After the Lionesses roared to victory, Amazon brings us another inspiring dose of women’s sport: a TV version of cult 1992 baseball movie A League of Their Own, which starred Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Rosie O’Donnell and, improbably, Madonna. Both are set in 1943, when the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was created to fill stadiums while the men were off fighting.
The eight-part series is co-created by (with Will Graham) and stars Abbi Jacobson, best known for millennial sitcom Broad City – and it shows. Jacobson is sympathetic enough as Carson, the shy Idaho hick-turned-catcher and leader of the Rockford Peaches, but her mumbling, bumbling performance feels jarringly 21st century.
When the show follows suit into zany comic mode, it strikes out. However, the actual gameplay is seriously impressive: fast-paced, physical and fiercely competitive. Yes, we get genre tropes like scrappy underdogs and inspirational locker-room speeches, but it’s presented slickly enough to keep even baseball-indifferent viewers like me gripped.
Women’s roles are changing off the field too, although not without resistance. The Peaches are pressured to remain ladylike and get belittled by sexist announcers. One of the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League players, the now-95-year-old Maybelle Blair, recently speculated that two-thirds of the league were gay, and the movie has been adopted as a queer-coded classic.
The series goes much further, featuring multiple LGBT characters, including a tortured lesbian romance between Carson and the glamorous Greta (a smouldering D’Arcy Carden, channelling Rita Hayworth), while O’Donnell cameos as gay bar owner. All risk life-ruining discovery.
The show is more racially inclusive too, but since African-American women weren’t allowed in the league, Chanté Adams’s pitcher Max – who has an arm like a rocket launcher – is ghettoised in a separate story throughout. That means bewildering transitions from, say, crunch time in a Peaches game to Max attending a barbecue. It feels like two shows clumsily stitched together.
Nick Offerman doesn’t remotely match up to Hanks as the coach; tellingly, the “There’s no crying in baseball” line goes to another character entirely. But the women hit it out of the park, particularly the Peaches en masse, plus Dale Dickey as their wily chaperone, and the beautifully lived-in friendship between Max and Gbemisola Ikumelo’s comic book-loving Clance.
There’s also a wealth of period detail in the styling, a spirited soundtrack that mixes Benny Goodman with Heart and Janice Ian, and plenty more to explore if the show lands a second season. Not quite a home run, but it captures some of that Lioness pride in women dreaming, and scoring, big.
A League of Their Own is on Amazon Prime Video from Friday 12 August