What Happened to Donnie Wahlberg’s Accent in Boston’s Finest?
Boston’s Finest’s season finale was last Wednesday, and after watching hour-long episodes for eight consecutive weeks, there is just one question left worth posing to its audience: What the hell happened to Donnie Wahlberg’s accent?
As most Boston natives know, the Wahlbergs grew up in Dorchester, Boston’s largest neighborhood, which also borders Southie. Since moving from the East Coast, however, rumor has it Donnie Wahlberg invested in a dialect coach. When the Improper Bostonian asked him how he lost his Boston accent, he responded:
I brought my older brother Jim on tour right after he quit smoking and drinking. He had to be the most angry, obnoxious person I’d been around in my life, and I realized I sounded like that sometimes. So I had to change it. I realized that if I sounded anything like my brother, I was screwed.
So he’s ashamed of Boston accents, which is neither here nor there, but we’ll still take a look at his progress. Prior to the season premiere of Boston’s Finest, Donnie gave fans a behind-the-scenes look at the show while giving a tour of his childhood home in Dorchester. Based on this video and other interviews with Wahlberg on the Internet, Wahlberg’s accent has come a long way since his Massachusetts days:
But, wait, before we start handing out gold stars to Wahlberg for his “improvement,” let’s take a step back. While Wahlberg is Boston’s Finest executive producer, he also lends his voice to the show as its narrator. If we listen to his voiceovers throughout each episode, Wahlberg’s Boston accent has (un)shockingly reappeared.
Let’s look at just the first five minutes of the season premiere:
1. At 0:53, “Jenn Penton served her country in Afghanistan. Now she’s a police officah.”
2. At 1:55, “Even though they’ve only been pahtnahs for a few months, patrol officahs Jenn Penton and Pat Rogahs know each other well.”
3. At 4:50,”The fugitive unit tracks down criminals on the run, oftentimes the worst of the worst. Cold blooded, dangerous and desperate. Today, officahs Greg Dankahs and Winston Deleon will work together as pahtnahs.”
And so on.
Paul Meier, professional dialect coach for theater and film, offered some commentary on Wahlberg’s accent identity crisis. Meier, who coached A-listers like Spiderman’s Tobey Maguire, says that it’s normal for actors to adapt away from their local accents as they become more traveled.
“It’s not to say that he can’t climb back into his own youthful accent when he wants,” Meier also says. “When he’s reading for Boston’s Finest, of course, he’s very conscious that he’s talking about the police force of his hometown. So I’m sure he’s allowing it to come back, but he is still talking to a national audience. So he doesn’t feel the need to compete with the real Boston cops in the show.”
Meier also offered input on a native Boston accent—or perhaps, what a real Boston accent is like: “It’s my experience that [native] Boston speakers are quietly spoken. It’s not an in-your-face accent. It’s often quite subtle, [similar to] most speakers you’ll come across…That lack of r coloration that defines Boston’s sound is more muted.”
This piece of commentary can explain why most viewers overlooked Wahlberg’s shift in accents as Boston’s Finest’s narrator—because it is subtle and he is a native. It can also explain why the Boston accent is one of the most difficult dialects to imitate, making some of Hollywood’s best actors (ahem, Leo DiCaprio) look like amateurs.
But you know what they say: the boy can leave Dorchestah, but Dorchestah doesn’t evah leave the boy.
So what do you think, folks? Is Donnie Wahlberg pulling a fast one on us?