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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

L.A. INK: SEASON 1, VOLUME 2 -- DVD review by porfle

L.A. INK: SEASON 1, VOLUME 2 isn't something I would normally have been very excited about watching. But by the time I'd become familiar with the interesting characters and appealing documentary-style approach of this TLC reality series, I went through the rest of the 3-disc set's thirteen episodes like a Nacho Grande platter.

Contrary to my initial expectations, the show isn't bogged down by a bunch of soap opera crap--when the focus is on the artists' personal lives, they aren't exploited or sensationalized. Most of what we see is work-related, as in Hannah's prolonged absence from the shop while she debates over whether or not to stay in Chicago, or Kat's continuing problems with lackadaisical shop manager Pixie. Superdad Corey's desire to spend more time with his family and Kim's search for love are other concerns.

But L.A. INK is mainly about the customers and their reasons for wanting the particular tattoos that they come in to get (usually something commemorative, memorial, or motivational, although some of the requests are just plain silly). Each time someone walks into the shop, there's an anticipation of what they'll want and why, and how it will turn out.

Watching the tattooing process is fascinating in itself. Personally I could never muster the courage to draw permanent pictures on someone else's body. It's a huge responsibility, yet Kat and her crew are incredible artists who are amazingly confident. Once the customer conveys what they want, they intuitively whip out a preliminary sketch that fulfills the requirement perfectly and then they execute it with often astounding results.

As I got to know the artists and their work, I couldn't wait to see how some of the challenging ideas presented to them would turn out. This is especially true when a firefighter from New York enters with a large 9-11 commemorative painting and asks Corey to reproduce the whole thing on his back. Another highlight is watching Hannah and her talented tattooist brother perform a tag-team masterpiece on another woman's back. Backs, of course, are the largest "canvas" on the human body and it's interesting whenever someone wants the entire area covered by some grand design.

It doesn't take long for us to get to know these people and their particular styles. Corey, a burly guy's guy who's also a devoted family man, is a self-described "classic California tattoo artist" with a realistic style and awesome freehand skills. Hannah is a sensible, somewhat maternal presence with a more colorful, fanciful style. Kim, the personable and very cute young divorcee, has a penchant for flowers and inanimate objects. Kat Von D herself excells in beautiful retro-style, almost photo-realistic portraits. And Pixie, the flighty, irresponsible shop manager, seems to excell in causing trouble.

Roy Orbison's son Alex "Orbi" Orbison is Kat's supportive boyfriend who must help her conquer a nasty drinking problem while trying to muster the courage to pop the question. Guest tattooist Bob Tyrrell fills in for Kat during her hospital stay and performs some cool horror-related stuff, including a great portrait of Vincent Price. Tom Green makes an appearance to deliver a surprise birthday present to Kat's sister Karoline. Ja Rule drops by for a tattoo. And when Pixie goes to a guy named "Dr. Tattoff" to get a tattoo painfully removed, he turns out to be none other than Will Kirby, the infamous "Dr. Will" of CBS' "Big Brother."

In one episode, Kat shows her immature side by letting her idiot friend Bam Margera (whose specialty is ruining things and creating chaos) talk her into building a full-blown skate ramp in the shop. Hannah, showing her more grownup side, is against it. In another, the emphasis is on Kat's health when medical tests reveal that she has ovarian cysts which require immediate surgery. Kat's attempt to break the Guinness world record for most tattoos done in a 24-hour period makes for a lively and suspenseful segment. But the biggest fireworks occur in the episode entitled "The Worst Day Ever", in which Pixie's chronic slacking off on the job finally leads to a bitter confrontation in which she threatens to punch out Kim before storming out of the shop while customers look on.

The often lush, color-saturated photography looks really good, and most of the cutesy camerawork and editing are confined to scene transitions. Some of it appears staged to a certain extent, especially in the occasional scenes which have suspiciously thorough camera coverage from different angles, as though the director set everything up and then said "okay, you guys can have your impromptu personal conversation about subject 'A' now." But this happens in most "reality" shows and doesn't really bother me as long as the gist of the actual events is conveyed.

The three discs come in a fold-out slipcase which, along with the menus, is very nicely designed. The episodes are widescreen with Dolby sound. There aren't any extras, but I found the 544 minutes of content sufficient.

One of the best things about L.A. INK, which I found to be a pleasant surprise, is that unlike much reality programming it isn't about a bunch of flakes doing stupid things for us to laugh at. It's actually, for the most part, a pretty serious and substantive show. And after all, drawing permanent pictures on someone else's skin is serious business.

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