a league of their own
TV, 2022, 5 stars
Created By: Will Graham and Abbi Jacobson
First Run: 2022 - ?? (1 Season)
Is it possible we are still fighting for recognition and representation in 2022? Yes, it is, and this gorgeous, wholesome, exciting dramedy series that highlights queer and racial themes from the past is the best possible vehicle to underscore both how far we’ve come, and how far we need to go. Let’s just put it out there - it’s also one of the greatest queer TV shows ever.
If you’ve been living under a rock, here’s the gist. During WW2 entrepreneurs created a women’s professional baseball league to entertain people while the men were overseas. The All American Girls Professional Baseball League became hugely popular, but was almost erased as part of baseball history until Penny Marshall made a wonderfully entertaining film about it in 1992.
I was and am a huge fan of the film, though back then there was an undercurrent it was desperately missing. We knew there was a bigger story behind that one black woman who threw the ball harder and faster than anyone else. We knew Doris was secretly in love with Mae. We knew Kit Keller was a baby dyke and when she stayed behind in Racine after the season was over she’d have thrilling queer adventures. It all made sense in our heads.
Now, it all makes sense on our screens, too. This barnstormingly good eight-part series puts out there the realities of the time - there absolutely were straight and queer girls in the league. There absolutely were black women who should have been in the league who would go on to play in the negro leagues. This is a story that celebrates all these women in all their glory.
ALOTO follows Carson Shaw (Abbi Jacobson), a mid-west girl who married her best friend and settled into life, only to find that there is something desperately missing. We first see her running desperately for the train to take her to Chicago for the tryouts, and as soon as she arrives at the stadium her eyes light up. This is what she’s meant to do. She also meets Greta (D’arcy Carden), a beautiful first baseman with moves, and realises that this is also what she is meant to do - find her identity as a lesbian and fall in love, and learn leadership and the value of friendship along the way.
We also see Max Chapman (Chantė Adams), a pitcher with a staggering arm and an obsession with playing, but even this small, brittle path forward allowed for white women to play ball is denied her because she’s black. She gets a job at a local factory to try and get on the factory team. To the chagrin of her mother she shows no interest in hairdressing, or getting married and settling down. When she meets her aunt again after many years, we find that her aunt is now her uncle Bert, who shows Max that with courage it is possible to live any life you want.
Max and Carson meet and form a friendship of sorts, and their parallel stories form the backbone of ALOTO. They are surrounded by a brilliant supporting cast of such depth it’s almost impossible to spot a wrong note. D’arcy Carden is phenomenal as Greta, who carries a secret pain from a lost love and a lust for life that’s infectious. Greta’s childhood friend Jo (Melanie Field) is a big hitter and as brash as they come who gives us a big hearted butch for the ages.
Almost stealing the show is the combo of Lupe Garcia (Roberta Colindrez) and Jess McCready (Kelly McCormack), a pair of queer butches who play the game hard, struggle to stick to the rules, and take every opportunity they can to milk their time in the Rockford Peaches to the hilt. Jess in particular has an irresistible strut and swagger viewers can’t help but respond to. Their night in the queer speakeasy bar (with a wicked cameo by Rosie O’Donnell as the bar’s owner) where they explain what’s going on to Carson is an iconic queer scene.
Then there’s Max’s best friend Clance Morgan (Gbemisola Ikumelo) who is the fire and heart of the show, and who harbours dreams to be a comic book writer and artist. Her comedy and drama are heartbreaking, and I would watch a spinoff show based on her alone. Honestly, every single supporting character is fully realised, not one of them feels cheated. The balance is exactly right, it’s ensemble writing at its finest.
The directing talent gathered here is formidable as well - it’s fabulous to see queer filmmaking icons Jamie Babbit and Silas Howard on the roster. Each episode is lush, almost like a standalone film, and they give the cast room to breathe and fully explore their characters. We spend enough time on the baseball itself to really get a feel for it, but not so much as to crowd out the human stories.
Quite simply, ALOTO takes this already-strong story that we knew so well, and completes it. It’s everything we wanted it to be. It gives us the full picture, a grand queer gesture of epic proportions.
It’s such a queer show that I’m afraid for it. Despite all the critical praise and numbers of viewers flocking in droves, shows like this don’t just have to compete, they have to outperform to survive. If we only get one season so be it - it’ll go down in history as one of the most perfect one seasons of television ever. Watch it. I love it and you will too, whether you like sport or not.