Sports · August 6, 2022

In “A League Of Their Own”, Abbi Jacobson makes up the team

Abbi Jacobson really knows how to play baseball, he insisted. Just not when the cameras are rolling. “I have full yips when someone is watching me,” he told me.

This happened on a recent weekday morning on a shady bench overlooking the baseball fields in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Jacobson lives nearby, in an apartment he shares with his girlfriend, “For All Mankind” actress Jodi Balfour. She hadn’t come to the fields that morning to play, which was good: the diamonds were teeming with small children. (It was also cool, because while Jacobson can play, I can’t, even though she offered to teach me.) And honestly, she deserved to enjoy her off-season.

In “A League of Their Own,” arriving August 12 on Amazon Prime Video, Jacobson plays Carson Shaw, the receiver of the Rockford Peaches. Carson is a fictional character, but the Peaches, an All-American Girls Professional Baseball League team, which debuted in 1943, are delightfully real. For five rainy months, on the spot in Pittsburgh, 38-year-old Jacobson had to grab, throw, hit and slide into the base. Is it a part of this computer-generated magic? Sure, but not only that, which means Jacobson played while a lot of people were watching. And he played well.

“She’s really good,” he said Will Graham, who created the series with her. “Abbi is constantly shy and self-deprecating, but in reality he is tough”.

Carson, a talented and anxious woman, becomes the de facto leader of the team. As creator and executive producer, as well as star of the series, Jacobson has also led a team, on and off screen.This is a job she has been doing since the mid-1920s, when she and Ilana Glazer created and ultimately he oversaw the dizzying, uninspired comedy “Broad City”. On that show, she became a leader more or less by accident. In “A League of Their Own,” which was inspired by Penny Marshall’s 1992 film, Jacobson led from the start and with purpose, infusing her script with her ideas of what leadership can be like.

“The stories I want to tell are about how I am a messy person and I am always insecure,” she said. “And then what if the most insecure, our person is the leader? What if the disordered person takes possession of himself? “

So Carson’s story is his story?

“More or less,” he said, squinting at the sun.

Jacobson, who has described herself as an introvert masquerading as an extrovert, is approachable but also alert, an observer before being a participant. Even in the midst of an animated conversation, she has an attitude that suggests that if you were to leave her alone with a book, or a sketch pad, or maybe her dog, Desi, that would be fine too.

His favorite pastime: “I like to go sit in a very populated area with like a book. Alone, “she said.

That morning she was wearing a white tank top and paint-stained pants, but the stains were pre-applied and deliberate, sloppiness turned into fashion. The bag she carried was Chanel. She didn’t look much like a baseball player, but she looked like a woman who felt comfortable in her own skin, who had cleaned up most of her private mess and used the rest for professional use.

“She’s a boss,” said writer and comedian Phoebe Robinson, a friend. “And she knows herself deeply.”

Jacobson grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia, the youngest of two children in a Reformed Jewish family. He played sports all his childhood – softball, basketball, travel football – until he ditched them for jam bands and weed.

“That team mentality was my childhood,” he said.

After art school, she moved to New York to become a dramatic actress, then transitioned to comedy through improvisation courses at the Upright Citizens Brigade. She and Glazer wanted to join a home improvisation team, but team after team turned them down. So they created “Broad City,” which aired first as a web series and then for five seasons on Comedy Central. A glossless “Girl”, dragging pot smoke with her as she went, followed her leads, Abbi and Ilana, as they zigzagged through young adulthood. The New Yorker lovingly called the show a “bra-tip”.

For Jacobson, the show was both a professional development seminar and a form of therapy. Through writing and interpreting a version of herself, she emerged more confident, less anxious.

“Having this reception of her anxiety in the character allowed her to look at him and grow in a different direction,” Glazer said.

In 2017, when “Broad City” was two seasons away, Graham (“Mozart in the Jungle”) invited Jacobson to dinner. He had recently secured the rights to “A League of Their Own”, a film he loved as a child. He thought he could do a great series, with some tweaks. The quirkiness of some of the characters – rendered in the film through the “blink” subtext should be more evident this time around. In the film, in a scene that lasts a few seconds, a black woman returns a foul with strength and precision, a nod to the segregation of the championship. This too deserved more attention.

Graham had persecuted Jacobson, he said, for his integrity, his intelligence, his agitated and nervous optimism. He wanted the experience of making the show to be joyful. And he wanted the stories he told, especially queer stories, to convey joy as well. He sensed that Jacobson, who came out in his 30s, could deliver.

“She’s so funny, and so emotionally honest too, and so she’s not afraid to be emotionally honest,” Graham said.

When Jacobson finished the final seasons of “Broad City”, development on the new series began. She and Graham went on a quest, talking to some of the surviving women who had played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League or the black leagues. They also spoke to Marshall, via phone, prior to his death in 2018. Marshall had focused primarily on the story of one woman: Geena Davis’ Dottie. Graham and Jacobson wanted to try and tell more stories, as far as an eight-episode season allowed.

“The film is a story of white women playing baseball,” Jacobson said. “Is not enough.”

Gradually the show took shape, transforming itself from a half-hour comedy to a one-hour drama. Then he found his co-stars: D’Arcy Carden as Greta, the glamorous girl on the team; Roberta Colindrez as Lupe, the team’s pitcher; Chante Adams as Max, a black superstar looking for a team of his own. Rosie O’Donnella star from the original film, he signed up for an episode, playing the owner of a gay bar.

The pilot was shot in Los Angeles, which doubled first for Chicago and then for Rockford, Illinois. The coronavirus struck soon after, delaying production until last summer. Rising costs prompted the show to move to Pittsburgh, which is, coincidentally, a rainy city, a problem for a show with so many game sequences. But the cast and crew took care of it.

“There was a kind of summer camp quality,” Graham said.

And Jacobson, as Glazer reminded me, spent many years as a camp counselor. So much of the quality of the summer camp was due to her. And the relentless baseball training he insisted on.

“There was so much baseball practice, really months of baseball practice,” Carden said. “We were a team more than a cast. That was Abby. Abbi is an ensemble person “.

Adams first met Jacobson in the audition room. (As a longtime “Broad City” fan, she struggled to stay calm.) On set, Jacobson immediately impressed her.

“I don’t know how it does it,” Adams said. “But even as the leader and protagonist of the show, he always makes sure that everyone’s voice is heard and included.” After filming ended, Adams said, Jacobson continued to show up for her, attending the opening night of her Broadway show.

“It just melted my heart,” he said. “Abbi is the epitome of what it means to be a leader.”

Jacobson doesn’t always feel this way, but he feels it more often than before. “Sometimes I can really own it,” he said. “And sometimes I go home and wonder, how am I the person? Or what’s going on here? ”So he lent the same insecurity to Carson, a leader who evolves when he recognizes his vulnerability.

But Carson’s narrative is just one among many in a series that celebrates a series of female experiences: black, white and Latino women; straight, homosexual and interrogative women; women women; slaughtering women; and women in between. Many of the actors are beautiful in the ways that Hollywood prefers. Many are not.

Yet the show insists that all of these women deserve love, friendship, and fulfillment. In an email, O’Donnell noted that while the film focused on a woman’s story, this new version offers nearly all of the characters a rich inner life “in a beautiful and accurate way that brings humanity. of the characters in the foreground “.

Carden has known Jacobson for 15 years, right from their early days of improvisation. No one had ever seen her as a romantic lead until Jacobson left a hand-drawn glove and card (“Lovely and romantic,” Carden said) and invited her to join the team. Carden was proud to take on the role and also proud to be working with Jacobson again.

“It hasn’t changed at all,” Carden said. “She has always been Abbi, but trust is different”.

Jacobson wears that security lightly. Glimmers of uncertainty remain. “I’m never who you are, you should lead the show,” he told me in Prospect Park.

But clearly it is. When no team wanted her, she made it their own, and now she’s made another one. After an hour and a half, she picked up her bag and cup of coffee and walked back through the park. Like a boss. Like a coach. As a leader.