‘A League Of Their Own’: It’s A Big Gay Home Run (Review)

There is a moment in Penny Marshall’s 1992 classic A League Of Their Own that sees a black woman seated in the segregated section throw back a ball to one of the players on the field. It’s a small moment – Marshall’s only nod to the black women who were never allowed to join the league. Before Jackie Robinson wore the number 42 and changed Major League Baseball, black women tried to join their white counterparts and play ball during World War II. If Marshall’s film focuses on the straight white women who occupied the league, Prime Video’s adaptation of A League Of Their Own instead focuses on those the film ignored: the women of color and LGBTQ+ women.

With a premise similar to the film, A League of Their Own follows brand-new characters and begins with the All-American Girl’s Professional Baseball League’s formation in 1943. We follow the league and its players as they fight to keep it alive through close games, injuries, sexual awakenings, and road trips across a rapidly changing United States. With a cast headlined by series co-creator Abbi Jacobson (Broad City) and Chanté Adams (Roxane, Roxane), A League of Their Own quickly distinguishes itself from its source material. While the film never addresses the black women who tried to join the league, this version of the story doesn’t cut away from women of color, following Chanté Adams’ Max Chapman in her struggle to succeed as a professional ballplayer. The juxtaposition of the two stories showcases the series’ true potential.

Abbi Jacobson (far right, as Carson Shaw) and Chanté Adams (not pictured) headline an incredible cast in the 2022 television adaptation of A League Of Their Own. (COURTESY: Amazon Prime)

That contrast is even more evident when considering both Max and Carson’s (Jacobson) journey with their sexual orientation. A League Of Their Own makes a point to showcase both women’s point of view. While Carson Shaw (Jacobson) might struggle with her sexuality, that’s nothing compared to what Max goes through. Her journey of sexual self-discovery is paired with the journey she has to go through as a woman of color. And again, while the film A League Of Their Own never truly touches on the players who were part of the LGBTQ+ community, the 2022 adaptation makes those women the series’ second central point. It’s a part of everything, as essential to the show as baseball.

Max and Carson’s sexual orientation gets a lot of the show’s attention, but the issue also gets sprinkled throughout the narrative. The legacy of women who had to hide and live in fear is never underestimated or undermined, nor does A League Of Their Own ever try to shame them for it. Quite the opposite: the show chooses to showcase every possible case. Whether it’s Carson realizing her actual orientation when she meets Greta (D’Arcy Carden) or Max’s awareness of her sexuality and physical expression when meeting a long-lost family member, A League Of Their Own tries its best to honor everyone.

Max (Chanté Adams) and Carson (Abbi Jacobson) in A League Of Their Own. (COURTESY: Amazon Prime)

But this idea goes beyond just Max and Carson. A League Of Their Own is layered with the support and love of queer friendships and community in spite of an era that made illegal and dangerous any open expression of either Episode 6, “Stealing Home,” is a prime example. As the end of the season approaches, Max and Carson find themselves surrounded by a community they didn’t even know existed: Max with her Uncle Bertie (Lea Robinson) and Carson with teammates Jess (Kelly McCormack), Lupe (Roberta Colindrez), as well as Vi (special guest star Rosie O’Donnell). The show never shies away from the harsh reality of being queer in the 1940s. But what A League Of Their Own also does is make a conscious effort to show how queer communities helped and saved each other. By the end, “Stealing Home” becomes difficult to watch, but it’s also the perfect showcase for the show to demonstrate its understanding of the subject matter with which it deals.

While A League Of Their Own is centered on Max and Carson, the show isn’t without other layered characters. Every team member is created with care and performed impeccably – and the team itself is full of relationships that deserve more attention. From Greta and Jo’s (Melanie Field) all-about-protecting-each-other friendship to Lupe and Esti’s (Priscilla Delgado) complicated and tense mother-daughter relationship, these characters recieve such care on the page and in their performances that they come to life despite comparatively limited screen time.

From Left: Kelly McCormack as Jess McCready; Priscilla Delgado as Esti González; Kate Berlant as Shirley Cohen; Jacobson as Carson Shaw; Rae Gray as Terri; D’Arcy Carden as Greta Gill; Melanie Field as Jo De Luca; and Molly Ephraim as Maybelle Fox in A League Of Their Own (COURTESY: Amazon Prime)

Which is not to say that baseball is insignificant to the show. As is the case with football and Ted Lasso, it’s special that baseball isn’t the entirety of A League Of Their Own‘s universe. The show does use baseball to introduce everything, but it also finds a way for the sport to be a conduit – baseball itself isn’t the story; it drives the story. And that is a massive strength. Very few sports shows or movies can say that they do what A League Of Their Own does. This show makes you care about everyone. It’s a sports show second, and a character study – a tribute to the women who had to hide and fight to get just a little bit of what they wanted – first.

With funny and layered characters and a plethora of touching stories and performances, there’s something for everyone here. The thing I might love most about A League Of Their Own is its earnestness: the show has an uncanny ability to juggle so much character, setting, and plot, still feel very much in the spirit of the 30-year-old film on which it’s based, and nonetheless distinguish itself as a complete original. Whether a you’re fan of the movie, a new fan, or simply searching for a fun sports show, A League of Their Own finds a way to balance nostalgia and the present day like nothing else on TV right now.

Rating: 8.5/10

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