A subset of TV’s seemingly infinite crop of reboots adapt well-known properties from yesteryear but with more thoughtful or thorough approaches to race or gender, or each. The Sixties are different when “The Wonder Years” centers on a Black family. There’s more to gossip about on “Gossip Girl” without the rigid do-si-do of a gender binary.
Similarly, a new edition of “A League of Their Own” swings at ideas about queer identity and spaces, about race, and about Blackness specifically. But it will probably’t get its bat around fast enough to attach.
This “League,” available now, on Amazon, has the identical setting as Penny Marshall’s near-perfect 1992 movie: It’s 1943, and the All-American Girls Skilled Baseball League is debuting as World War II wears on and Major League Baseball’s labor pool continues to shrink.
The show splits its time between the nascent Rockford Peaches and Max (Chanté Adams), an ambitious pitcher excluded from the league because she’s Black. Each halves of the narrative wind through queer spaces and various character awakenings but only with a well-meaning mildness that appears like preamble reasonably than actual story.
As within the movie, which centered on Geena Davis’s Dottie, these Peaches find their anchor in a catcher: Carson Shaw, played by Abbi Jacobson, who created the series with Will Graham. We’re led to consider she is a superb player, though we see so little meaningful on-field motion that it hardly matters. Carson’s real story is the budding romance between her and her chic teammate, Greta (D’Arcy Carden, outacting almost everyone else).
Indeed, many of the Peaches we spend time with are queer, sneaking off to clandestine nightclubs, following strict rules to cover their sexuality from the violence of society and bristling on the league-enforced version of femininity. Max, too, tries to seek out her place amongst her gay and transgender elders, and he or she and Carson develop a passing but honest friendship.
Most sports stories are about how individuals learn perform as a team, but this version of “League” takes an intriguing different path by exploring how the protection net of a team allows for the expansion of people. Carson encourages each her teammate Lupe (Roberta Colindrez) and Max to pitch as themselves, reasonably than throw what the coach wants or mimic the delivery of famous pitchers of the era.
But this concept of sport as expression doesn’t get explored much beyond that. As an alternative, baseball is lumped in with grocery shopping and comic-book fandom on the show’s list of potential but nonspecific arenas for self-actualization. If the creators see baseball as uniquely romantic or distinct from other sports or activities in its psychological or team-ethos demands, it’s not evident onscreen.
“They don’t get to inform us whether or not that is real,” Greta tells Carson in a locker-room heart-to-heart after checking out that the league is unlikely to survive and that the Peaches’ coach (Nick Offerman, briefly) thinks they’re a joke. This concept comes up repeatedly in “League,” that the participants determine what matters, that we create our realities by agreeing on them.
It’s a stupendous idea to espouse but one the show can’t quite embody. It doesn’t transcend its artifice, and nothing feels true enough to matter — not phony, just superficial.
Period dramas usually are not obligated to recreate their eras authentically, and “League” seems completely happy enough to have its dialogue and sensibilities sound way more of the 2020s than of the Nineteen Forties, perhaps reflecting how out of sync its characters are for his or her era. But this also means the show’s attempts to inform truer, richer stories in regards to the kinds of ladies who were mostly unnoticed of the movie — and of many other movies and series — often ring false, coming across as jarring anachronisms, just like the show’s use of mumble-humor and “epic.”
Over eight hourlong episodes, “League” has its vivid spots — a sprinkling of vibrant moments, tender and thrilling flirtations. What’s missing are big emotions, jazzy razzle-dazzle and real tension or catharsis or drive. The actual baseball playing is vague and mostly in montage, and the often obvious rhythm and built-in stakes of a sports season usually are not present.
The result’s a show that feel less like a lived-in story than like a reverential “A League of Their Own”-themed party.