REVEIW: ‘Arthur’s Law’ Is a Twisted Dark Comedy

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Arthur's Law - But Why Tho?

Arthur’s Law (Arthurs Gasetz) is a German-language HBO Max original from Benjamin Gutsche that originally aired on TNT Comedy in Germany in 2018. It is one of several foreign-language shows to hit the streaming platform recently. Arthur Ahnepol (Jan Josef Liefers) has a terrible wife, Martha (Martina Gedeck). After attempting, and failing, to commit insurance fraud by cutting his arm off at work at her suggestion, Arthur’s ready for Martha to pay a price for his happiness for once. He wants to kill her and stage her death as an accident to cash in on life insurance. Of course, everything goes terribly wrong and a ceaseless series of dark-comedic tragedy follow in Arthur and Martha’s wake.

Translating comedy from one language to another isn’t easy. Colloquialisms and cultural references are an integral part of comedy. Arthur’s Law is fitting show for an American audience to enjoy not just because the translation in the captions fits, but because so much of the show’s comedy is physical and thus universal. From the faces that Arthur makes in every situation to the just, utter tragedy of errors, every comedic moment completely lands, making the show thoroughly enjoyable. The translation has a few typos here and there, but overall captures the essence of every moment perfectly, which helps, but honestly, the show could well be enjoyed even without captions just for how well the physical comedy lands.

For as comedic as Arthur’s Law is though, it’s also quite dramatic. Martha is an absolutely detestable character and you feel so bad for Arthur, no matter what terrible things he does through the show’s six episodes. I appreciate especially the way the show employs flashbacks not to try and engender sympathy for Martha like it easily could have, but to really make it even more clear how terrible she is. Impressively, Gedeck plays two characters. She also plays Martha’s sister Muriel, the chief of police in their small city. Gedeck’s ability to play two completely different characters side by side is very impressive. Martha is cruel, abusive, and detestable while Muriel is timid and easy to feel sorry for. The duality of these sisters as they commit and cover up crimes a lot of both great comedy and drama.

I was a bit upset by one dynamic. Muriel’s partner Jerome (Michael Klammer) is Black and the show does this thing where Muriel has a white coffee cup that says “good cop” and Jerome has a cup that says “Black cop.” The joke play on words was not particularly appreciated, but more so, as Jerome gets more entangled in Muriel’s mess, the way he is treated is poor. There’s also a  moment where those mugs are used as a metaphor for Muriel/Marta’s being the bad cop, but it kind of makes it worse because implying black is bad is, well, bad, to say the least. Jerome is also pretty mistreated in one of the flashbacks in a way that made me uncomfortable at the time and even more so when it paid off. It felt unnecessary to the plot on top of playing into bad racial tropes.

There is also a whole plot revolving around a woman, Jesse (Cristina do Rego), whom Arthur sleeps with, only to find out she is a sex worker and is entangled in a whole criminal ring with whom Arthur keeps getting deeper and deeper into trouble. The criminal ring subplot is bizarre but quite funny. And Jesse’s sex work is treated respectfully. At least at first, she seems to do it of her own volition and with protection from the men in her life. She clearly would rather do other things with her life, but when she knows its time to get out she does. I appreciate that she is a whole person and not just somebody the show objectifies as a plot point or who gets used to further somebody else’s charter. She is her own person entirely.

The sound design and soundtrack are also spot on. The music the plays throughout the show is just right as it exudes mystery and mayhem at the same time. There’s also just a good few moments of comedy and drama done by sound effects alone.

Arthur’s Law is a wild ride of a dark comedy. Its translation into English is essentially seamless and its blend of physical comedy and twisted drama more for a very entertaining six episodes. Its characters and well-conceived and superbly acted, except for the poor treatment of its only Black character. Overall, it’s a successful translation.

Arthur’s Law is streaming now on HBO Max.

Arthur's Law
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    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

Arthur’s Law is a wild ride of a dark comedy. Its translation into English is essentially seamless and its blend of physical comedy and twisted drama more for a very entertaining six episodes. Its characters and well-conceived and superbly acted, except for the poor treatment of its only Black character. Overall, it’s a successful translation.