Stream It Or Skip It? | #television | #elderly | #movies
Worn Storiesis a docuseries created by Jenji Kohan (Weeds, Orange Is The New Black) based on the book of the same name by Emily Spivack; the series is about how people relate and react to certain items of clothing they have that they think are special. Each episode coalesces around a theme, like Community, or Lost and Found, or Growing Up, or Chance. There are a few main interviews, covering four particular pieces of clothing, but also supplemental interviews that are used as interstitials. But it’s all about clothes (mostly) and why people have such strong connections to certain items in their closets.
Opening Shot: A look at a bucolic community in Florida; we see two couples tap racquets after playing tennis, then we see that they’re all bottomless.
The Gist: The first episode is about “Community,” and it ironically starts off in a nudist community in Florida. The producers talk to Diane and Paul a couple in their 50s or 60s who live there and enjoy being nude almost all the time — even when they work in their woodshop (eek!). The only piece of clothing they wear on a regular basis are sandals or Crocs because… well, even nudists have their limits. Another member of the community, Niecey, is not only far younger than most of the people there but she’s one of the few Black people there, as well. Her clothing choice is the mesh tops that help her “free the nipple.”
But the episode is not all about nudists. A woman in Queens who identifies herself as Mrs. Park talks about the yellow sweater a monk gave her once, how it was a struggle to find community when she moved from South Korea to New York, and how she loves the dancing she does with her friends at the local community center. Tren’ness talks about the perfect white dress she found for the funeral of her grandmother, Harlem restauranteur Sylvia Woods, and how it felt like the dress was a message from her grandmother. Included is an animation segment about how joyous Sylvia’s funeral was, as she fed Harlem for almost 50 years, whether they had the money to pay or not.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? It may be a weird analogy, but Worn Stories reminds us of docuseries like restaurant series like Chef’s Table. The style is similar, where the person being interviewed narrates his or her own story, and it’s about how the thing they cherish — in this case, a piece of clothing, as opposed to a restaurant — relates to the struggles and triumphs they’ve had in their lives.
Our Take: Since you can watch the episodes of Worn Stories (a take on “war stories”… get it?) in any order, we suggest skipping the “Community” episode at the start and go to one of the others. We get why seeing seniors (and younger!) in their birthday suits makes for an opener that shocks and draws people in. But it also makes things confusing; why are we starting off a series on people and their clothes with people who don’t wear clothes?
It becomes clearer when we realize that the nudists like Diane and Paul talk about sandals or, more succinctly, when Niecey talks about mesh tops. But neither piece of clothing is really special to them, not like Mrs. Park or Tren’ness talk about in this episode. The connection is even stronger in the “Lost and Found” episode, where a saxophonist who used to tour with Tina Turner talks about his codpiece, a woman talks about losing a unique coat, an airbrusher talks about how memorial shirts have been a big part of his business and a man talks about the ties his grandmother made and their connection to losing his childhood home during Superstorm Sandy.
It’s during that episode, which follows a more rigid format than the first one does, where Worn Stories shows why it’s so fun to watch. We all have pieces of clothing that we hang on to because of the story of how we got it or the memories it invokes. Or we just hang on to something that feels super soft and lived-in or makes us look and feel our best. Those are the stories that we want to see because those are the stories we connect with the most.
Those stories also help us understand the interstitials a little better. Because these people have only so much time to communicate why their clothes connect with the theme — one guy is part of the “heels community,” another “lost” the polyester blazer he wore in the ’70s when he was just starting off as an artist — it’s sometimes hard to connect them with the bigger stories. The clearer the bigger stories are, the better the episode hangs together. When the main profiles are only loosely tied to the theme, the entire episode feels just as disjointed.
Sex and Skin: Well, we do start in a nudist colony, after all. Though the filmmakers seem to be careful to not show full frontal for either the men or the women.
Parting Shot: Mrs. Park and her community center friends dance to “Gloria” by Laura Branigan. They’re all wearing silver jumpsuits with trim on the arms and legs.
Sleeper Star: Morgan Neville is one of the executive producers, and his intimate and low-key style is definitely on display here.
Most Pilot-y Line: We still can’t get over seeing Diane and Paul using a table saw while they were both nude. Gah.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Worn Stories is definitely one of the more unusual docuseries you’ll stream this year. But it’s also warm, personal and heartfelt.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, , , Fast Company and elsewhere.
Stream Worn Stories On Netflix