TLC — which actually used to stand for The Learning Channel — has made a new name for itself as the go-to destination for shows about kooky weirdos in much the same way that Bravo has cornered the market on shows about glammed-up housewives and vain fashion types. TLC's hits include pop culture touchstones like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, My Crazy Obsession, Sister Wives, and now, America's Worst Tattoos.
In true TLC fashion, America's Worst Tattoos requires essentially no set-up or explanation thanks to its unapologetic, clear-as-a-bell title. Thank goodness for that, because the show is really all about gawking at as many hideous tattoos as possible in a single half hour. And thanks to the spike in tattoo popularity over the last few decades, there seems to be no shortage of dated, ugly skin art that really ought to be covered up.
On this week's episode — "Zombies, Mummies and Ravens" — we meet a handful of people who are the unenthused bearers of ugly, offensive, and/or bizarre tattoos. And so we hop around several tattoo shops across the country to track the progress of these patrons as they meet with talented tattoo artists aiming to cover up the work of whatever madman or madwoman first inked these poor folks' bodies.
First up is Don, who, with his smiley girlfriend in tow, visits orange-haired tattoo artist Megan Massacre in New York. Megan also happens to be a regular cast member on another hit TLC show, NY Ink, and manages to remain politely upbeat as Don shows off his terrible tat. It's on his right forearm, and it's supposed to be a black-inked blunt — an on-the-nose homage to his great fondness for smoking weed back in the day. But sadly, it resembles a crumpled paper towel tube/pile of dog feces.
Our heroes decide that Don's fondness for zombies is a good starting place for a cover-up piece, and soon, Megan is at work on a terrifying zombie face to mask the blunt that was. During the tattooing, we learn that Don is more a zombie obsessive than zombie enthusiast. Between his good-natured laughs about the subject, it's hard to tell if he's kidding when discussing the actual hotel he's imagined he would stay in if zombies were to attack and force him out of his apartment. (Then again, it's no huge surprise that the man with an enormous poop-blunt tattoo on his forearm would probably spend an inordinate amount of brainstorming how to successfully evade zombies.) The end result of Megan's cover-up is, well, terrifying. Truly, the blunt was almost a better option — if only because it was less jarring than the mangled half-flesh of a nightmare zombie staring out from Don's arm. But, hey, Don's happy with the end result. So we're happy, too.
Next up: Tattoo artist Tim at Art Machine Productions in Philadelphia comes to the aid of rocker gal Emi, who picked the DC Comics character Harley Quinn for her right calf back in her teen days. But now, instead of the playful sidekick to the Joker, she's been left with a faded blotch of red and black. As Emi rightly points out, "it looks like I've had it for 50 years" — which isn't good since she's clearly under 30. Emi stops in with her husband, another rocker type with tattoos and piercings galore, and decides on a cover-up featuring a "mummy girl" and her four cats. Tim manages to do the seemingly impossible and turns that vague, non-sequitur of a description into a truly awesome piece with vibrant colors and an anime-style feel to the finished she-mummy. Also, the cats are adorable, even if the piece as a whole makes zero sense.
But America's Worst Tattoos really does save the best for last. Meet Daniel, who looks straight out of Orange County with his spiky hair and skate shorts. Apparently, Daniel was once in a big fitness phase, and decided on getting a "physically fit girl working out" as a tattoo. What his friend actually inked on his left side — from just below his armpit to his upper hip — is the stuff of nightmares: a sinewy she-devil with dead green eyes and pigtails, wearing moon boots, and lifting barbells that so closely resemble penises that TLC opts to blur them out. Daniel's girlfriend helpfully explains that the "dumbbells have veins. They're not dumbbells at all." Daniel even has a story of when a friend's grandmother was so offended after seeing the heinous tattoo that she slapped him. It's that awful.
Tattoo artist Jeremy Swan of Broken Art in Los Angeles is tasked with this monster of a cover-up, and is so visibly horrified when he sees it for the first time that he lets out a gasp. He goes on to say, "Oh my God. I can't even believe I'm looking at this right now. This thing is the king of them all. I've never seen a tattoo so repulsive, offensive, [and] poorly done." That's right, it's a tattoo so unanimously loathed that it grosses out an experienced tattoo artist as much as a grandmother.
With his equally disgusted girlfriend by his side, Daniel decides to go for a cover-up that features a raven perched on a skull with a glowing yellow moon peeking from behind. The cover-up is quite large and primarily on Daniel's ribs, so he has a painful time during tattooing. Still, Southern California residents really ought to think about sending flowers to Jeremy Swan on behalf of those who will cross Daniel's path in the future and be able to continue getting full nights of sleep. So, well done TLC, for creating a program that — much like the network's shows about hoarders, obsessives, and modern-day gypsies — so fully lives up to its name.
More reality show drive-bys...
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- A gay Mormon's complicated journey
- Why you should really take a nap this afternoon, according to science
- The biggest lesson Obama failed to learn from Bush
- 7 things the world's happiest people do every day
- How social conservatives became a minority in need of protection
- Why you shouldn't eat dog. Not even once.
- This Indian meal service is so efficient it's the envy of FedEx
- What would a U.S.-China war look like?
Subscribe to the Week