Of the pandemic’s Hollywood casualties—the projects abruptly cut short by prolonged delays and costly protocols—GLOW was among the most painful. The Netflix comedy spent three celebrated seasons going behind the scenes of a (real, but fictionalized) women’s wrestling show in the 1980s, and was renewed for a fourth to wrap up its story. But then quarantine set in, and the streaming service rescinded its order rather than pay the associated costs for a final season already in production. The pivot left GLOW without a proper conclusion and a vacuum where one of TV’s most richly textured ensembles used to be.
This Friday, Amazon Prime premiered A League of Their Own. Cocreated by Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson and comedy veteran Will Graham (Alpha House, Mozart in the Jungle), the series most obviously echoes the classic film—and before that, documentary—of the same name, now celebrating its 30th anniversary. But the show also has more recent analogs, and to those still smarting from GLOW’s premature demise, A League of Their Own provides a decent placebo.
The similarities are clear enough: a once-minor bit of sports trivia, adapted into a show that refracts modern standards of representation through rich period detail. But Jacobson and Graham aren’t calling attention to the mere existence of the Rockford Peaches, the pink-skirted players who serve as our entry point into the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The movie already did so with major stars like Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, and a height-of-her-fame Madonna. This retelling wants to adjust and expand the narrative. In 1992, simply making a sports movie with a largely female cast (and Penny Marshall, a female director) was a statement in and of itself. In 2022, A League of Their Own seeks out lesser-told stories within a lesser-told story.
It starts with a single shot. Marshall’s A League of Their Own included only a subtle nod to the segregation that marked the AAGPBL, a World War II–era enterprise that outlasted the conflict until 1954. Jacobson and Graham take that one scene from the original movie—in which a Black woman, portrayed wordlessly by background player DeLisa Chinn-Tyler, tosses back a wayward ball with professional-grade precision—and builds it out into an entire subplot. In the modern-day series, Maxine (Chanté Adams) is a Black player who isn’t afforded the same unique opportunity as her white peers, and as a woman, she isn’t admitted into the so-called Negro leagues, either. Her struggle to blaze her own trail anchors an entire half of the Amazon show.
Even the actual Peaches are up for an adjustment. Jacobson leads as catcher Carson Shaw, an analog for Davis’s Dottie with a very different motivation. A housewife from Idaho, Carson comes to tryouts in Chicago in search of a team, and also something else—which she finds in Greta (D’Arcy Carden), a glamorous bachelorette who sparks something in Carson her husband never has. Carson’s later-in-life sexual awakening shows the barriers that queer women in the 1940s faced to embracing their identity and contains traces of Jacobson’s own journey.
Carson’s new colleagues are a motley crew. History may preclude the Peaches from having any Black players, but Jacobson and Graham still do their best to diversify the roster. Some Peaches are Jewish, like the aptly neurotic Shirley Cohen (Kate Berlant); some are Latina, like “Spanish Striker” Lupe García (Roberta Colindrez) and Esti González (Priscilla Delgado), a Cuban immigrant whose speed on the field makes up for her lack of fluent English. Many, beyond just Carson and Greta, are attracted to other women, a nod to the legacy of women’s sports in general and the AAGPBL in specific. (Pitcher Maybelle Blair, now 95, came out publicly at A League of Their Own’s premiere this past June.)
This inclusive bent is the revival’s argument for its own existence—it allows for a widened scope the feature film was unable, or unwilling, to provide. But A League of Their Own can find itself stuck between reverence and reinvention. It’s here that comparisons to GLOW turn less flattering. GLOW’s empathy and diversity felt effortless and, in 30-minute episodes, efficient. (A League of Their Own runs closer to an hour; it doesn’t overstay its welcome, but it doesn’t breeze by, either.) In its attempts to foist modern ideals on a 1940s setting, though, A League of Their Own recalls a different Netflix project: Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood, an alternate timeline that turned postwar Tinseltown into a progressive utopia. The results are better here, though still mixed.
A League of Their Own stops just shy of outright fantasy. It does, however, engage in pointed revisionism, even as it works to retain the original’s upbeat, inspirational tone. This balancing act can trap the show in a bind of its own design. Take Maxine, who goes by Max. Max’s relationship with her mother, a local salon owner, and banter with her best friend, an aspiring comics artist, are some of the best parts of the show—a beyond-worthwhile addition. But because A League of Their Own is bound by the facts, it can’t actually have Max interact with most of the main cast. Instead, the plot is awkwardly split. There’s half a show about the Rockford Peaches and half a show about Max, with the only bridge being a handful of conversations with Carson.
Sometimes, though, A League of Their Own lets its characters get what they want. Despite Nick Offerman appearing as Dove Porter, a former MLB player in the vein of Hanks’s manager Jimmy Dugan, the Peaches control their own fate to a surprising extent, with minimal input from a man. So great is the team’s on-field autonomy that Offerman is almost a red herring.
The show one-ups the movie here, building on a scene when Dottie sets a lineup in Jimmy’s absence. It also engages in a wish fulfillment at odds with the harsher realities it mines for pathos. Illustrating the plight of Black women is effective, and invokes true stories that deserve the same platform as the Peaches’; the same goes for the secrecy imposed on what some characters call “sexual inverts,” a running plot line that includes a cameo by original castmember Rosie O’Donnell as the owner of an underground gay bar. The show combines depictions of injustice with sunnier alternatives and can feel a bit arbitrary as to which is which.
You can even hear this tension in the language of the show. A League of Their Own avoids overt anachronism, the kind of Gen Z slang peppered throughout tongue-in-cheek comedies like Dickinson or The Great. It still makes frequent use of phrases that feel distinctly modern. “You look crazy,” a child on the train tells a frazzled Carson. “Yup, definitely not interested in women at all,” a man notes after encountering some Peaches. The dialogue doesn’t quite commit to comedic contrast, but stands out just enough to seem out of place. Sometimes, it’s what the characters are saying, not just how they say it. When Lupe complains she’s unfairly perceived as violent and combative, she sounds like she’s speaking from a media studies seminar half a century away.
When this dissonance doesn’t distract us, A League of Their Own can be quite pleasant. Jacobson and Graham have assembled an all-star lineup, one Jacobson has the wisdom to let share the spotlight. Colindrez, of I Love Dick and The Deuce, has long been a star in the making; Adams gives her half of the show equal weight, despite far fewer costars; Berlant injects some of the oddball energy that propels her solo work as a comedian. In this sense, A League of Their Own is truest to its forebears. All-female ensembles aren’t as rare as they used to be, but they’re still rare enough to bask in the company of performers like Carden—a skilled hand who is flexing new muscles.
Still, the show never truly overcomes its identity crisis. A League of Their Own wants to expose the trouble spots of its namesake while preserving its appeal; it wants to uplift its audience while entertaining and also educating them. It’s a lot to take on, even with six extra hours to fill. There’s no crying in baseball, but A League of Their Own wants you to laugh and shed a tear. Its batting average includes as many misses as hits.