At FuzzyCo HQ we have 11 tattoos between us, so you bet we're watching the two tattoo-shop reality shows on TV right now. And one sucks and one rocks.
Inked is set in a newish tattoo shop in a Las Vegas casino. It's got plenty of reality-TV manufactured drama ("if he doesn't sign this paper, I'm closing the shop down!"). Everyone in the shop has a weird floating-in-a-white-background intro video that plays every time the show references them. The customers seem to be a lot of drunk casino customers and the show doesn't dwell on them a lot. Boo town.
Miami Ink is set in a brand new shop in Miami. Out of all the "reality-TV" shows I've seen, it seems the closest to actual documentary work. We meet the tattoo artists and they touch on the actual techniques of tattooing. The customers and their reasons for getting tattooed are a huge part of the show, and they obviously do follow-up filming with the customers, both to see the healed tattoos and to fill in details of their lives. And there's very little forced drama -- in one episode, Darren flaked on an appointment and the editing and interviews were just barely hinting at the usual "trouble is coming" (on Orange County Choppers you'd have been waiting for Paul Sr. to blow his stack) when Darren showed up, apologized, and had the meeting with the client.
And they're really showing the range of reasons people get tattoos. In the first episode I saw there was a French tourist who got a flower tattooed on her foot "just because". And there was a father who got a tattoo of his two sons to memorialize their mother, who had died in the World Trade Center. Super light to super heavy. Super awesome. (oh man, and how much do I love that the Miami Ink shop is in a strip mall with just the word "Tattoo" in block letters over the door.)
Obviously, I'm not the only one who's made comparisons between the two shows: Slate's Dana Stevens weighs in on Miami Ink vs. Inked.