“I had a friend who had a tattoo gun …”
“I lost a bet.”
“I was 14.”
“I thought I was in love, y’all!”
So opens Netflix’s daft new reality series, Tattoo Redo, with a montage of reasons from the regretfully inked participants as to why they want their current tattoos covered up with something that doesn’t look like it was done by a drunk person, or represents the stinking carcass of an ex-boyfriend.
They come along in pairs, each person accompanied by a friend or partner who has also had enough of staring at illegible quotes, or Red Hot Chili Peppers lyrics in German, or a lion that looks like a fox with a mullet, or a picture of Michael Jackson’s glove that looks like it was scrawled on with a failing marker pen. Presenter Jessimae Peluso hears their stories, nicely tailors her teasing to the temperament of each individual, and then reveals that they won’t be the ones getting to choose the design with which the offending item will be covered up – their companion will.
Expressions of horror and/or assertions of trust are duly produced and then it’s over to the array of tattoo artists – Tommy Montoya, Miryam Lumpini, Rose Hardy, Twig Sparks, Matt Beckerich – to do their work. The first step is generally to force the person now responsible for the new tattoo to consider the practicalities. Hardy, for example, who has 13 years’ experience in creating beautiful, bold, ornate illustrations on skin, has to explain to client Amber’s sister Ashley that you can’t hope to cover up a black screed of Red Hot Chilli Pepper lyrics with Ashley’s suggestion of “a beach” because it is mostly yellow sand and blue water. She suggests instead a painting-like rendering of their grandma’s eye surrounded by a rococo frame that will disguise the words. The end result, staring out from Amber’s scapula, is so realistic that I haven’t slept since but everyone else seems delighted, so hurrah for that.
The whole thing is ridiculously charming. The artists are all quietly confident and eager to get to work, and their expertise is, as expertise will always be, thrilling to watch. The participants are a miracle of casting. Three sets a show means there is just enough time to fill in their background and get a feel for the dynamics of each pair. They might have been dating for a year, and someone has decided to make either a power move or an epidermal offering to cement the relationship. Or they might, like Kerri and Nadia, have been best friends since elementary school, who now know each other better than they know themselves. But there are also pairings slightly beyond the usual, which gives the nice sense that producers have gone above and beyond the call of duty in their searches, and also provides some unexpectedly moving moments.
Joshlyn and Cherie are middle-aged work colleagues who became friends. Joshlyn now wants to cover up an ill-placed tattoo on her bum that she had done to commemorate her first time with a woman. Cherie, of course, must choose the new design. “She loves me,” says Joshlyn with a grin. “She has my back.” “I got this,” Cherie agrees. She chooses butterflies to represent the freedom her friend has found since coming out properly. Joshlyn loves them.
Similarly, IT support co-workers Sergio and Steve (who has a Satanic symbol from the time he briefly dated a woman who was a witch, which does not sit well with Steve’s defiantly non-Satanic vibe) could, as Peluso notes, give a therapy class in how men can express themselves to each other.
More often than not, these light, slight reality series don’t really work – they are essentially functioning as filler for the streaming platform. The Wedding Coach epitomised all the usual failings – with an overloud, unengaging and unengaged host, a dull set of contestants, and a relentlessly leaden tread through set pieces every episode. Tattoo Redo manages to sidestep the elephant traps and stay light, breezy and really rather endearing, even before you add the joy of watching people create something from nothing. The artists sketch out their ideas on screens, then we watch the bald, characterless outlines of the new tattoos springing to life under the artists’ hands, flushed with colour, filled with life and – so far at least, although I haven’t quite watched to the end of the series – greeted with absolute delight by the recipients at the unveilings. I find my flagging spirits redone.