Wednesday, August 29, 2007

review: l.a. ink

[it's not bangles 2007 (plus a random dude), it's la ink as found through google image search!]

i'm not a huge fan of reality shows, and i find it especially hard to watch the ones that have no competitive element. it used to be those were the best ones, like the first season of the real world, where you just watched 7 interesting people live in a really nice apartment and get drunk. then interesting got swapped out for physically cut, and the drunk turned into shit.faced., and the really nice apartment became an ikea diorama.

i haven't watched that show in ages, but from what i can tell, it's basically "morons gone wild," where they find the cast by pulling up to frat parties in a tricked-out van and selecting the droolingest attendees (plus at least one black and one gay, and if they're not at the party, maybe somebody there has a "weird" roommate?), giving them a gym membership, and treating them for crabs. they might as well just film the nakedish lady who sits behind the registration desk at the standard hotel and show that for a half-hour a week. but keep the soundtrack "hot."

the worst crime reality shows commit, and this applies both to the competitive ones (sweet sweet project runway) and the straight-up observant ones (the hogans have money or whatever), is following a format that treats the viewer like a retarded goldfish. it goes like this, going back to the real world example: in quick cuts, jenny walks into a room, tells timmy she'll blow him, timmy says jenny's racist, jenny cries and threatens to leave the show. cut to jenny saying the following: "i walked into the room...and told jimmy i'd blow him...he called me a racist, and that, like, hurt, and i wanna go home." cut to jimmy saying the following: "jenny walked in the room...and said she'd blow me...and that's so racist! now she's gonna leave?, time to get my party on." when it's all said and done, we have seen some heavily edited bullshit, and then had it described to us, almost exactly as we saw it, TWICE.

then again, if there's anything the viewing public loves in this country, it's exposition. can't get enough of that clunky exposition. law & order? pictures & exposition. how many DA-whatevers has sam waterston had to suffer throughout the years? did any of them have any personality? and does anyone care? they exist to deliver information, period. dick wolf prides himself on how flat his characters are, how the show is about the crimes, not the people who deal with them. to me, law & order is exactly like that show on new york 1 in the morning where pat keirnan reads you the headlines from that day's newspapers. take that, dick wolf-- no actors at all, just pure, unfiltered exposition. fuck ripping it from the headlines-- it's the exact headlines! and no pesky ice t!

csi, ncis, snics, whatever, it's all the same thing, actors speaking stage direction and walking us through a weekly crime. my friend julia calls it writing for the blind, and reality shows are the same, except, like i've said, it's more like editing for the blind/mentally impaired. oh, and i guess the hills doesn't do this, but the hills is so obviously fake that, from what little i've seen, it seems like a sitcom put on by a college tv station. at shallow cunt university.

so right, la ink. la ink is about a tattoo shop right here in los angeles that's run by a heavily tattooed and be-leathered lady named kat von d, and her staff of mostly women and one mellow dude, and the people they serve. it's a spin-off of miami ink, which is about a tattoo shop in miami run by some guy who used to be in the israeli army and must have gotten wounded in combat because he's constantly whining about how much his pussy hurts. kat worked there and got fired, but she's hotter than he is, so tada, own show.

i think what interests me about tattoo reality shows is that, as weird as it sounds, there are high stakes involved, as well as skill. while the stakes for project runway involve an actual prize (and the skills to turn discarded toenails and asbestos into couture), the stakes here involve agreeing to put a sad wolf on a guy's arm for the rest of his life, and making it look as not-stupid as possible (which is what happened tonight-- sad, sad wolf). plus, unlike miami ink, the staff of la ink aren't meathead crybabies, so you can respect their talent without wanting to slap them all the time.

still, la ink is so, so guilty of the watch'n'summarize format, plus it has the added bonus of completely scripted and awkward narration. it runs throughout the show, but it's always worse at the end when when kat has to tell us what we've learned, which is tough when you have to tie together a sad wolf tattoo, an annorexia recovery symbol tattoo (don't ask), and kat's decision not to get fake tits. is there any good, not-awkward narration that could encapsulate that lesson? not by my hand.

and so much of the show is bullshitty, from the shop itself (it's not actually named LA ink, but they keep having to call it that for some reason) to the customers (all pre-screened by tlc for maximum drama). and what you learn very quickly, on this or any tattoo show, is that there is no "good" reason to get a tattoo. eg, i'm sorry your grandpa died, but i don't think you honor his memory by getting a turtle branded into your skin above your ass crack, and it's a bummer your husband left you, but getting the lyrics to "under the bridge" engraved on your foot won't stop the divorce, etc.

the artists always handle it well-- they are good at what they do-- but you kind of feel bad for them, cuz here they are, respected in their field, and they have to give some shithead a tweety bird riding a dolphin over a celtic cross because said shithead has an amazing sob story about his brother dying in a car accident with actual footage of the collision. then the artist has to scriptedly admit that their brother also was in an accident (rear ended in the target parking lot, but still). now that's television!

so it's this weird balancing act of showing shop drama (that isn't too, too contrived, but still expositioned to the hilt) and tattoo drama (which starts being more comedy than drama after about one episode). la ink does it pretty well, although, like i said, the narration is a killer, as is the shop manager, who is so grating and forcefully nice as only la people can be (i am so cute and wacky! i am asking inappropriate questions! i am wearing a tight shirt! i am going to find a way to turn being this way into a career! hurray for hollywood!).

and that's the other fucked up thing about la ink that fascinates and amuses me-- kat von d, and many other people on the show, fucking love los angeles. how could anyone do that? and i say that not because i loathe la, because i really don't-- i hate certain things about it, but there is nothing about la that makes it unique enough to me to hate for its la-nes. the traffic sucks, but it's not a special kind of traffic where you have to switch lanes every thirty seconds or get a ticket or something. there are a lot of mexicans, but where along the border aren't there a lot of mexicans, and besides, their contribution to the culture is mexican, so shouldn't we give the credit for good burritos to oaxaca or something and let la find a food it invented itself?

it's like when my dude friends date girls who don't talk. it sucks being around said girlfriends, because they just stand there and don't talk, but that doesn't exactly make them hateful. just boring. and there are women on this show who think bikini tops can double as workplace casual, who have tattoos on their faces, who have paid to have their tongues forked, and oh how they love living in los angeles, the nation's mute girlfriend, the blandest place on earth! still trying to figure that one out.

anyway, in the scope of reality shows, la ink is compelling enough for me to watch on purpose. and maybe it can teach me why people like la, cuz it's on the learning channel, and knowledge is power. of course, if this was an actual reality show, someone else would come on to summarize what i'd written almost verbatim, but it's not, and i'm tired, and, god willing, you're not an idiot. and don't have crabs.

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