What was everyone talking about at the water cooler in 2011? From Will and Kate's all-consuming Royal Wedding to Kim Kardashian's equally all-consuming divorce, here's a look at the biggest pop culture moments of 2011:
1. Charlie Sheen's meltdown
Perhaps no star had a wilder roller coaster ride in 2011 than Charlie Sheen. First there was the leaked news in January of a Vegas bender with a trio of "goddesses." That escalated into a bizarre series of rants and petulant behavior. Soon, Sheen was fired from the CBS hit comedy Two and a Half Men, and later replaced by Ashton Kutcher. After coining a few catchphrases (like "tiger blood" and "winning"), embarking on an ill-received comedy tour, and setting Twitter records, the star booked a new sitcom, Anger Management, which will air on FX beginning in 2012.
2. The rise of Adele
"Rolling in the Deep," the booming first single off British chanteuse Adele's sophomore album 21, was inescapable following its release in February. Then, following a stripped-down, show-stopping performance during the MTV Video Music Awards, Adele's follow-up track, "Someone Like You," became equally ubiquitous. 21 has sold more than 12 million copies worldwide, and Adele reaped an impressive six Grammy nominations.
3. The Oscar host fiasco
When Oscar producers selected James Franco and Anne Hathaway to host the 2011 Academy Awards, they were unabashed about their desire to court a more youthful audience, proudly proclaiming Franco and Hathaway as the "next generation of Hollywood icons." Boy, was that a misstep. Franco's bored, deer-in-the-headlights routine at the late February show led to speculation that he was high, while Hathaway's manic attempts to overcompensate for Franco's lethargy became exceedingly grating. When all was said and done, critics called the telecast the "worst Oscars ever."
4. The Royal Wedding
An estimated two billion people tuned in to watch the televised wedding of Britain's Prince William to Kate Middleton. But the relentless media coverage of the "greatest and grandest" royal affair since Charles and Diana's wedding didn't begin and end on April 22, the day of the ceremony. In breathless around-the-clock coverage, frenzied fans and critics have scrutinized every aspect of the young royals, including the royal portrait, Kate's dress, and a Lifetime film about the couple.
5. The success of Bridesmaids
The raunchy and radical comedy starring Kristen Wiig as a neurotic maid of honor kicked off the summer movie season with an enormous box office haul in May. Many critics heralded its surprise success as a turning point for funny women. The R-rated ensemble comedy — made up almost entirely of females — laughed up nearly $170 million at the box office, making it the highest-grossing film that "frat pack" frontman Judd Apatow has ever produced. Its success triggered the "Bridemaids effect": The green-lighting of more female-driven comedies both for film and TV, finally putting to bed the excruciating debate over whether women can be funny.
6. Oprah's final episode
After 25 years, countless nuggets of wit and wisdom, tens of millions of dollars worth of "Oprah's Favorite Things" giveaways, and a star-studded farewell concert, The Oprah Winfrey Show ended on May 25. The "brave" final show starred no one but the Queen of Talk herself, as she thanked her viewers for their support and extolled a few final life lessons. Winfrey signed off by saying, "I won't say goodbye. I'll just say until we meet again." Oprah is no doubt hoping that her legion of fans will follow her to the floundering Oprah Winfrey Network, the ratings-challenged cable channel she launched last January.
7. Harry Potter ends
After selling 450 million books, raking in $6 billion at the box office, and becoming an inextricable part of an entire generation's childhood, one of most popular franchises in history came to an end when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 hit theaters in July. The film earned rave reviews from critics, adding another $1.3 billion to the series' box office total. But with a revolutionary new website, amusement parks, and countless fond memories, it's likely that the Boy Who Lived won't die out soon.
8. Friday Night Lights says goodbye
For the extraordinarily passionate fans of Friday Night Lights, who championed the quiet NBC drama through its five critically-acclaimed, ratings-challenged seasons, the series finale was one of the year's ultimate Kleenex moments. The final episode of the show about family, faith, and high school football in a small Texas town was praised by critics as a "perfect" send-off. Even after FNL's conclusion, fans had reason to cheer, as Kyle Chandler bagged a surprise Best Actor win at the Emmys and talk of a movie based on the series (which was itself based on a movie and book) surfaced.
9. Beyonce's baby announcement
Babyonce? When Beyonce broke the news during August's MTV Video Music Awards that she and husband Jay-Z were expecting a child, it didn't just dominate headlines, it broke records. The singer sparked a Twitter frenzy when she concluded her performance of "Love on Top" by ceremoniously dropping her microphone and cradling her very-visible baby bump. With 8,688 tweets per second devoted to the baby news, the announcement set a new Twitter record — one that was broken when Steve Jobs died.
10. Ladies at the Emmys
If there was any doubt that 2011 was the year of women in comedy, it disappeared at the Emmy Awards. When Amy Poehler's name was read as the first nominee for Best Actress in a Comedy, she disobediently leapt to her feet and rushed the stage, and was soon joined by each of her fellow nominees in an orchestrated bit that turned into a mock Miss Comedy 2011 beauty pageant. The endearing, hilarious, and emotional bit quickly went viral, becoming the night's most memorable moment.
11. Kim Kardashian's divorce
Just 72 days after reality TV star Kim Kardashian wed NBA player Kris Humphries in a lavish $10 million ceremony billed as the "wedding of the century," Kardashian filed for divorce. The quickie end to the union — the couple earned a reported $250,000 per day during their marriage from sponsorships and publicity deals — led to accusations that the whole relationship was staged for Kardashian's reality TV show. Humphries fueled those rumors himself after filing for an annulment on grounds of fraud.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Obama just kneecapped Jeb Bush and Chris Christie's 2016 prospects
- 6 tiny scientific mistakes that created huge disasters
- It's official: The religious right is calling it quits
- The dangerously childish morality of liberal ObamaCare supporters
- 10 classic Sesame Street moments we wouldn't show today's kids
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The myth of the stay-at-home dad
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1: 10 major differences between the book and the movie
- Uber, and the growing threat of corporate surveillance
Subscribe to the Week