"I played a lot of sports as a kid and I was on a lot of teams that were all girls. That film, for me — I just felt so seen," she tells Metacritic. "The energy and the spirit of that movie was so fun and alive. I loved that film."
When approached about reimagining the story of an all-female baseball team in the 1940s for television, Jacobson's interest was immediately piqued. The question, for Jacobson and series co-creator Will Graham, wasn't whether or not to revisit the Rockford Peaches, it was how.
"The movie does not need to be remade," she says. "From the get-go, [our show] was really about how there are a lot of stories missing and a lot of things that were overlooked. What if we really expanded the lens?"
For Graham and Jacobson a series version of A League of Their Own was an opportunity to show racial and sexual diversity, all while sticking to the true story of the All-American Girls League. And although the characters are amalgamations of women from that era, it infused a responsibility for the actors and the writers in portraying them.
"I think everyone felt that this isn't just random characters. These characters are inspired by real athletes and real women so there's a weight to the stories we're telling," says Jacobson, who stars as Carson Shaw, whose sense of self is forever changed when she is given the opportunity to play for the Peaches while her husband serves overseas.
With her feet planted firmly in the remake, Jacobson no longer revisits the '90s film with great frequency. Still, the original continues to play an important part in the new project: "There are a lot of little Easter eggs and nods to the film, so every once in a while I watch it to make sure we're nodding correctly," she says.
Here, Jacobson talks to Metacritic about the ways she wanted to expand upon the source material, deciding to be a part of it both in front and behind the camera, and the importance of authenticity.
When you were presented with the opportunity to reimagine the movie, what did you feel you could say outside of what was created in '92?
When Penny Marshall was making the film, I can imagine the kinds of stories that you could tell were different. We have more freedom to tell more types of stories and that includes queer stories. In Penny's version, there is also an iconic scene of [DeLisa Chinn-Tyler], the Black woman picking up a foul ball and throwing it back. It was alluding to what was happening, which is that the All-American Girls League did not allow Black women to try out or play for them. What happens to women of color who play baseball? That is one half of the story that we're telling, that the film really couldn't or didn't. The character of Max [Chanté Adams] is based on three women who played in the negro league; Toni Stone, Mamie Johnson, and Connie Morgan. They're a huge part of baseball history, and I don't think a lot of people know who they are.
And the more research we did, the more queer the All-American Girls League seemed to be. Will and I are both queer and I, like Carson, came into my sexuality pretty late in life. If I had watched this film and there were all these queer women, I don't know what that would've done for me. I think it would've done a lot. Representation is so important. So, it felt like we were honoring these real women whose stories were never told. And, also, honoring who we are and who we want to be now.
What's the creative challenge of telling a story like this, having the vocabulary that we have now, while depicting a time when people had to hide who they were?
Everything had to be done with as much authenticity and honesty as we could, so research goes into that. In the queer stories, it's showing that there's so much joy in these characters being queer and getting to experience these queer relationships and friendships and communities, but also showing how dangerous that was. Later in the season, you really see that. Another thing is the Max and Carson dynamic and friendship. It was so important, because that's the hinge of this whole show. They're really bonded over their queerness and their love of baseball and, for a while, there's nowhere else they can go to be that except with each other. A friendship in 1943 between a white woman and a Black woman is very different than it would be now. What is the reality of what that would be? They become really close and they are very connected, but we show, time and time again, that Carson cannot understand Max's experience. That is really essential to showing the differences between what it's like to be in a white body versus what it's like to be in a Black body.
In terms of that interracial friendship, how did you go about writing it?
Will and I wrote the pilot and we had a couple of consultants, but when we got to Season 1, a major priority for us was to have the behind the scenes really be representative of what was in front of the camera. Our writers' room was really diverse and so was our crew. That felt essential to telling these stories. On top of the people writing it and the department heads and everyone putting their heads together and coming up with the specifics, we had a researcher who could find information for all those people I talked about. Our writers' room had access to the researcher for anything we needed to know about wardrobe, set design and props. Everyone had access to any research they needed. We wouldn't have been able to tell these stories without that.
What made you want to play Carson, and not just be involved on the creative side of it?
I didn't sign on to act in this for a while, even though we were actively writing Carson with my voice. When we started in 2017, I was still very much doing Broad City and I hadn't really thought about what show I'm going to be in next. I wasn't there yet. I was just very excited to write and produce it. There's a lot of pressure around this IP. I felt if I'm going to do this and be one of the main faces of this, I need to get it to a point where I love it and I love the way we're doing it very differently. This is also a very challenging role for me. There's a lot going on in this person's life. There's more drama than I'm used to on Broad City. I was waiting to get to all those things to be fully on board. I'm so happy I did.
Her relationship with Greta is so beautiful. What were the challenges in creating that and what role did D'Arcy Carden play in it?
That first queer experience is really important. Sometimes it's great and sometimes it's bad, but it can be really complicated when you're falling for someone that's not the right person. I think that push and pull with Greta and the mystery behind her — she's very guarded and protected. If you continue watching the show, you learn why there are really big consequences to being queer in the 1940s and in a lot of places to this day. We really wanted to unfold her. Carson doesn't know why she's being that way.
Also, to see Carson fall in that way, you have to really believe that chemistry. I've known D'Arcy for 15 years. She's one of my best friends and we're not romantically involved, but there is such a love. I am smitten with D'Arcy as a friend, and so is anyone that interacts with her. She's so charismatic. She's so charming, so fun and funny and flirty. That felt so perfect. Carson starts very insecure and very shy. I think that her arc is finding her confidence and becoming the unlikely leader of the Peaches by finding her confidence. And the way she finds her confidence is through knowing herself and knowing her queerness. Greta is the person that pulls that out of her. We're just trying to show how that person is so important. If you're lucky, you have that. And I think for Greta, Carson is important to her, too. She'd let go of thinking that she would let herself fall for someone. We're really showing these two characters coming from very different sides of their queerness, but breaking open in their relationship in a really lovely way.
This show would've been great under any name. Why use the existing brand?
It was definitely a thought to not have it be called this. Ultimately, we felt that the spirit and the joy of the film was so embedded in what we are trying to harness into our re-imagining. People love this film so much, and it will always be available to watch. But I think having the name on the show feels like we're expanding. These women are creating leagues of their own. It was so applicable that we felt it was better with the name
Get to know Abbi Jacobson:
Jacobson is best known as the co-creator and one of the leads of Broad City (82) but she also made a career as a voice over artist in the Netflix animated series Disenchantment (56), BoJack Horseman (82), and the feature film The Mitchells vs. the Machines (81). And do not discount her appearance as Gloria Steinem in Drunk History (57)!