'A League of Their Own' Prime Video series: Abbi Jacobson tells stories hidden under Penny Marshall's movie
Few movies are more iconic, particularly for women, than Penny Marshall's A League of Their Own, which will raise questions about the reimagined Prime Video series from co-creators Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham with the same name, but this particular reexamining of what life was like for women in 1943 is a worthy, essential expansion to the story we got in the 1992 film.
Rather than copying characters from Marshall’s film, the eight-episode A League of Their Own series tells the story of women in, and outside of, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) in a way that's compelling and impactful, while also being hysterically funny. Where the narrative is particularly strong is in the way it broadens the breadth of experiences for women in the 1940s that are put front-and-centre in the story, including white queer women, Black women and Black queer women.
Rosie O'Donnell, who played Doris Murphy in the A League of Their Own movie, and returns to the story in the Prime Video series as the owner of a secret bar, has openly stated that for her, Doris was always a lesbian, although never officially stated in the 1992 movie. While on the Everything Iconic with Danny Pellegrino podcast last year, O'Donnell even pointed out that Marshall had her repeat the “I never really felt like a real girl” speech Doris gives, with the director saying specifically, “it's not a gay thing,” while O'Donnell disagreed.
In the new A League of Their Own show, the narratives of the queer character on the show are not tip-toed around like they were in the movie, including that barriers faced by the LGBTQ community in the 1940s specifically.
“When [Will Graham and I] first started talking, we both had this deep love for the film and it impacted us both as kids, and still does, and it didn't need to be remade,” Abbi Jacobson explained to Yahoo Canada. “The intention was always to tell the stories that were not told.”
“The film was an iconic gay film and no one's gay… It's hinting at a lot of the stories that we were able to really dive into, it just felt like we are trying to tell the stories that were underneath the film a little bit… Now we're able to tell those stories, way more than Penny Marshall could in 1992.”
The ensemble cast is led by Jacobson’s character Carson Shaw, a housewife from Idaho who makes the journey to Chicago to try out for the AAGPBL. She ends up landing a spot on the Rockford Peaches and her teammates include close friends Greta Gill (D'Arcy Carden) and Jo De Luca (Melanie Field), Canadian outfielder from Saskatchewan Jess McCready (Kelly McCormack), Esti González (Priscilla Delgado) who is the youngest person on the team, from Cuba, and doesn’t speak or understand English, and Lupe García (Roberta Colindrez), a talented pitcher who is the other Spanish-speaking player.
Simultaneously, Max Chapman (Chanté Adams), is an incredibly talented baseball player but for the AAGPBL, only white, and white passing, women are worthy of a spot on a team.
“I had never seen a story about a Black woman in sports during this era and I really love being a part of things that are new and fresh, that I haven't necessarily seen before,” Adams told Yahoo Canada. “Although we're coming after a cult following of a movie, this is still very new and very different.”
“We're expanding into a whole other different world of characters and stories, while also just being more inclusive with our story, and in the stories that we're going to be telling.”
For Jacobson, crafting Max’s story was a particular highlight for the co-creator of the show.
“I think [Max's story] was the one that I was most interested in telling,” Jacobson said. “She's based on three real women who went and played in the Negro Leagues.”
“The more we dove into the research about them and that story, which is fascinating, I was like, why does no one know about this? Going into, well what would Max's life have been like, as a Black woman who wants to play baseball, who is queer, living in the midwest in 1943.”
The women who 'needed to have their story to be told'
For actors Roberta Colindrez and Priscilla Delgado, the one thing that stood out for both of them was how collaborative the process of making A League of Their Own was for the cast.
“One of the things that's really wonderful about the series, and about being a part of this, is that it was a very collaborative process with the creators, we had conversations with them as they were writing the show, we got to have a lot of say in what these characters meant to us, and what kinds of things in our lives that we wanted to kind of explore through these characters,” Colindrez told Yahoo Canada. “For me, I think being in this age where we're so heavily consumed by identity,...I don't want to be defined by any of the obvious things, especially my ethnicity, I want to be a ballplayer, I want to be the best pitcher in this league, and that is it.”
“It was my first contact here in America and Hollywood, so the fact that they gave me the opportunity to introduce myself, also in Spanish, it was kind of a blessing for me, and something that I will always be grateful for,” Delgado added.
The two characters have a close connection in the story, largely because Colindrez’s character Lupe is the only one on the team who can really communicate with Delgado’s character Esti, but contrary to what you would likely assume, Lupe isn’t necessarily particularly friendly to Esti, and rather, kind of sees her as a burden.
“The hardest thing about this was, when I was playing Lupe, being mean to Esti…because she's so sweet and her character is so sweet,” Colindrez said. “I really wanted to play this person who's really doing a good job of just masking how much she wants to take care of this person who she really envies.”
“For Lupe, it's so much more complicated than just playing baseball, the world has complicated her life in this way that she really resents… It's also funny to be playing this kind of conflict with the two Latina characters.”
While both actors certainly felt the pressure of making a show with a connection to such a beloved film, highlighting that the movie is “untouchable,” they were comforted by the way Abbi Jacobson wanted to expand on the storytelling from the movie.
“I felt an immediate sense of relief of pressure when I talked to Abbi about the show, because she wasn't trying to remake the movie,” Colindrez said. “We're not remaking the movie whatsoever."
“We're focused on what life was like for people, for women, of all sorts of backgrounds, in and out of the league in that time… I love the movie, I think it's perfect. I think that what Penny Marshall was able to do with that movie, given that she was a female director, it's untouchable. So what we're doing is something different and we're trying to honour what she did through her work, and we have her blessing to do our work.”
“I think we're trying to honour her, but also honour all those women that couldn't have a space at the time,” Delgado added.
“I think we're also honouring all the people, Latinas, queer women, that really, I think, needed to have their story to be told.”