The 10 Best Television Speeches of the 21st Century
With the debut of HBO’s “Newsroom” this week, Aaron Sorkin has been in the news a lot, for better but mostly for worse. Regardless of what you think of “The Newsroom” (and our review will be along soon), it does remind us that Sorkin can be a masterful writer. He stands up on his soapbox and does a lot of speechifying, but at his best, he gives great speech, which is something of a missing art form on television. Long monologues can slow the action of a television show, so writers don’t often indulge for fear of being called smug, sanctimonious, self-righteous, self-indulgent, or whatever other word or phrase has been directed at Aaron Sorkin this week. But the best speeches still have the power to rouse, to motivate, to impress, and to avenge. But mostly, they make us goose pimply.
This week, I collected maybe 25 of the television speeches since 2000, and I winnowed them down to ten. The one overriding criteria besides the time frame was this: Only one speech per show, which meant there’s a lot of Sorkin, a lot of “The Wire,” and quite a bit of “Friday Night Lights” sitting on the cutting room floor. Nevertheless, it feels like a strong list, though it’s easy to argue that it’s missing some Captain Adama, Tyrion, too much Bunk and McNulty, David Tennant, a really nice Pam Beasley monologue, a little Charlie Day, maybe some Jeff Winger, and even some Spike (sorry). It’s the nature of a ten-best list: A lot gets left off, which gives plenty of opportunities to complain. I know how much you all love to complain, but trust me, some of the omissions hurt me more than they hurt you. (WHY WEREN’T YOUR SPEECHES LONGER, 10TH DOCTOR?)
I’ll just say that making cuts in this one was a little more painful than most. In the end, after a lot of second-guessing, this is the ten-best list I arrived at (video embeds where available). Read it and weep.
10. The Pandorica Speech, “Doctor Who”
9. The Body, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”
“But I don’t understand! I don’t understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she’s, there’s just a body, and I don’t understand why she just can’t get back in it and not be dead anymore! It’s stupid! It’s mortal and stupid! And, and Xander’s crying and not talking, and, and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well Joyce will never have any more fruit punch, ever, and she’ll never have eggs, or yawn or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why. “
8. The Carousel , “Mad Men”
7. Relationships, “Scrubs”
6. The Blowjob Monologue, “Deadwood”
5. The People You Work With “The Office (UK)”
“The people you work with are just people you were thrown together with. Y’know, you don’t know them, it wasn’t your choice. And yet you spend more time with them than you do your friends or your family. But probably all you’ve got in common is the fact that you walk round on the same bit of carpet for eight hours a day. And so, obviously, when someone comes in who you have a connection with — yeah, and Dawn was a ray of sunshine in my life — it can mean a lot. But if I’m really being honest, I never really thought it would have a happy ending. I don’t know what a happy ending is. Life isn’t about endings, is it? It’s a series of moments. And um, if you turn the camera off, it’s not an ending is it? I’m still here. My life is not over. Come back here in ten years. See how I’m doing then. ‘Cause I could be married with children, you don’t know. Life just goes on.”
4. Half Measures, “Breaking Bad”
3. The Small, Wrinkled-Ass Paper Bag “The Wire”
2. We Will All Fall, “Friday Night Lights”
1. President Bartlett’s Biblical Quotes, “West Wing”