It’s been 30 years since Penny Marshall’s classic comedy A League of Their Own was released in theaters. Fans of the heartwarming story inspired by women playing baseball during World War II while many men were away at war will surely have opinions on whether a new show is needed or advisable. Fortunately, this eight-episode Prime Video series more than makes the case for its existence, smartly starting over with an all new cast of characters and going considerably deeper in every aspect of its world. Its spotlight on sexual orientation and race, aspects absent from the film, is very welcome, but there’s much more to appreciate about this show, including a great cast, scripts, and aesthetic commitment to its period setting.
The setup is the same as in the film, and the condescending chauvinism of the era is just as rampant. But this show isn’t really a comedy, building layered and complex team members who are more than just a punchline. The focus is also on the women, with Tom Hanks’ mess of a coach written out in favor of a more respectable if still flawed character portrayed by Nick Offerman, whose role isn’t major. The women are playing baseball, which they love, but that’s not all that defines them. They have opinions about more than just the fact that they’re forced to wear skirts while playing, and their conversations reflect that.
Carson Shaw (Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson) is the central figure of the story, with a husband away at war and no real idea of what awaits her when she travels to Chicago for the tryouts. She quickly forms a friendship with Greta (D’Arcy Carden, Barry), which turns into something more, a concept that Shaw had never thought to consider (Carden’s suggestive delivery of “Friends can mean a lot of things” is perfect). This show’s handling of lesbian relationships is strong and sophisticated, never diminishing the emotions involved and the ease with which otherwise kindhearted people can make devastating and judgmental statements, hurling words like “queer” and “freak” to express their distaste for something they believe to be abhorrent. When Greta’s longtime best friend Jo (Melanie Field) suggests that the world be changing, Greta pessimistically replies, “the world doesn’t change, Jo,” indicating that, even for the character who seems most freely able to express herself, there is a knowledge of reality of the era in which she lives.
These women trying to make their mark as players in their own right which also defines the show’s next most prominent character, Max (Chanté Adams). Max is a Black woman who knows that she can pitch better than anyone but is coldly turned away from both the Rockford Peaches, made up of all white women, and the team restricted to Black male factory workers. Max and her friend Clance (Gbemisola Ikumelo), whose storylines run parallel to those of the Peaches, are exceptionally engaging, and both actresses are a delight to watch. That Max fails to deliver when given an opportunity and insists on one more chance than the white men looking down on her were willing to give in the first place, it’s fascinating to watch her become even more inspired to find creative ways to make her mark and to discover more about her own identity in the process.
A League of Their Own offers a colorful invitation to another era, and the production design and costumes are vivid, a tremendous improvement on the film’s relatively dreary look. Some actors within the cast, particularly Carden and Offerman, have a natural demeanor that makes them feel like they could have stepped right out of the 1940s without much effort at all. Dale Dickey is particularly charming as the team’s chaperone, who exhibits a military attitude and constant call for order but occasionally reveals a softer side that shows that she understands her place in the world and is trying to glean the most out of it, for her own sake and to better the team.
Eight episodes allow for substantial probing into the personal lives of many of the players, tethered together with them actually playing baseball. A tremendous ensemble includes standouts like Roberta Colindrez as pitcher Lupe and Kate Berlant as the neurotic Shirley, and it’s possible to recognize so many more cast members who contribute in roles of varying sizes. Not trying to replicate what the movie did is wise, and there are exactly the right number of fan service moments, like an invocation of the famous “There’s no crying in baseball” quote and a cameo from a star of the movie, to keep devotees happy since this product is really quite different.
Most impressively, this version of A League of Their Own stands on its own. It’s not necessary to have seen the film, and this series builds upon its characters and their worlds with each successive episode. There are a few cheer-worthy moments, but there’s not much camp and instead a lighthearted nature to many of the characters, who are just as capable of shifting to drama when the story calls for it. The finale leaves the door open for a second season, which, based on the first outing, should absolutely get an at-bat.
The 8-episode first season of A League of Their Own premieres August 12 exclusively on Prime Video.