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'A League of Their Own' gets new life as a limited Amazon Prime Video series

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

"A League Of Their Own" gets new life tomorrow as a limited Amazon Prime Video series that reinvents the 1992 film. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says the series scores big by exploring subjects that the original film didn't approach 30 years ago.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: The first thing to understand about Prime Video's "A League Of Their Own" is that the characters aren't directly lifted from Penny Marshall's nostalgia-drenched film. The story is still focused on a talented catcher who winds up playing in the all-female pro baseball league created during World War II. That's when many male players were drafted into the military. But unlike Geena Davis' character from the movie, who reluctantly joins the league, Abbi Jacobson's superstar catcher Carson Shaw is desperate to join up. She jumps onto a moving train headed for Chicago to make the tryouts.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Ma'am, do not approach a train.

ABBI JACOBSON: (As Carson Shaw) Sir, just let it happen. I'm in.

DEGGANS: And then Carson confesses to her new teammate Greta, played by "The Good Place" alum D'Arcy Carden, that she left home without telling anyone. Greta has her own insights.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN")

D'ARCY CARDEN: (As Greta Gill) Are you saying that your husband wrote you a letter saying he was coming home from war and then you left?

JACOBSON: (As Carson Shaw) I just ran away like I was possessed or something.

CARDEN: (As Greta Gill) See, I don't think you are running away from anything. I think you are running towards your destiny.

DEGGANS: Women seeking independence from patriarchy is a big part of the series' story, just like the film. But these women are very different, including Max, a Black pitcher who runs into a wall of prejudice when she shows up, backed by her best friend, to try out.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN")

JOHN GLORIA: (As Daryl) Look, I don't think you understand. This is the all-American league.

CHANTE ADAMS: (As Max Chapman) I mean, we're pretty all-American.

GBEMISOLA IKUMELO: (As Clance Morgan) Yeah. We American.

ADAMS: (As Max Chapman) We were born here.

IKUMELO: (As Clance Morgan) Yeah. In God, we trust.

ADAMS: (As Max Chapman) You know, Jesus...

GLORIA: (As Daryl) Look, we're not going to have colored girls playing with our girls. Go on home.

ADAMS: (As Max Chapman) Just give me one shot, one minute to throw for you. I promise you're going to want me pitching at every game.

DEGGANS: Unfortunately, Max's bravado wasn't rewarded, at least at first. Another big difference here - the TV series features several gay characters, including Carson, who both struggles to admit her attraction to Greta and to admit her love for the independence that baseball brings.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN")

JACOBSON: (As Carson Shaw) I feel like I'm screwing up my entire life. And I don't know why, but I'm not stopping because it feels good.

DEGGANS: Jacobson, who just announced her engagement to actress Jodi Balfour, also co-created the show and serves as an executive producer. She steers the story into places the film dared not explore, centered on race and sexuality. It's also a series that knows how to use its expanded canvas, bringing a universe of compelling Black and gay characters into the mix, including an estranged aunt of Max's with a gender-bending backstory. Problems aren't solved easily. Carson must overcome a lifetime of underestimating herself to lead the team, even as she - and us viewers, by extension - discover a gay-centered world hiding almost in plain sight. The players are forced into charm school and makeup lessons, and Greta tells Carson the real reason for the training.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN")

CARDEN: (As Greta Gill) It's to make sure that we don't look like a bunch of queers. Do you get that? That's what all of this is. Or maybe it just doesn't affect you, Mrs. Shaw.

DEGGANS: Toss in an inspired performance by Nick Offerman in the coach role that Tom Hanks originally made famous and a touching cameo from Rosie O'Donnell and you have an inspired series which somehow manages to be both a loving tribute and a bold new statement all at once. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.