A League of Their Own review: This Rockford Peaches reboot hits the sweet spot

In today's TV landscape, "reboot" is generally a dirty word, signaling a lack of imagination and a calcified cynicism about what the industry believes viewers want (or, at the very least, what they'll settle for). But Amazon Prime Video's A League of Their Own is less a reboot than it is a spiritual sister to Penny Marshall's classic 1992 film. The eight-episode dramedy, created by Abbi Jacobson (Broad City) and Will Graham (Mozart in the Jungle), constructs a diverse and three-dimensional world to tell the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, whereas the film — wonderful as it is — could only show us the Hollywood-glossy surface.

When we first meet Carson Shaw (Jacobson), she is racing for the train to Chicago, literally fleeing the dull domesticity of her life as a housewife in 1943 Idaho for a shot at the big leagues. She's one of hundreds of women invited to try out for the newly founded AAGPBL, a venture dreamt up by baseball execs looking to keep the game going while America's able-bodied men fight for freedom overseas.

Carson lands a spot on the Rockford Peaches, along with leggy bombshell Greta (D'Arcy Carden); slugger Jo Deluca (Melanie Field); Jess (Kelly McCormack), a no-nonsense outfielder; Esti (Priscilla Delgado), a lightning-fast teenager from Cuba; Shirley Cohen (Kate Berlant), a neurotic stats whiz; Maybelle Fox (Molly Ephraim), a bubbly center fielder; and Lupe (Roberta Colindrez), a talented pitcher dubbed the "Spanish Striker" by announcers even though she's from Mexico. But Max (Chanté Adams), a local hopeful with an arm like a rocket launcher, isn't even allowed to try out — this is still 1940s America, and only white (and white-passing) women need apply.

Though there are some perfunctory nods to the movie — the Peaches balk at the idea of playing in skirts; their coach, Dove (Nick Offerman), acts like a condescending boor; more than one person says "There's no crying in baseball" — A League of Their Own follows its own playbook from the first episode. Time away from her soldier husband (Patrick J. Adams) frees Carson up to identify what she really wants, and that turns out to be Greta. The movie poked plenty of fun at the league's real-life rules about charm school training and "ladylike" behavior, but the show lets its characters say the quiet part out loud. "Why do you think they're doing all this, Carson?" Greta hisses to her teammate during a mandatory makeover. "It's to make sure we don't look like a bunch of queers."

A League of Their Own
A League of Their Own

Anne Marie Fox/Prime Video Gbemisola Ikumelo and Chanté Adams in 'A League of Their Own'

The change in medium and era allows Jacobson and Graham to construct a deeper narrative around women seeking not just camaraderie but community. For players like Greta and Carson and so many others, the league is a safe haven from a hostile society that shuns them and a legal system that jails them for the crime of "sexual inversion." For players like Max, however, no such sanctuary exists — so A League of Their Own follows her story on a separate track, rather than tossing her in with the Peaches through some anachronistic plot contrivance. Max is a Black woman who wants to play baseball, but she's also a Black queer woman who knows she'll never be happy with the life her mother (Saidah Arrika Ekulona) wants for her.

Not deterred by the AAGPBL's rejection, Max gets a job at a local factory in the hopes of landing a spot on the minor league team the owner sponsors. She may not have a league, but Max has the unwavering devotion of her best friend, Clance (Gbemisola Ikumelo), a newly married comic book fan and aspiring artist who knows Captain America is propaganda and The Wizard of Oz is just an allegory for colonial oppression. Adams and Ikumelo are an immensely likable comedic duo, and at times Max and Clance threaten to steal the show out from under the Peaches' skirts. But the ensemble has a strong defense lineup: Carden brings vulnerability and an undeniable sexiness to Greta, whose saucy charm masks a survivor's hypervigilance. Jacobson lends her self-effacing charm to Carson, serving as the even-keeled anchor to the ensemble of comedic character actresses.

The writers do a commendable job keeping Carson and Max's parallel arcs afloat while squeezing in some subplots for the superlative supporting players — but later episodes of League buckle a bit under the weight of so much story. And Offerman's character just sort of disappears halfway through the season, an odd changeup that felt a little "Amazon execs wanted someone in the Tom Hanks role for the trailer" to me.

But none of that really mattered when it came time for the finale, a barn burner of an hour that blends a legitimately moving championship climax with a critical relationship cliffhanger. Like the Peaches, A League of Their Own hasn't yet perfected its game, but there's almost no doubt these girls of summer will be back. B+

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