If Judge Adam Arseneau could do it all over again, he'd be in the same skin he's in.
Every body has a story.
Inked, A&E's bad-attitude reality show about tattoo artists in a Las Vegas casino is now available on DVD, at least in part. "Best Of" is kind of a misnomer, as there is nothing particularly good about truncated DVDs in place of full seasons.
Facts of the Case
Founded by motocross star Carey Hart, Hart & Huntington has the auspicious honor of being the first tattoo parlor to open inside a casino, nestled in the heart of the Palms Casino Resort. Branded as a bad-ass, rebellious business, Hart & Huntington fills its doors with drunken teenage girls, extreme fighters, and punk rockers, pushing branded merchandise out the door as much as tattoos.
But keeping such a business afloat is a challenge all in itself, especially when the employees behave as badly as the customers. Inked: Best of Season One captures the ups and downs of running a bad-ass business, managing bad-ass employees, and scaring the bejeezus out of the innocuous casino-going old ladies.
The episodes are all presented out of broadcast order, a fact clearly discernable by gauging how many neck tattoos Thomas has at any given time…his Jesus tattoo alone is like a barometer of chronology. The eight episodes included on this DVD are:
• "Pull It Together, Dizzle"
Hart & Huntington is a brand as much as a business and, as such, tolerates a certain amount of bad behavior from its employees. For a tattoo-focused show, Inked spends the vast majority of its time centering on the shallow, arrogant, and ill-tempered attitudes of its colorful employees, and surprisingly little time focusing on the art. But even a layman to tattoo art can tell that these artists are exceptionally talented—especially Clark, who looks like a punk-rock pirate version of Tim Robbins—which helps settle the bravado down somewhat. After all, its one thing to talk like you're the best; it's another to be able to back it up. The show simply makes a decision to focus on its employees as a subject more interesting than the artwork. This is probably not the best decision as a general rule of thumb, since most of the employees are idiots. Still, when it works, it works well, as with the on-again off-again romance between Monica and Thomas, a beguiling mix of annoyance and sweetness.
The few standout episodes that exist on this DVD, like "Change of Hart," in which Corey Hart and John Huntington try to buy each other out of the business, and "Trouble in Paradise," in which Thomas's artistic ability begins to suffer from a broken heart, are exceptional because they transcend the petty, arrogant, testosterone-filled punker attitude that permeates the show. These guys remind me of my high-school friends…and I don't hang out with them any more for a reason. But every once in a while, the bravado slips and you get to see a bunch of scared thirtysomething kids, in completely over their head, struggling to make ends meet on a personal level as well as a professional level, and it makes for good TV. Too bad it doesn't happen enough on this DVD.
Comparisons to TLC's Miami Ink are no doubt inevitable, since both shows on the surface are utterly identical: outlaw businessman trying to "keep it real" in the tattoo business but still love their work and have a good time. However, the shows differ in their presentation of the material. Miami Ink takes a much more straightforward, documentary-esque approach to the customers and employees, following them around, talking to them in a non-invasive fashion. It tries to give a purpose to each customer's tattoo by filling in background details about their lives. In contrast, Inked is edited, formatted, and cut much more like an MTV reality television show, with aggressive music, drama, and a Real World-esque confessional-style editing that cuts back and forth between employees trash-talking one another. The Inked crew seems to spend most of its time drinking, partying, breaking up with each other, firing one another, and fighting, in sharp contrast to the Miami Ink group, who actually, you know, ink people.
I won't go so far as to pass judgment and say one show is preferable to the other, if for no other reason than Miami Ink is not being reviewed here. Rather, the comparison should give you an idea of what to expect tuning into Inked for the first time: a Real World-esque show about a tattoo parlor in the heart of a Las Vegas casino, embodying all the annoying format and editing styles of MTV's reality show. If that kind of presentation does not faze you, then Inked should be as enjoyable as its brethren.
The video transfer is decent for an on-location reality television show, with decent black levels and red tones. Softness is an issue at times, but overall the presentation is entirely serviceable. The English 2.0 Stereo presentation does the job, but has problems with dialogue consistency. I found myself constantly fiddling with the volume control, trying to prevent the music and ambient noises from overpowering the dialogue.
Extras are scant, which is not surprising. After all, if A&E can't bother to include the other two-thirds of the season, one can't expect much in the way of supplementary material. We get cast bios and a questionably useful tattoo slang lexicon to help out the clueless and/or lame.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
By prioritizing the irrelevant drama instead of the artwork, Inked ends up offering up some truly ridiculous episodes, like the catastrophic problem of "Oh, we hired a ditzy, big-breasted receptionist and rather than her doing work, she just stands there being ditzy with her breasts hanging out. We like that part, but why won't she work?"
Apparently, this is the biggest crisis that occurs running a tattoo parlor or,at the least, a crisis that qualifies as "best" for a DVD compilation. It scares me to imagine what episodes qualified as "worse" than that.
"Best of" DVD sets are always a mixed bag. On the one hand, Inked: Best of Season One is exactly that; a nice overview of the ups and downs for the Hart & Huntington tattoo crew, struggling to keep their business together and not feed each other their teeth. On the other hand, this DVD set features only eight episodes out of a 23-episode season, making the "best of" moniker highly subjective, if not downright apocryphal.
Having never seen the show myself prior to this DVD, Inked: Best of Season One seems a nice, safe comfortable place to start getting to know the artists at Hart & Huntington. Except that they're all jackasses.
For what it is, it ain't bad. But even a tattoo virgin can see how it could be so much more. Fans of the show might be better off petitioning A&E to release the series in its entirety and stop with this "best of" crap.
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