TV reboot of ‘League of Their Own’ is both the same and very different

A streaming reboot of Penny Marshall’s favorite 1992 movie, A League of Their Own, is simultaneously the same, but completely different.

It’s that special sauce of reboots where it retains the vibe of the original while updating it for a modern audience – and it really does have a lot to say.

It’s a tricky balance, and most reboots and revivals fail because they lean too far in either direction and usually cling to something that no longer works outside of its original context.

Their own leagueThe new version is a poignant and delightful series that takes the brash spirit of Marshall’s film and elevates it by expanding its universe to tell more comprehensive stories about sexuality and race in 1940s America.

The series is set during World War II. The series follows the creation of a women’s professional baseball league while the men serve in Europe and the Pacific. The League is the brainchild of a confectionery magnate who needs to fill the stands of his stadiums.

Recruited from all over the US and Canada, women are told to live up to the standard of what constitutes a lady, while at the same time battling horrendous sexism from all quarters, including their own supposed admirers.

In these elements, the TV reboot and the movie version are similar. They share the same DNA, and many of them share the same plot points.

But when it comes to characters, the series created by Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham goes way beyond the original film.

Rosie O’Donnell, who played Doris Murphy in the 1992 film, famously said she played her character as a lesbian, even when Marshall bluntly told her she wasn’t. Jacobson and Graham not only fixed the exclusion of queer characters from history, but also made them stars.

The 2022 series features two main characters, Jacobson as Carson Shaw and Shante Adams as Max Chapman, two characters whose narratives could not have been focused 30 years ago.

Carson is a married woman who joins the team because she wants to play catch. Her husband Charlie (J. Patrick Adams) is serving overseas, so she sees this as her chance. After meeting the cheerful Greta (D’Arcy Carden), a seductive dance shows that Carson’s desires are more than just athletic success.

Carson’s discovery of her strangeness is both beautiful and risky. The trial and repression of the era is a constant threat.

What’s good about Carson’s side Their own league is that it’s not a case of “Here’s a token queer girl, we’ve ticked that box” but rather a desire to explore many queer characters and their experiences.

And it’s not just about their sexuality. This is one of the facets of each character, they are not defined by it. They also really, really love baseball. The series cuts across all the different aspects of their lives and quests for a fuller portrayal.

For her part, O’Donnell returns in an emotionally resonant guest role in a later episode of the season, in which she plays an underground gay bar owner.

Another thread of the story follows Max, a young black woman who is denied even a tryout despite her unarguably best cast.

Max struggles to play baseball and manages to get a job at a propeller factory just for a chance at the company’s team. Max’s gross and insatiable appetite is confronted by the “reality” of the day, including her mother, who expects her to take over the family business. The fact that her mother boasts the first black business in the neighborhood means nothing.

Max is a richly textured character whose experience crosses race and queer, contextualized in a heavily drawn side of Rockford set in black spaces.

If there are any niggles, it’s that the series takes time to weave two storylines together, and sometimes the intersection between them can slow down the pace.

It’s a small thing in a series filled with fantastic performances by Jacobson, Adams and Carden, as well as the likes of Dale Dickey as the empathetic escort crew, Gbemisola Ikumelo as Max Clans’ friend, and Rockford Peaches Melanie Field, Kate Berlant, Molly. Ephraim, Kelly McCormack and Roberta Colindrez.

Marshall’s film will always have a place in cinematic history – and rightfully so – but it’s alarming that a film that couldn’t include other stories has now become the launching pad for a new, amazing and comprehensive series. It really is their own league.

‘A League of Their Own’ Now Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

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