laborers, prudes, and party girls alike.
And much like Chris Bolan’s superb 2020 documentary A Secret Love, about AAGPBL player Terry Donahue’s six-decade lesbian romance with partner Pat Henschel, A League of Their Own offers an immersive sense of the real lives the Peaches might have lived.
In a nice nod to A Secret Love, one of the Peaches hails from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, the town where Terry and Pat met. The period production and costume design, wigs and makeup are wonderfully consistent, and every detail, from the cars to the billboard ads and swinging montage music, sings of the 1940s.
That consistency does not extend, however, to all the music choices (like “Barracuda” over one game montage), or the dialogue, which the writers have opted to keep, more or less, contemporary in its idioms and flow.
The sound of ’40s characters snarking like Xennials will be jarring to many, but probably no more jarring than the amount of time this show spends on subjects other than baseball. The actual on-field play, and the team’s progress and setbacks on the road to the playoffs, form a vital framework for the other stories, but the game comes second to the off-field drama — and comedy, such as it is.
This is no laugh riot, but the Peaches, and especially Max and Clance, often find themselves in chuckle-worthy situations. Those beats might be funnier, and the entire season would feel tighter, if the 50-minute to hour-long episodes were maybe 45 minutes apiece.
But this is a show that lets its moments breathe, while letting its audience absorb every meaningful aspect of these characters’ struggles and strengths. Like a good baseball game, it demands patience to appreciate all the big swings and slight, unspoken moves that add up to a first-rate showdown.
All episodes of A League of Their Own are available for streaming on Prime Video. Visit www.amazon.com.