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In a show about women flocking to the big city to impress patriarchal industry figures in 1940s America, anyone could be forgiven for expecting a story about aspiring actresses or down-on-their-luck pin-up models. But there’s not a glamour shot in sight as Carson (Abbi Jacobson), Jo (Melanie Field), Max (Chanté Adams) and an ensemble of other young hopefuls descend on Chicago to try out for the USA’s first women’s baseball league. Forced to swap overalls for short skirts and ‘hyena’-like behaviour for prim, hyper-feminised decorum, even those who make the Peaches team soon find that their anticipated freedoms are circumscribed by men.
No one, though, is willing – as Greta (D’Arcy Camden) is told when she angrily responds to a sexist spectator – to ‘be sweeter, and a little less.’ And this is where the series comes into its own, for it teases out the myriad and often banal limits imposed on each of the women by conservative society – and by one another. Carson’s assumed rural background makes her the butt of many jokes. Jo is castigated by a coach because of her body shape. Lupe (Roberta Colindrez)’s Mexican heritage is covered up because she’s more ‘palatable’ if presented as Spanish. And Max can’t get anywhere near a professional baseball field because she’s Black. Four episodes in and the diversity of experience in the writers’ room is clearly paying off, for the women’s intersecting narratives are handled sensitively and given room to breathe. It’s not the fastest-paced of shows, but all the better for it.
There are numerous queer characters and couplings, too, which in a prime-time-style period drama still feels refreshing. It’s also a relief to find joy in queer representation. For while the dangers associated with being outed are made clear through secret assignations and whispers about lobotomies, the show celebrates women loving women, too. Queer desire is playful and passionate; women enjoy watching one another walk in tight skirts and dream about threesomes.
As sports dramas go, A League of Their Own’s unusually elegant aesthetic sometimes gives its darker themes a glossy edge that’s hard to see past. Pin curls, A-line skirts and vintage baseball shirts make for a Pinterest-worthy visual experience, all set to a period swing soundtrack. The performances, though, are what make the show so watchable. Every character feels both well-crafted and complex, and beneath its retro-chic veneer, A League of Their Own has created a likeable (and believable) team of women that it’s impossible not to root for – even if you don’t fully understand the rules of their game.
► A League of Their Own is streaming on Amazon Prime now.