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The 2011 sofa awards: The 25 Best Nouns of 2011

December 22, 2011

The sofa awards… for the uninitiated, this is my eighth year recognizing the top people, places and things of the year. For those who’ve been here before, welcome back. Now, I recognize that nearly every person with access to a computer generates a year-end list and that can be overwhelming. This is what you do: read mine. Now that we have that settled, let’s dig in…

Rather than give specific awards, this year I have generated a list of the 25 most memorable nouns who have stood out in delivering whatever art-form the choose. Please feel free to share your opinions at the end.

Donald Glover
As a fan of Community (seriously, NBC, get it together), I have followed Glover’s Troy through blanket forts and secret handshakes to being the only Jehovah’s Witness on TV. I watched a few clips on YouTube of his stand-up act (you must, must, must watch the one where he discusses his original twitter name, @donglover) and really started to dig his brand of comedy. Then, I find out he was a writer on 30 Rock, which only helps. And then, I heard about this rap persona he’s adopted named Childish Gambino. An actor trying to rap can be a big misstep, but Glover’s delivery is clear and concise, his rhymes relevant and his beats palpable. Reminiscent of Kanye’s first album, occasionally of Drake’s style, but clearly forging his own way, Childish Gambino has quickly built a relevant fan-base and displayed talent everyone should be able to recognize. Get Camp, it’s highly recommended.

Margo Martindale
After years of toiling away in countless projects, Martindale (Dexter, Million Dollar Baby) was given the role of a lifetime for Justified’s second season. Playing the matriarch of a family of homespun criminals, she not only gave the single best TV performance of the year, but she earned herself an Emmy in the process. Her portrayal of Mags Bennett was so lived-in and real that it would be easy to forget that she was acting the whole time. And now , she is “Margo Martindale,” not “the lady from ‘fill-in-the-blank.” Here’s to a slew of new doors opening for her.

Homeland
Inarguably the best new show of 2011, Homeland brings sure-to-be Emmy nominees Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin together for a little post-24 pressure boiling tension. The psychological thriller has – interestingly enough – shown that we while we largely ignore films about the Middle East and the War on Terror, we tend to tune in when it’s shown on the small screen. Danes’ Carrie Mathison is hopped up on meds for her fight against Bipolar Disorder, while working as a CIA operations officer. With one intense scene after another, Carrie searches for an ex-prisoner of war who has been turned. Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), a recently returned POW, is the lucky guy in her crosshairs. But, with everyone showing shades of gray, the tension only gets thicker and more questions surface.

Adele
I liked Adele before liking Adele was popular. I say that because now pretty much everyone likes her. Rarely an album comes out that pleases so many: from soul fans to country die-hards, music critics to her peers, soccer moms to their daughters, Adele has managed to please the masses with her stripped-down explorations of love and life. Coming from such a young lady, the album (21) is momentous, with each song single-worthy. The fact that they also blend well enough to tell a comprehensive story is even better. With two Grammy’s on her mantle already (including Best New Artist in 2009), she just picked up six nominations for this year’s Grammy party as well as easily ranking as the number one album in sales of the year.

Jaiden “The Cure”
Every time I hear Jaiden “The Cure” sing live, I am more convinced. His voice is gorgeous and those vocal runs are impressive. Besides, the guy’s put in his work; he’s earned his spot on the radio. Now someone just needs to add him to the rotation. He released a mix tape this summer (Shades of Grey: The Cure Suite II) and has a free download that I have posted for you to take advantage of. If you know him, you know what I’m talking about. If he’s new to your radar, get ready… and listen!

Octavia Spencer
Another character actress who spent years toiling away in countless projects, Spencer often steals the show with less than 5 lines. So, when Tate Taylor opted to cast her as the spirited Minny is his adaptation of The Help, it made perfect sense to those who knew her work. Unfortunately, the studio didn’t agree. The rather surreal back-story that not everyone knows, however, is that Spencer and Taylor were roommates years ago and Spencer met Kathryn Stockett during that period. The character of Minny was partially based on her impression of one Octavia Spencer. That’s not to say that Spencer didn’t act her ass off in this movie. In the book, Minny is very much over-the-top and I entered the theater afraid Spencer was going to over-act. No! She actually was much more subtle than I expected, all the while throwing her weight around. I loved it. And those eyes. I love her eyes. Here’s crossing my fingers that she gets more work.

Once Upon a Time
I so wasn’t going to watch this show. I mean, it’s about fairy tales and I’m a grown-ass man, right? Yes and yes. BUT – and here’s where things get tricky – it’s a show about fairy tales, as told by Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, both of whom wrote and produced LOST, my vote for the best show… ever. So, I tuned in. And now I’m hooked. The “flashbacks” to the fairy tale world are juxtaposed against their current lives in Storybrook, where everyone is somebody and nobody knows who they are. Now THAT is pretty interesting. Every single person inhabiting the town – and showing up on the screen – has a hidden past and we are tasked with figuring that out, hopefully before they tell us. The acting is good, the storylines are intriguing, and we all have some working knowledge of the back-story, which prevents it from being too LOST-like and alienating viewers. Overall, it has presented itself a worthy choice for its plum Sunday night scheduling.

Issa Rae & Awkward Black Girl
She’s awkward. And Black. With more than 3 million total views, Issa Rae’s The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl has steadily been building an audience since their first webisode back in February. Telling the tale of a young black woman treading through office politics, all the while dealing with life and the pursuit of love, the show has transcended its initial premise and has found itself speaking for an entire generation. Rae and Co. have successfully pulled off this show using social media as their primary source of advertising, effectively keeping the whole thing on the net. Through guerilla marketing and innovative television making, ABG stands as a forbearer for what’s to come in the genre. The next great wave of programming should be taking notes on everything that Rae (who’s not that awkward in real life; she’s acting!) is doing. Evidence of her brilliance? She recently recounted her experience in meeting with TV execs: “Our visions don’t really align. Everything we were against, [he] was for. We’re in the right space.” The fact that she’s not willing to sell out gives us hope. Keep up the good fight, Issa. We support you.

Dan Clare
Remixing everything from Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” to Rihanna’s “You Da One,” England’s DJ Dan Clare is slowly – yet deftly – making a name for himself as one of the hottest remixers on both sides of the pond. Creating beats that grab you by the nape of the neck and swing you around on the dance floor like a rag doll, Clare is the future. Get onboard now.

Tamsin Greig
Showtime’s Episodes was supposed to be Matt LeBlanc’s comeback vehicle, and to be fair, over the course of the seven-episode season, LeBlanc managed to erase the memory of his laughable post-Friends gig Joey. But – it was Tamsin Greig whole stole the show. In her first introduction to American audiences, Greig owned every scene she was in, from the opening scenes of the pilot on. Her wit, facial expressions and delivery are spot-on.

(this one’s not so safe for work, but is HILARIOUS)

Grey’s Anatomy
Grey’s has had a resurgence this year, with better story telling and a well-rounded use of all 368 14 principal cast members. Ellen Pompeo (Dr. Meredith Grey), once running the risk of being irrelevant on a show bearing her character’s name, is now fully back in the saddle, showing a range of emotions that has me hoping that the NATAS will come calling around Emmy time. Sandra Oh (Dr. Christina Yang) and Chandra Wilson (Dr. Miranda Bailey), two of the most under-appreciated actresses working today, have continued to shine. The men – especially Patrick Dempsey (Dr. Derek Shepherd) and Eric Dane (Dr. Mark Sloan) – have been given real storylines and aren’t just there to look pretty and interact with the women (which often happens on soaps). Newer faces like Kim Raver (Dr. Teddy Altman), Jesse Williams (Dr. Jackson Damn He’s Sexy Avery) and Sarah Drew (Dr. April Kepner), also, have been given plenty of screen time and we are now invested in their storylines. Shonda Rhimes and Company have done their jobs well, this season. Not bad for a show in season number eight.

All My Children and One Life to Live
Poor Agnes Nixon. After forty-plus years on the air, ABC decided to pull the proverbial plug on both of her shows this past summer. The lady who begat such legendary characters as Erica Kane and Vicki Buchanan has, unfortunately, just a couple of weeks left before her voice is officially muted. Love them or leave them, the loss of these iconic programs marked the end of an era. Other soaps have been canceled and a handful remain on the air, but by getting rid of both shows at once, ABC tolled the death knell for what once was… I wrote a piece in remembrance of all of the grandmas who used to watch these shows religiously. It was good. I’m sure Bobbie (that’s my grandma) is missing those old girls herself.

Lalah Hathaway
Releasing her sixth studio album (Where It All Begins) this year, the Grammy-winning singer/songwriter has not only put out some of her most commercial material to date, but also undertaken a serious promotional campaign to support the project. I met her the week the album came out, when she did a Q&A session in Harlem. This is what I learned: Hathaway made sure she answered every question the crowd had, signed CDs and posed for pictures before leaving the stage. She is well-spoken and gave thoughtful responses to the questions asked. She is also a self-aware woman, standing at the front of her own, personal “do-you line.” The entire session was full of quotables. In fact, in retrospect, I think Hathaway should write a how-to book for newcomers on the music scene, detailing the hows and whats that will help newcomers benefit from her experience. All that and the CD is a good listen!

Bleuphoria
If Adele’s 21 was my most-listened to album of the late winter/spring, Rahsaan Patterson’s Bleuphoria was certainly my CD of late summer/early fall. I have played each of those tracks over and over so many times that I probably could recite the lyrics by rote. The addictive “Crazy (Baby),” with its driving beat and additional vocals from The First Lady herself, Faith Evans, is easily one of the hottest singles of the year. Throw in the likes of “Insomnia” and “Mountain Top” and you have the makings of a great CD. I gave it an excellent review back in the summer and in retrospect, I nailed it. Without question, Bleuphoria is one of the best albums of 2011.

(This was in Harlem; where the hell was I? I see Ra-Re. What happened?)

Melissa McCarthy
This has been a good year for McCarthy. In January, she was the lead in Mike and Molly, the 34th-ranked show on television. By spring, she was the scene-stealer in the ads for this movie called Bridesmaids. By June, she was the scene-stealer from the hit blockbuster ensemble comedy Bridesmaids. By late summer, she was the scene-stealer from the mega-hit blockbuster ensemble comedy Bridesmaids who somehow managed to generate an Emmy nomination for Mike and Molly out of her scene stealing in Bridesmaids. By fall, she was an Emmy winner for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series. By winter, she is a Saturday Night Live-hosting, writer/producer (she’s written and sold two upcoming film projects as well as has a television pilot in the works that she will write and produce for CBS) and Emmy-winning actress who starred in one of the year’s biggest hits and stands a chance at not only being nominated for, but maybe even winning, an Oscar. Yes, it’s been a good year for McCarthy. I’d have 2011 tattooed on my ass if I were her.

Damon Wayans Jr.
After making a small splash in ABC’s Happy Endings, Wayans jumped to the pilot for Fox’ New Girl when it looked like Endings’ ending might not be so happy after all. Instead, the show stayed around for a second season, where it is quickly becoming one of the most buzzed-about shows of the year. Despite its “bubble” status last season, Endings – with Wayans front and center – is definitely looking like a sure thing for seasons to come. And, his performance as “Coach” in Girl was so strong that rather than recast, they created a whole new character for his replacement and still used Wayans in their marketing campaign. Expect great things from him.

The Good Wife
Adding great actors to the show – and subsequently great characters to their ever-expanding canvas – has given the only reason to watch CBS yet another layer of dimension. From Carrie Preston’s Elsbeth to Romany Malco’s Justin, Wife always manages to keep us interested and ready to go down whatever the next path the writers choose. I look forward to watching scenes from season 12.

Nene Leakes attacks Star Jones
I have no words. Just watch for yourselves. It’s wrong to like this, but… I’ll get over it. So will you. In the meantime, laugh and make sure you get the quotes so you, too, can use – and abuse – them. My friends and I certainly have. “Where’s Barbara Walters now?

Michelle Williams
I have said it before, but it deems repeating: who would have guessed that Dawson’s Creek’s Jen Lindley would grow into one of the most formidable actresses of her generation? After the teen soap ended in 2003, Michelle Williams starred in a slew of independent films – Brokeback Mountain, Blue Valentine (both of which earned Oscar nominations), Wendy & Lucy, Synecdoche, New York. Her current role in My Week With Marilyn, in which she portrays the legendary sex symbol Marilyn Monroe, has generated eleven major awards nominations thus far and an additional eleven wins. Currently, she is expected to face off against Meryl Streep and Viola Davis (two of the most formidable actresses of their generation) for the Oscar. Game on.

Jessica Chastain
In a year that saw her give five outstanding supporting performances, Chastain broke into the industry with so much fanfare that she could easily have been viewed as doing too much. Instead, audiences and critics alike fell in love with her mega-watt smile and true ability to act. From her Golden Globe-nominated role in The Help to playing a young Helen Mirren in The Debt, this young actress has made quite a name for herself in such a short time. I am anxious to see what she does next.

Oprah
It was the end of an era. Bringing the most successful talk show ever broadcast to an end was heart-breaking and excruciatingly painful. But, as evidenced in OWN’s documentary series, Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes, each episode of this daily show was the equivalent of producing a prime time show. The production values and money that were poured into making Oprah’s final season the success that it was – follow ups with some of her most memorable guests, the Ultimate Favorite Things, the trip for 302 viewers to Australia – were more than a handful. To be fair, though, everyone seemed ready for the challenge. That extravaganza at Chicago’s United Center was pure spectacle. But who didn’t love it? Today, there is a void, a voice that is missing. Oprah will always be one of the most powerful media personalities of all time, but we miss our daily interactions already.

The Help
Amid a storm of controversy over its handling of race relations in the American south during the 1960s, Tate Taylor’s The Help is both brilliant (the acting is superb) and insulting (the film thinks it is told from Aibileen’s point of view when in reality the black women in the film are almost an afterthought). When I first watched the movie, I said to “ignore the bullshit: The Help isn’t that bad,” because I was being told that the film didn’t delve into real race relations in the 1960s. To be fair, neither did the book. And that wasn’t the story that was being told. I am not mad at them for not having the KKK breathing down their necks. I am mad at them for watering down a story that was already on the weaker side to begin with. That being said, the acting is amazing. Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Bryce Dallas Howard, Cicely Tyson, Jessica Chastain, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer formed the strongest cast of the year. And for that, it’s worth watching.

Cougar Town and Community
I group the two funniest shows on TV together because they seem to be living parallel lives. Both are in their third seasons, though neither are on the air right now. Community was pulled from the schedule and put on “indefinite” hiatus and Cougar Town has yet to get a premiere date for this season. I can’t explain it. Especially when ABC (Cougar Town’s network) has the cross-dressing comedy disaster Work It scheduled to debut in January. NBC, as well, has a slew of ignorant shows, yet sidelined Community. What we know: that shit doesn’t make sense. Both shows are brilliantly funny. Both shows have very loyal – yet small – audiences. Most people who like one, like the other. The showrunners seem to have a bromance going, with cross-overs and references peppered throughout the season. If you aren’t on the bandwagon, I suggest you look into these shows and jump aboard.

Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady
Arguably Streep’s best bet at an Oscar in nearly 30 years (although no one can ever convince me that Sandra Bullock out-acted Streep when they went head to head in The Blindside and Julie & Julia, respectively), her role as English Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is so spot-on that I feel comfortable throwing support behind her having only seen the promotional trailers. Streep disappears into her characters, perfectly capturing the speech, the accent, the look (that hair!) and every aspect of Thatcher’s trademark style. Personally, I think Streep can do no wrong. If you don’t agree, we might have to stop being friends.

B. Slade
After releasing four projects this year, B. Slade should be tired. But no, he keeps pushing. Videos. Performances. Working on new material. Working out (somebody’s gotta keep that ass tight). B. Slade is a beast. I will admit that when given Diesel (his 2nd release of ’11) to review that initially it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. In fact, excerpts from my notes go as follows: “Oh my God, he’s attacking my senses!” “What’s he doing here?” and “I’m lost.” To be fair, I also wrote: “Nice squalling on this one;” and “He just used ‘copacetic;’ 3 extra points.” After a couple of listens, I got into the album. It’s front-loaded with dance tracks – but they have lyrics. And Slade is singing!! What we learned from this experiment is not to judge too quickly. Overall, I like Diesel. Plus, the videos are hot. It’s a win-win.

And there you have it. Of course, I debated including other topics, people, etc., but this is my list. Feel free to share yours below.

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Following me on twitter? If not, click the link: @josephrileyland

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