In his new book, The Church Of Baseball, writer/director Ron Shelton talks about the making of Bull Durham and says, “The biggest mistake a sports movie can make is to have too much sports in it.” He would know, of course, helming films like Durham, White Men Can’t Jump, and Tin Cup, “sports movies” that stand out more for the characters at their heart than contrived moments of athletic glory.
I haven’t seen the entirety of Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham’s reimagining of A League Of Their Own (now a series on Amazon Prime that just debuted), so I can’t say with any certainty if there are any of those “big game” moments late in the season (like there were in the original film, the rare baseball movie that, like Major League, manages to break Shelton’s rule without consequence). It is clear, however, that while baseball is a big part of this, the creative heartbeat comes from the off-the-field drama, camaraderie, and relationships of characters that both recall the charm of the original and create opportunities for a broader audience to see themselves reflected on-screen as the show explores what life would have been like for women of color and queer characters in and around the All-American Girls Professional League.
We spoke with Jacobson about all of that recently, specifically, her eagerness for people to finally see the show after working on it for about a half-decade, getting Penny Marshall’s encouragement, building on the legacy of the original over replacing it. Jacobson also reflected on her experiences finding her team/place in the world through comedy and how the experiences of her character, Carson, echo that as she finds acceptance through baseball and her peers. Because isn’t that what it’s all about?
Was there any trepidation [at the start of this] just because of what it is and the affection that so many people have for it?
Yeah, I think there’s a lot of trepidation. Even from that first conversation [with co-creator Will Graham], we were talking about how we’re not remaking the movie, we’re really trying to reimagine it and tell those stories that weren’t told in the film. This IP is so important to so many people, the way it was to me, I care very much about this film.
I didn’t sign on to act in it for quite a while. I was in the middle of season four of Broad City and I was like, “I’m still doing this, how would I ever even do that?” I was just creating or writing and producing this with Will. And we were very much writing Carson with my voice in mind, but it’s a lot of pressure. And I think we both wanted this. But I think before I signed on to be in it too, I just wanted to make sure it felt very unique and could stand on its own. And that the tone here is pulling from the film in [how] we are harnessing the spirit and the joy and the energy of the film. But tonally, ours is really this balancing act of comedy and drama and diving into some of the bigger issues of these characters and their experiences. And so, I just had to get it to that point before I signed on. I’m so excited for this to come out, but I’m definitely nervous, too.
Do you pay attention to critics and what people say? Is it more about peers?
I think a little bit of both. You know, Ilana [Glazer] and I were so different. She’s so much better at ignoring critics and ignoring that feedback. And I feel like with Broad City I had the tendency to find the bad ones. The good feedback just didn’t impact me as much, which is wild. Why are they unequal weight? And why am I searching for something to reaffirm my biggest fear? I think that’s what it is. I don’t know. I’m off Twitter. I’ve been off Twitter for a couple of years, so I think that might be helpful in this next couple of months.
It’s always helpful [to not be on Twitter].
Ultimately, it is very interesting, the feedback and what critics say and what they think about the new characters we’re bringing to life. And who knows what will happen when it comes out, but I’m at a point where I’m like, “You know what, we’ve worked so hard on this.” I do care so much about this. And I’m at a point where I really am very proud of it. And so I hope I can maintain that being more important to me than what other people think about it.
I know you did have a chance to talk to Penny Marshall going into the project early on. Not to keep this all fear-based, but what were the apprehensions going into that conversation? Because it sounds like it was a really positive experience, but I imagine that would be very nerve-wracking going into it.
It was a really positive experience. We didn’t get to talk to her for that long, and it was on the phone. I think we went in mostly just to tell her how much her film meant to us and that we weren’t trying to redo it. And why we felt there was more to tell about women playing baseball in the 1940s. So, it was almost to get her blessing and to just make her aware. And we got to ask her questions about that iconic scene where the Black woman picks up the ball and chucks it back. And she’s alluding to the fact that Black women were not allowed to try out for the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. And she’s making a huge big-budget film. She’s a female director in 1992. And she told us, “I was trying to tell this story, and I felt like I couldn’t tell all of them. But I really wanted to be able to nod to all of them.”
And you know what? We are at a moment right now where we are trying to tell a lot of them. We’re really trying to tell a lot of these stories. And I think we’re at a point where we can. And a huge studio and a huge network is behind us doing it. And I think there’s a difference in the kind of stories you can tell in Hollywood. Also, we have the real estate of a show versus the real estate of a film. And she said to us, “You know, go make it already.” She was like [Jacobson pulls off an A+ Penny Marshall voice], “Well, go do it already.” And Will and I were just, that was wild. That was just, really very important that we got to talk to her.
It’s like what you were saying before about the movie meaning so much to so many people. And with the ability to branch out and tell different stories, obviously, this is going to mean a lot to a lot of people. Obviously, it’s always different when you see yourself on screen.
Yeah, I think we’re just showing so many more experiences of women playing baseball. And I guess that is an end goal whenever you make a thing, you hope people outside the demo you’ve been told is going to watch, watches it. The scope of the representation we’re putting out there, I think is the really exciting part. I don’t think that I’ve seen these stories told about queer people and women of color playing sports in the 1940s. What would I have looked like if 30 years ago, when the film came out, as a kid, those [stories] were represented? I think my life would’ve been really different. I came into my sexuality pretty late in life, not unlike Carson. And it’s just so important. I feel really lucky that I get to do what I do for a lot of reasons. I feel like a responsibility, in a way. That would’ve changed my life, I think.
This show picks up right with your character jumping on a train and kind of going to the city. It’s almost like going to the circus, basically. Going to the show. Do you relate to that with your journey with comedy?
Oh my God, yeah. Without a doubt. Baseball would be a direct equivalent to me finding comedy. A big theme of the show is finding your team. All the characters are finding their team, whether that’s on the field or off the field. And whether that’s the Peaches or whether that’s Max, who’s trying to find her team the whole time, and ends up finding her team barnstorming on Red Wright’s team at the end of the season, but also recognizing that, her team is her best friend Clance. Teams come in a lot of different ways.
My experience coming into comedy and when I walked into UCB and saw that first show; I went by myself and [that was] the feeling that I wanted to convey when Greta, Carson, and Jo walked into Baker Field. And it’s that song, that’s “Dream.” That’s what the song is called. I’ve seen it a hundred times. It’s chill-inducing to me. That is what I felt sitting in that theater, under Gristedes [market], watching people do improv. I was like, “What is this? I want to do this more than anything.”
When I found that community (that includes Ilana and all of my friends) it completely changed my life. And I think that that’s where a lot of our characters are finding themselves. And they’re finally finding other women who love the game of baseball as much as them. And you just feel understood and seen. And I think that can be equated to whatever it is that you do. Whatever you do. You’re a graphic designer. You find your firm. You’re like, “Holy shit.” You know what I mean? Whatever it is. I think that that’s a pretty big part of being alive.
‘A League Of Their Own’ is now available to stream on Amazon Prime