In less than a week since its premiere, LGBTQ fans have taken the very queer series adaptation of “A League of Their Own” from potential sleeper hit to grand slam. The show, which is helmed by “Broad City” co-creator Abbi Jacobson, has spawned a kind of grassroots, word-of-mouth marketing campaign led by queer women exalting the show for its unapologetic gayness, intersectional storytelling and much-needed sense of humor.
“It’s one of those shows, kind of like ‘Ted Lasso,’ that is a lightning-in-a-bottle situation,” said Rebekah Weatherspoon, a romance novelist known for her “Cowboys of California” series and other queer works.
“Not a single page of the script was wasted. They made every character — even if they didn’t get a ton of screen time — funny and interesting,” Weatherspoon added. “You can’t really go wrong with people who are hilarious, hot and in a good story.”
The characters in the series take inspiration from the figures in Penny Marshall’s 1992 cult classic, “A League of Their Own,” which starred Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna. While none of their characters were explicitly gay, the film still became a queer touchstone for more than one generation of moviegoers.
“Most movies are centered on heterosexual romantic storylines, but ‘A League of Their Own’ wasn’t. The topic was the team, and the success of the league and the girls dealing with each other,” Riese Bernard, the co-founder and CEO of the LGBTQ news and entertainment site Autostraddle, said of the film.
Bernard added that the film passes the “Bechdel test” — a simple way to gauge substantive female representation in a fictional work — with flying colors: “There were a lot of women speaking to each other about things other than men, and that was often uncommon.”
“There’s a batch of ‘90s movies that a lot of queer women say made them gay,” Bernard said with a laugh, “like ‘Fried Green Tomatoes,’ ‘Girl, Interrupted,’ ‘The Craft,’ ‘Now and Then,’ and ‘Foxfire.’ And it [‘A League of Their Own’] has become one of those touchpoints. Older queer people all ‘coincidentally’ love that film.”
With an eye to contemporary audiences, the new World War II-era comedic drama fleshes out these old storylines and adds new ones based on research about the time. Meaning, it shows that women who love women and people of color actually existed, on and off the field, in the 1940s, when the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League debuted.
“In interviews, they [the creators have] been very open about how queer the show is and about how much research they did to put those stories together, which included talking to people who were actually there,” Bernard said, quipping that first-hand accounts are a “pretty good source” of information.
Riese, who wrote both an amusing character quiz and an exhaustive deep dive on the show’s historical accuracy, takes issue with the many skeptical reviews that have surfaced in the last few days with accusations about historical inaccuracy.
“A lot of reviewers seem to genuinely believe that there’s no way that many people on the team were queer, when there absolutely is,” Bernard said. “The show is a rich portrait of queer community and queer life during a time period when we don’t often get to see those stories told.”
The series stars Jacobson as Carson, a married baseball catcher from a small farm town in Idaho who finds love on the field with Greta (D’Arcy Carden), a saucy city girl. Joining them in the dugout is Roberta Colindrez as Lupe, Kelly McCormack as Jess, Melanie Field as Jo, among others. Even O’Donnell makes a brief appearance as the owner of the players’ favorite underground gay bar.
Perhaps the biggest breakout performance of the show goes to star Chanté Adams, who plays Max, a Black pitcher being pulled in different directions by career ambitions, secret romances and family. By her side is her best friend, Clance (Gbemisola Ikumelo), an aspiring comic book writer and stalwart Max supporter.
According to Bernard, “A League of Their Own” sets the record for the most queer women lead characters in a series, if you exclude those specifically about lesbians, like “The L Word” and “Lip Service.” This messaging was lost in Amazon Prime Video’s advertising campaign, which seemed to intentionally bury the lead — that the show is very, very queer. But, despite that, word of its abundance of sapphic storylines quickly spread through LGBTQ spaces on social media.
After all eight episodes dropped on Friday, many on social media asked if there were any lesbians not binge-watching the show over the weekend. And by Monday, the conversation reached a fever pitch, with some calling it the greatest queer show of all time and a “celebration of queerness“ with others humorously offering to take over the marketing campaign for Amazon.
“I was watching screeners with my girlfriend a month ago. I didn’t know anyone who had seen it or heard anything about it besides tiny tidbits,” Bernard said. “We were, like, ‘Oh, my God, and she’s gay, too.’ Just over and over and over again.”
“I [thought], ‘They certainly aren’t going to have all of them be gay. That would be absurd!,’” Bernard joked. “But they did!”
Many people on social media echoed Bernard’s sentiments in spoof reaction videos, D’Arcy Carden-themed memes and posts describing the show as “gay gay gay.” Weatherspoon, who posted a review on TikTok to that effect, said she was also caught off guard by the sheer amount of queer women onscreen. But what she — and many of the people who commented on her video — appreciated most about the show was that it didn’t try to ignore elements that weren’t cause for celebration.
“A lot of streamers are having a hard time figuring out period pieces and especially intersectional period pieces,” Weatherspoon said. “PBS and the BBC figured out years ago that you can have people of color in period pieces and it’s fine. But, with a lot of streamers, there’s this weird thing where they’ll do color-blind casting and act like racism doesn’t exist.”
In the “A League of Their Own” remake, however, “the intersectionality is what worked,” she added.
“It hit that beautiful note of showing that racism was happening, but also showing that Max had a loving, supportive family and an awesome best friend. And, in the midst of all of this, they were having fun with each other,” Weatherspoon said.
This intersectionality extended to the women’s baseball team at the center of the series, the Rockford Peaches, she added.
“They have to lie about who they are just to participate in this thing and make a little money. Meanwhile they’re on their own or someone in their family is fighting in the war or they’re supporting people. But they’re managing to have as much fun as they possibly can, in between those dark moments,” Weatherspoon said.
CORRECTION (Aug. 19, 2022, 12 p.m. ET) A photo caption in a previous version of this article misidentified one of the actors pictured in a group photo. Her name is Melanie Field, not Rosie O’Donnell.