It took just one word to endear Mad Men to Quebeckers, already curious about the increasing prominence of a Québécoise character (Megan Calvet, played by Montreal actress Jessica Paré). When Megan's plans for a surprise party for her new husband (Don Draper) were spoiled during the season premiere, she showed her frustration by saying, " Calice!" – a classic bit of churchy Quebec cursing (the word means "chalice").
But the show's famous attention to detail has faltered in much else to do with Megan and her family. To begin with, what kind of name is Megan for a Québécoise born during the Duplessis era? During a Twitter discussion after the season began, one viewer (@solene_ziggy) produced a list of the top 20 girls' names in Quebec during the 1940s. Nicole, Francine and Ginette made the cut, but not Megan, which is a Welsh name. And what about Calvet? Not a very characteristic surname, unlike Tremblay, Gagnon or Bouchard.
Deeper dismay followed the appearance a week ago of Megan's parents, Emile and Marie Calvet, played by Belgian-born Ronald Guttman and English actress Julia Ormond. Neither of these able thespians came close to speaking French like a Quebecker. "If the Calvets are Québécois, I'm a Cockney flower girl," one blogger said. Another (at askafrenchguy.wordpress.com) charged Ormond with "rolling her "R" in a way that makes her sounds like a poor impersonation of Inspector Clouseau, not "a real French or French-Canadian speaker," and found Guttman's accent "more German than French-Canadian."
How bad are these errors? Imagine if Mad Men's English executive Lane Pryce sounded as though he was from Atlanta, or if two of the firm's star employees were called Liam Campbell and Ashley Olson.
Even so, it was amusingly plausible to think of prickly Marxist intellectual Emile Calvet publishing articles in Cité Libre, the brainy journal co-founded by Pierre Trudeau in the 1950s. Imagine Calvet engaging in an ideological smackdown with René Lévesque, another Cité Libre contributor. Now try to think of any other U.S. TV show that could give rise to such ur-Canadian historical thrills.