Episodes: 8 (roughly 50-60 minutes)
Creators: Will Graham and Abbi Jacobson
Cast: Abbi Jacobson, D’Arcy Caden, Melanie Field, Chante Adams, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Kate Berlant
By Tom Moore
Penny Marshall’s “A League of Their Own” (1992) remains one of the best sports films of all-time with how it mixed an incredibly charming cast with the historic creation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League to create an engaging and empowering narrative. Now, Prime Video has crafted their own adaptation of “A League of Their Own” that manages to continue and expand on the legacy of the film but can struggle to get out of its shadow.
The series brings viewers right into the swing of things as hopeful women from across the US converge towards open tryouts for the first women’s professional baseball league. It’s a fast-moving opening that gets some good energy going as many of the series’ distinct personalities are introduced, but it lacks something that the 1992 film absolutely nails.
A big aspect that’s missing from this series is establishing a more personal connection with the main set of characters to make them more than just personalities. In the film, getting a taste of Kit (Lori Petty) and Dottie’s (Geena Davis) sibling rivalry and their passion for playing baseball immediately created this emotional connection to their story way before they even step onto the ballfield. By the time they start actually playing, you feel like you’re totally immersed into their perspective and more invested into the obstacles and scrutiny they face. Here, you don’t get that, and it makes it not only tough to connect with these characters at first, but also makes it tough for them to standout.
When you first meet characters like Jo (Melanie Field) and Greta (D’Arcy Carden), they feel way too similar to Kit and Dottie meeting Doris (Rosie O’Donnell) and Mae (Madonna), which is strange because they’re nothing like them. There are also some characters just simply pegged as comedic relief, like the overly annoying worrywart Shirley (Kate Berlant), who add to the series’ overt attempts at humor or have too thin of stories from the start that make bigger parts of their arcs down the road feel shoved in. Over time, these problems start to subside, and the characters are able to make their own marks, but the early parts of the series do feel like they’re trying to recapture the magic of the film, but not doing so.
Some of the obstacles they face in being forced to act more “lady-like” or having people take them seriously can feel like it’s trying to match what the film did and the direction in the series lacks a realness that makes things feel too scripted. Personally, Marshall’s direction in the film is vastly underrated because she knew exactly how to capture these women and their personal stories as well as the sport of baseball to make it incredibly engaging and grounded. This adaptation of “A League of Their Own” feels much more like a scripted series, and it makes some of its emotion, comedy, and story beats not as compelling. Plus, the baseball sequences could really use more dynamic choreography since they lack energy most of the time and could’ve felt more real, especially with that very noticeable digital ball when it’s thrown.
When “A League of Their Own” is trying to live up to the marks of “A League of Their Own”, it can fall short, but these attempted ties do add some good familiarity as the series leaves its own impact in the expanded story it builds. With more time to utilize, the series does a great job on building on the atmosphere of its time through the characters and makes you slowly start to fall in love with their personalities. Although they come off like caricatures at first, the group eventually captures your heart through all the incredible performances and strong writing that develops. Maybe the series doesn’t feature notable acting titans like the film, but it certainly boasts the same kind of talent as the group slowly worms their way into your heart through their slow-growing charm and genuine chemistry they share.
Where the film felt like it was displaying a growing movement, the series builds a culture of support for women that sees them truly act as a united force and it’s incredibly empowering to see. The series also builds on the societal and personal obstacles the women face as it looks a little deeper at the public scrutiny the women faced but also the personal changes happening with them. Team catcher Carson’s (Abbi Jacobson) personal arc of figuring how who she is can be deeply emotional at times and it is great to see these ideas of “what a women should be” be mixed with condemning queer culture. As the season goes on, you really develop a bigger connection with these characters that makes the series an enjoyably character-driven watch.
Along with the Rockford Peaches, there’s also another developing storyline centered on Maxine (Chante Adams), a young black woman turned away by the women’s league but incredibly determined to become a world-class player. In the film, there was a singular scene that highlighted black women, but with Maxine’s story, the series is able to dive much deeper into the perspective of black women in this time and it makes for some of the series’ most effective storytelling.
Through Maxine, viewers get a meaningful perspective about discrimination for black women both in and out of sports as well as a deeply engaging personal narrative driven by great performances. Adams easily delivers the best performance of the series with the immense charm she brings throughout and watching her pal it up with bestie Clance (Gbemisola Ikumelo), who also has a great story arc, is always a lot of fun. There are times where her story loses that connection with baseball making it feel like its own show, but there are great moments where these two storylines converge through conversations between Maxine and Carson keeping baseball as a continual connection.
Prime Video’s “A League of Their Own” might struggle to get out of the shadow of a truly classic sports film, it expands upon the impact of that film well through its incredibly talented and charming cast and engaging perspectives making it a meaningful successor.