The Timeless Story of “A League of Their Own” Is Lost in Time: TV Review

It’s not simply the length of the episodes that give the impression that the new “A League of Their Own” series adaption on Amazon Prime Video goes on for too long; the sensation is more pervasive than that.

The fact that each episode of this show’s eight-part season comes close to reaching the hour mark — which means that there are several times as many episodes of the series as there were of the 1992 film about the all-women Rockford Peaches baseball team — contributes to the impression that this show is at times unsure of what it wants to say next or where it wants to take its story.

And efforts to widen the scope of that story might offer either a commendable curiosity about what else can be said about the history of women in baseball or a disposition to avoid addressing history on its own terms. Both of these tendencies are problematic. The year is 1943, and we continue to follow a group of female athletes, this time under Carson’s direction, much as we did in the film directed by Penny Marshall (Abbi Jacobson, who also co-created the series with Will Graham).

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Baseball offers Carson a number of different opportunities for escape, which she finds to be very enjoyable while her husband is serving in the military overseas. She has the opportunity to compete and flirt with a teammate, D’Arcy Carden, among other things. Jacobson’s performance as Carson, which focuses on her coming out of her shell, is a highlight of the show.

The Timeless Story of A League of Their Own Is Lost in Time TV Review
The Timeless Story of A League of Their Own Is Lost in Time TV Review

Carson’s story runs concurrently with that of Max (Chanté Adams). Since she is a Black woman, this character does not get the opportunities that Carson does because she is likely an even more talented athlete than Carson. “If this wasn’t meant to be my journey, why would He provide me with this opportunity?” Max inquires about it with her devout mother.

It is a question that cannot be answered, and because of this, something else is left unsaid: There is no way forward for her, either in the sporting world or in her personal life, because her queerness clashes with the norms and customs of the culture at that time in history. The refusal of this series to play with nostalgia without engaging who was left out in a previous era brings a not-unpleasant astringency to a series that makes other critiques in quieter, lighter manners.

Max’s storyline brings a blast of outright painful drama into the world of “League,” and it’s welcome; the refusal to allow this series to play with nostalgia without engaging who was left out in a past era brings a welcome blast of outright painful drama The female athletes of the Peaches are forced to participate in a demeaning promotional film at one point.

In the film, for example, the character played by Kate Berlant shows that she is able to play the flute, and the character played by Dale Dickey’s chaperone asks the girls to walk into their required etiquette classes “like ladies, please, not livestock.” The fact that the 1940s were a hostile environment for those who were different in any way is brought up again and time again.

The temptation to see the 1940s as effectively being equivalent to the 2020s in many particulars is an odd thing that comes up against this. When this occurs, such as when a newsreel announcer refers to night baseball under the lights as “the fad that’s spreading even faster than fascism,” it gives the impression that the writers are making a deliberate and subversive choice to have their characters speak in a language that is completely up to date.

At other times, such as when a character who is watching “The Wizard of Oz” declares that it is “problematic” and says that the main character Dorothy is “colonizing” the Munchkins, the criticism on this show seems to have a hollow center. If every character is, more or less, where we are in 2022, then the sweeping picture of how far we’ve come and how far we still have yet to go becomes clearer.

This also relates to the humor that is presented on the show: Sometimes, like in “The Flintstones,” humor is wrung out of how the characters’ circumstances differ from those of our era, which are inevitably unknown to the people who are watching the show. This is because our era’s circumstances are necessarily unknowable to the people viewing the show.

(The fact that Nick Offerman’s character makes a joke about how much he enjoys the fact that baseball jerseys show “eight to ten inches of the calf” shows that his character is mordantly aware that more exposing costumes could theoretically exist.) However, it can be difficult to find fault with a show that so obviously communicates its positive goals.

The Timeless Story of A League of Their Own Is Lost in Time TV Review
The Timeless Story of A League of Their Own Is Lost in Time TV Review

This program is permeated with the unironic softheartedness that differentiated Jacobson from her comic partner Ilana Glazer on “Broad City.” There are good performances throughout a vast cast, and there is a winning yearning to be openly, sincerely emotional. The plot of Max’s story defies, for the most part, the trend toward contemporaneity that is prevalent in other parts of the show.

And a sequence in which “League of Their Own” film star Rosie O’Donnell cameos as the proprietor of a covert lesbian club is delightfully wistful. This scene is conscious of just how much the women in this show want spaces that are genuinely their own.

However, the show’s attempt to quickly represent its characters as possessing and knowing the politics of our era is hampered by the uniqueness of the topic being discussed. In upcoming seasons of “A League of Their Own,” one of the challenges will be to treat the tales of the show’s characters as compelling in their own right, rather than merely using them as a reference, contrast, or parallel to the present situation.

These connections can and will be formed by viewers, but this series, as great as it is, has made its characters appear to be from nowhere at times because they are so far ahead of their time.

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