History is full of women who kissed each other. Modern baseball was invented in the 1800s, and the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League began roughly a hundred years after that, but long before players were hitting it out of the park, ladies were kissing. This is a fact that Prime Video’s new A League of Their Own series, which is really more of a romance than a sports story, holds in its heart. Will Graham and Abbi Jacobson’s series will surely ruffle some feathers by following only the broadest strokes of the 1992 Penny Marshall film it’s technically based on. But instead of retelling a story we’ve heard before, it does something else that’s both thrilling and unexpected. A League of Their Own is, first and foremost, a loving excavation of queer history.
A League of Their Own starts with a ball player running for a train: Carson Shaw (Broad City‘s Jacobson), a housewife making a mad dash for a better life in the form of a spot on the Rockford Peaches girls’ baseball team. The Peaches, as anyone who’s seen Marshall’s film knows, were among the first professional women’s baseball players in history. With their skirted uniforms and charm school training, the talented young ball-players were as disciplined in the art of performing femininity as they were in sliding, stealing, and catching. Only, this premise is pretty much where the similarities between Jacobson’s A League of Their Own and the original stop overlapping. The new iteration is much more interested in the truth that the movie left out: that the etiquette lessons and aesthetic rules were in place to hide the fact that many of these history-making athletes were actually lesbians.
As different as the focus of the new A League of Their Own may be, the Rockford Peaches remain an entertaining bunch. In addition to Carson, who joins the team in the midst of an identity crisis while her husband is away at war, there’s also confident bombshell Greta (D’Arcy Carden), sheltered, anxious Shirley (Kate Berlant, the funniest part of the show), ace pitcher Lupe (Roberta Colindrez), rule-flouting pants-wearer Jess (Kelly McCormack), and a warmly depicted supporting cast. Meanwhile, Max (Chanté Adams), who is Black and not allowed on the Peaches, leads a parallel yet much more obstacle-filled story with her friend Clance (Gbemisola Ikumelo) as she attempts to find a team that will let her put her impressive pitching skills to work.
Not everything in this new version of this story works. The 1943-set series is somewhat lackadaisical in its attempts to render the time period accurately, and era-specific details sometimes feel like an afterthought. This slightly softens the impact of the show’s otherwise powerful romantic plots, as 1940s homophobia – and the team’s varyingly bold attempts to defy it – don’t feel quite as believable when characters are speaking like it’s the 2010s. The show is also only occasionally about baseball. It’s about the sport perhaps as much as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is about stand-up comedy or GLOW is about wrestling, if not less. Baseball is the vital context of the story, but we rarely get to feel the women’s love for it, and much of the season lacks the focus of a big game to work towards, making the series feel shapeless at times. Its cinematic style is also mostly unenergetic, a surprise given that But I’m A Cheerleader filmmaker Jamie Babbit helmed several episodes.
Despite all this, A League of Their Own still feels revelatory as a queer story. GLOW may be its closest point of comparison – both feature teams of marginalized women trying to find empowerment and connection despite exploitative male bosses – but its thorough exploration of burgeoning sexual identity and queer community reminds me more of Netflix’s Heartstopper. There’s a giddy voraciousness to the characters, particularly Carson and Max. They both hunger for recognition and love on the field, sure, but they also want to be seen and wanted as individuals and to understand themselves and their needs. The show doesn’t shy away from the desire the Peaches are supposed to be repressing but revels in it, purposely ending several episodes in a row with stolen kisses. Plus, by centering the story on innocent “farm girl” Carson, A League of Their Own is able to capture a rarely shared historical perspective and color it with emotions: the heady thrill and dizzying confusion of finding queer love for the first time in adulthood.
A League of Their Own isn’t exactly a home run, but it’s still worth watching. In the end, it’s an open-hearted reimagining that has a whole lot of love for its historic subjects and their long-untold stories.
A League of Their Own debuts on Prime Video on August 12th.