Arguably one of the best sports films of all time, 1992’s A League of Their Own remains a resonant part of pop culture. We still dress up as Rockford Peaches for Halloween; we still love to yell “There’s no crying in baseball!,” and we’re still inspired by Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) and the powerful ladies based on the real life members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Considering that the movie remains so beloved, Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham set themselves a difficult task by adapting the film into a TV series. But they have met the challenge: their version of the Rockford Peaches is as charismatic as the original’s and the series has the benefit of delving into facets of American history that were ignored back in the ’90s.
One of the biggest changes in the series is the inclusion of characters of color. The film alluded to the fact that only white women were allowed into the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The TV version takes time to explore this injustice. At the initial tryouts, Maxine (Chante Adams) shows up, but she is turned away because she is Black. But Maxine is a tenacious competitor. She doesn’t let this injustice — or the blatant racism she experiences in her everyday life — deter her from pursuing her love of baseball. Maxine’s struggles, alongside her comic-book-loving buddy Clance (Gbemisola Ikumelo), have not been frequently told in the media. There remains a dearth of films about what life has been like for Black women in America. Maxine and Clance’s friendship is one of the most endearing aspects of the series, as well as the most fascinating. Ikumelo and Adams share a natural chemistry that is infectious. Their tribulations and trials are a welcome addition to the media’s examination of prejudices in the sports world.
The other major plot line focuses on the white players who made the Rockford Peaches. None of these athletes are based on characters in the film. These are fresh fictional figures, beginning with Carson (Abbi Jacobson), a naive farmer’s wife who hops on a train to escape her ho-hum life. She meets sexy Greta (D’Arcy Camden) and her bestie Jo (Melanie Field). Greta quickly discovers that Carson is running away from her marriage and decides to welcome her with very open arms. This lesbian subplot is drawn with realistic detail — Carson and Greta’s relationship comes with plenty of problems. No spoilers here, but the series shows that life for the LGBTQ+ community in the US faced obstacles that no longer exist today (though that assumption is debatable in many parts of the country). Rosie O’Donnell is given a cameo as the owner of a gay bar where the patrons can be comfortable to be their true selves — only to have that safe haven disturbed.
The series, much like the film, hews to historical fact. The women were subjected to training in a “charm” school and were forced to wear skirts while playing ball. It’s not clear if women were kicked off the team because they are not “pretty” enough, but it is a good bet. Considering how harsh today’s media standards are, one can only imagine how stringent they were back in the ’40s. Still, certain goings on in the series seem questionable. For example, two of the players, who are Latina, are allowed on the team. There’s little doubt that they made the team — and Maxine didn’t — because they could “pass.” Lupe (Roberta Colindrez) and Esti (Priscilla Delgado) look white. The concept of passing has not been sufficiently examined in the media, given how large a part it has played in American history. Lupe and Esti’s ability to pass would make a fascinating plot line, but it is ignored. Perhaps it will be taken up in the second season.
Another significant change made in series is the role of the manager. Back in the ’90s, Tom Hanks portrayed the lovable drunk Jimmy Dugan, who has no idea how to coach women but tries his best. The new series gives us Nick Offerman in the role, which has been significantly reduced. Here the manager is a misogynistic jerk, which in all fairness, Hanks was too. Still, it’s a little disappointing that more has not been done with the character, especially considering how talented Offerman is. Here the guy is exploited as a plot point designed to generate conflict among the players. It’s an understandable strategy, but a far too easy one, given the storytelling savvy of Jacobson and Graham.
The revamped A League of Their Own isn’t perfect. There are pacing issues; a few episodes are surprisingly slow. However, for the most part, Graham and Jacobson have more than justified the need for a reboot of the film. Most adaptations tend to “update” the original source material, seeking to capitalize on the inevitable nostalgia. A League of Their Own doesn’t do that — it finds more to say about the struggles and triumphs of women athletes in a patriarchal society, while still usefully reminding us that there is no crying in baseball.