If a TV show is going to retell and stretch out the story of a classic film, then it is incumbent upon said series to justify its own existence. It can’t just tell the same story again in an entertaining way. In order to be successful, the series has to bring something new to the table — a new angle, perspective, or subversion that makes it feel like it is building upon what came before it rather than simply retreading familiar ground.
That’s especially true when the film you’re remaking is A League of Their Own. Director Penny Marshall’s beloved 1992 classic is not only one of the most quoted movies of all time. but also one of the most beloved and charming comedies of the 1990s. In case that wasn’t enough, the film’s cast isn’t just headlined by two charming and charismatic lead performances from Geena Davis and Tom Hanks, but it also boasts an impressive array of supporting performances from the likes of Lori Petty, Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna, Bill Pullman, Ann Cusack, Jon Lovitz, and David Straithairn.
All of which is to say that the film deserves its classic status. For that reason, it’s probably a good thing that Amazon’s new reimagining of A League of Their Own has very little in common with Marshall’s 1992 film. While both titles rely on the same premise and even feature similar characters, 2022’s A League of Their Own isn’t very concerned with being a feminist screwball comedy in the same vein as its predecessor. Instead, the new series is more interested in matters of sexuality and race — two issues that Marshall’s film notably avoids.
Created by Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham, Amazon’s A League of Their Own focuses on the lives of the women who travel from across the country in 1943 to join the Rockford Peaches, one of the teams in the budding All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. When the series begins, the league has been formed in an attempt to try to bolster American patriotism during the trying times of World War II, but for many of the women who want to join it, including an unassuming country girl named Carson Shaw (Jacobson), it’s seen more as a chance for them to live the kind of lives they’ve always wanted.
In specific, it isn’t long before Carson finds herself growing increasingly attracted to one of her fellow teammates, Greta (D’Arcy Carden). In fact, by the time A League of Their Own’s pilot episode has come to an end, the unspoken queer subtext that is subtly present in Marshall’s 1992 film has been made refreshingly explicit. From that point on, the series becomes increasingly less interested in the competition at the center of the Peaches’ baseball season and more in the freedom that being professional ballplayers affords the team’s members. On the road, the team’s many gay and queer players are able to find the time and privacy that they need in order to express themselves.
But A League of Their Own’s focus isn’t just on exploring the diverse sexualities of the Rockford Peaches’ team members. The series also builds off a small moment from Marshall’s film in which a Black female spectator makes a memorable throw by spotlighting Max (Chanté Adams), a young Black woman who dreams of stepping out of her salon owner mother’s shadow by becoming a professional baseball pitcher. Over the course of the show’s first eight episodes, Max’s quest to do so becomes just as important of a storyline in A League of Their Own as the Peaches’ debut season.
By centering itself around both Max’s storyline and the secret queer lives of the Peaches’ team members, A League of Their Own is able to expand the scope of its 1992 predecessor by not only exploring the sexism that women faced in the 1940s, but also the discrimination that Black and queer women did as well. On the one hand, its increased interest in injustice results in A League of Their Own often falling short of the comedic highs of its predecessor. On the other hand, the series also frequently achieves a kind of emotional introspection and catharsis that 1992’s A League of Their Own never quite does.
Unfortunately, not all of the show’s storylines prove to be as compelling as others. Despite being two of the series’ leads, the romance between Carden’s Greta and Jacobson’s Carson often feels more one-note and contrived than many of the show’s other subplots. Fortunately, the series does a far better job with Max’s story than it does with Greta and Carson’s. Part of that can be attributed to the delicate touch that Graham, Jacobson, and company bring to Max’s complicated journey toward self-fulfillment, but credit must also be given to Adams, who turns in one of the year’s breakout performances as Max. Opposite her, Gbemisola Ikumelo also shines as Clance, Max’s married, comic book-obsessed best friend.
As Clance, Ikumelo is not only likable and charismatic, but she also produces many of the series’ biggest laughs and quickly emerges as A League of Their Own’s secret clutch hitter. The same cannot be said, however, for Nick Offerman, who turns in a reliably cranky performance as Dove Porter, the show’s darker and less humorous stand-in for Jimmy Dugan, Tom Hanks’ irritable coach from Marshall’s 1992 film. Dove, like many of the Amazon show’s male characters, falls flat, and Offerman’s presence in the series is surprisingly limited.
Ultimately, the biggest knock one can make against Amazon’s A League of Their Own is that it just isn’t very funny. That’s undeniably odd considering how memorable so many of the laughs are in Marshall’s original film. The new series’ various homages to its predecessor often miss the mark as well, including one callback to the 1992 movie’s most-quoted moment that doesn’t come close to matching the same screwball charm of the original scene.
However, it’s a testament to everything that Jacobson, Graham, and their collaborators get right with their version of A League of Their Own that it ends up achieving something that very few of Hollywood’s more recent reboots and remakes have. For all its faults, it’s a reimagining that, at the very least, actually feels necessary.
All eight episodes of A League of Their Own premiere Friday, August 12, on Amazon Prime Video. Digital Trends was given access to the show’s entire first season.