Bad TV Accents

Henry Farrell laments the awfulness accents on some new characters on Heroes who are purportedly members of an Irish criminal underclass.

Perhaps it’s understandable that there’s nothing at all resembling an actual Cork accent to be found among them; that might be a bit much to inflict on unsuspecting American television viewers. But there’s not much in the way of Irish accents, full stop. One fella who thinks that Irish people speak like Scotsmen with adenoids, another with standard mid-Atlantic intonations, and a British actress who at least seems to have heard Irish people talking once upon a time, even if her ability to imitate them slips in and out of focus.

Then again, we can’t seem to find actors who can do American Southern accents particularly well, so it shouldn’t be surprising. The late Georgia humorist Lewis Grizzard once remarked of one of the characters in Driving Miss Daisy, “If Dan Ackroyd’s a Southerner, my butt’s a typewriter.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    My experience is that Brits are, generally, more sensitive to dialects than Americans are. An American audience doesn’t distinguish between differing Irish dialects, sometimes not even among various British dialects, sometimes not able to distinguish a Scots dialects from an Irish from Australian.

    Then again, it’s possible that the actors are being directed to speak in a “stage Irish” dialect so that the American audience will perceive it as Irish.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    And then there was Michael Caine’s execrable Southern dialect in Hurry Sundown.

  3. Maniakes says:

    Most Americans are pretty good at telling the difference between, say, a Boston accent and a Brooklyn accent. It’s a matter of familarity.

    Hugh Laurie does a very good American accent, but most other British actors I’ve heard attempt American accents are terrible — as terrible as Farrell describes American attempts to fake Irish accents as being.

  4. Leo says:

    Exactly…

    I’m from the Boston area; I can generally tell the difference between a Charlestown and an Eastie accent. Actors are equally bad at American accents; Mystic River and The Departed both had lots of attrocious accents.

    Oh well.

  5. John Burgess says:

    What Maniakes said: Hearing Brits try to do American accents is an absolute stitch! Forget American regional accents, even the standard TV dialect is beyond their ken. Sometimes they try to fake it with a Canadian standing in for the American, but even that’s not very close.

  6. just me says:

    I don’t think it is a matter of people in the UK caring more about accents, they just care more about the accents they are familiar with.

    Most Southern Americans cringe when we hear poorly done southern accents, but I doubt too many Brits would notice.

    I think it is mostly what you know and are familiar with.

  7. Dodd says:

    If you want to hear a truly atrocious attempt at an Irish accent, watch David Boreanaz in any flashback scene from Buffy and Angel. Eight years he had and he never got any further along with it than No Longer So Painfully Bad It Would Be Preferable To Have An Icepick Jammed In My Ear, And That May Just Be Because I’ve Gotten Used To It.

    The accents on Heroes are brilliant by comparison.

  8. just me says:

    Shoot before the Irish get up in arms, they should pay attention to Sean Connery. In Highlander he played a Spanish Conquistador with a Scottish accent. In Hunt for Red October he played a Russian sub captain with a Scottish accent.

    Sean pretty much plays all his roles with a Scottish accent.

  9. SFC SKI says:

    Actually, many Brits do a great job at the generic, read “Hollywood generic accent”, I am surprised when I find out that some new “American” actor turns out to be from the UK.

    Most Americans can’t tell the difference between Boston and Brooklyn accents once west of Pennsylvania, either. As for UK accents, it takes a bit of experince to tell Yorkshire from Liverpudlian from Mancunian, etc, but I htink most Americans can tell between stiff upper lip British, Irish, Scottish, and Australian.

    Overall, I’d prefer the characters do the accents well, or not at all. I lived in Boston and Cape Cod, when I see a movie purportedly based in Boston but the actors have no accents, it immediately kills the film for me. A movie like “Fever Pitch” in which only one of the bleacher bums has an actual accent, just another crime that made a terrible movie worse.