It’s time to admit it: Prestige TV is grossly mediocre. It sounds good while you watch it, but it’s smoke and mirrors – big-name streamers are pouring millions into new shows, so style is confused with substance. When you think back to a show months later, you thought you liked, can you name more than three things that you liked? Can you pinpoint a reason why you kept watching, other than “Hey, I guess since I started it, I should see what’s going on”?
A league apart is remarkably the antithesis of this “golden age” of televised lies. Remakes aren’t supposed to be good anymore. Ask the 47,000 think pieces about it that have been written in the last 10 years. Certainly, Hollywood is devoid of new ideas, and would rather guarantee a return on their investment in frankenstein an old project with nothing new to say. But this new series is so surprisingly good and refreshing.
Amazon Prime’s serialized reboot of the beloved 1992 film about the Rockford Peaches — an actual All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) team formed during World War II — has all the trappings of fake programming prestige. There are a few familiar faces in the ensemble cast, a cameo from the original film and the reboot of a beloved and massively influential film to top it all off.
By all accounts, this could have been another dud dropped by a streamer, here today and forgotten as a foul ball tomorrow. In place, A league apart is a home run that smashes bats, rounds bases, and goes out of the park. Look at us using sports words! That’s how impressed we are!
Co-created and featured vast cityof the brilliant Abbi Jacobson, A league apart resurrects the Rockford Peaches for an original take on the creation of the groundbreaking team, this time unhesitatingly exploring the realities of the political, social and cultural obstacles the women of the team actually faced in 1942. Although the original film of Penny Marshall has done at times referring to the plight of the Peaches as women in a traditionally male-dominated sport, it focused much more on their impact on the game and less on how women grappled with the lack of respect and underestimation off the pitch.
A recent replay left me feeling like the movie was particularly insular, especially looking back from 2022. Maybe Marshall didn’t cover such a wide swath of history because she couldn’t not read everything with such famous little glasses– there were so many unseen perspectives, so much of the real life of AAGPBL players, which is finally reflected in the new series.
In the show, Jacobson stars as Carson Shaw, a housewife and amateur baseball player who flees her monotonous life when she hears about a new women’s baseball league holding tryouts in Chicago. When she arrives, she meets Greta (D’arcy Carden) and Jo (Melanie Field), two more experienced players whose confidence shines so bright it almost knocks Carson to the ground. At tryouts, they frame their competition and impress the league-forming scouts – Jo with her arm, Carson with her bat, and Greta with her speed and sex appeal.
All three women end up making the team, along with a handful of other misfit players, who each have their own adorable quirks. During tryouts, a young woman named Max (Chanté Adams) and her best friend Clance (Gbemisola Ikumelo), who both happen to be black, enter from the opposite end of the field, breaking up the homogeneous set of players on the diamond. .
Max is here for the chance to prove she has one of the best pitches in the Midwest, if not the country, and Clance is her loyal moral support. Turning away before she could let the seam of the ball leave her fingers, Max doubled back to throw a clear throw across the field and into the stands, catching the attention of all the newly baptized Rockford Peaches.
After the tests, A league apartThe narrative of splits into two somewhat distinct perspectives between Carson and Max. Carson and the rest of the Peaches have moved into a boarding house together, which poses its own challenges for Carson – whose husband is stationed overseas – as she begins to develop feelings for Greta. Max, also in Rockford, is determined to seek out unconventional avenues to pursue his professional baseball dream. She’s not just grappling with a disapproving mother, but with a separated world that already sees two knocks against her as a black woman.
It would be easy for A league apart feeling slick and preachy, bringing past injustices back to light to prove what we already know: that they’re still here today, just more wrapped up in bogus, well-meaning verbiage. But instead, the show leads with equal humor and heart, shaping its characters with a loving hand and giving them plenty of time to slowly discover themselves.
Seeing Carson and Max move through the world and carve out space for themselves in places that either deny them or wouldn’t accept the parts of themselves they hide is very rewarding, much more so than every time the peaches win a game.
Character archetypes from the original movie are still vaguely present in the reboot, but here they’re all much more textured, given the inner lives, personalities, and motivations outside of baseball. Some are immigrants, some are mothers, some are queer—hell, some can be all three—but they’re all stars, especially free-thinking maverick Lupe (Roberta Colindrez). not-so-outspoken Jess (Kelly McCormack), and neurotic, compulsive Shirley (an unsurprisingly laughing-out laughing Kate Berlant).
I was delighted to see that the same warm and very human spirit that Abbi Jacobson helped bring to five seasons of vast city was also present here in his Carson Shaw, but the absolute beating heart of A league apart is the relationship between Max and Clance.
Looking back, I’m not sure I can remember the last time I saw a friendship depicted on television that felt as natural and filled with chemistry and love as theirs. (Actually, maybe it was vast city!)
Max and Clance are opposite sides of the same coin, the kind of friends who can’t be separated by the mightiest forces on the planet. They encourage each other, encourage each other’s dreams. And, perhaps most importantly, they make mistakes and get hurt in ways only those who know you best can, but they can forgive through that same intimacy.
Without Max and Clance, A league apart wouldn’t be half as great as it is, and that credit goes entirely to Chanté Adams and Gbemisola Ikumelo, a dynamite couple and, by far, one of the funniest I’ve seen on TV this decade so far.
In fact, if there is one thing A league apart it’s pitching en masse, it’s jokes. The humor is slightly updated, modernized a bit to make the dialogue smoother. This decision might briefly exclude some viewers from the story, but ultimately, it’s a smarter choice. There’s no time wasted trying to perfect Marvelous Mrs. Maisel-esque, era-specific speech patterns. Instead, characters are allowed to converse more naturally, which ultimately makes their emotions and relationships more organic.
There is always an undercurrent of danger always lurking. Revealing their true selves not only risks losing new friends, but also losing realized dreams. There are bigger issues here than just sport; that’s life. There may not be crying in baseball, but there is a lot in real life. And that reality is what the new iteration of A league apart fingernails after the original film buried it under feel-good Hollywood montages and a sparse, winking look at real hardship.
But what is so remarkable about A league apart is that he can effectively blend life’s ups and downs without constantly exploiting trauma for draining dramatic effect. The show’s writers understand the need to balance adversity by portraying the pure and beautiful joy of being in spaces with people who understand you. The shared love of a sport may be what unites these women, but witnessing the relationships they form through it that allow them to face their oppression together is the most crucial part.
Just like Marshall’s original film, the strength of A league apart lies in its cast of vividly written characters. But where the 1992 version failed to draw more than a glimpse of its central cast – and completely excluded all non-white and queer perspectives of the era – the new vision of the Rockford Peaches finally begins to bring more reality to his story.
It’s not too late to start over 30 years later with a clearer picture. This is the most powerful argument of the series: you can know who you are at all times. After all, AAGPBL player Maybelle Blair just came out publicly at 95 years old. A league apartthe importance of has never waned. It just needed a new team to qualify for the next round.
For more, listen A league apartby D’Arcy Carden on the last laugh podcast.