The best tv monologues come from House of Cards, The Office, and Breaking Bad.
Part of what makes television so enduring and captivating is how it offers escapist entertainment. The characters are smart, attractive, and most importantly, they know how to say the right thing at the right time. Some shows, like Game of Thrones, are filled with classic tv monologues, while others, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, surprise with a powerful one when audiences least expect it.
The five on this list, though, have transcended the show themself and become either iconic memes or a quick reference to the entire franchise, finding their way into popular culture. In addition, the greatest tv monologues sum up the character giving it in only a few lines, proving that great writing is still important for a show to succeed.
5. “No Patience For Useless Things” Frank Underwood – House of Cards
Kevin Spacey’s last great role (look at how his IMDb dried up suddenly) before a scandal destroyed his career is filled with amazing tv monologues. The one that sums up his House of Cards character, Frank Underwood, the best is from the first episode, when he’s putting a dog out of its misery and says, “There are two kinds of pain. The sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain. The sort of pain that’s only suffering. I have no patience for useless things.”
Few tv monologues sum up a character so succinctly in the opening scenes of a series, but those lines by Frank echo through the rest of the show. Multiple times, he does the unsavory thing, the cruel thing, the necessary thing. Frank’s life was pain, but it wasn’t useless pain, and the poor dog wasn’t the only life he ruined along the way.
4. “Prison Mike” Michael Scott – The Office
When it came time to scare his team straight, Michael Scott (Steve Carell) put on a bandana and introduced the cast of The Office to Prison Mike, delivering one of tv’s best monologues in the process. After explaining how bad prison is, with the worst part being the dementors, the closing statement of “You’ve got a good life” at least gets across to Dwight (Rainn Wilson) even if everyone else keeps giving him a hard time.
Among the highlights of the short scene that makes a lasting impression on everyone, “I stole, and I robbed, I kidnapped the President’s son and held him for ransom,” and on describing the food, “Gruel sandwiches. Gruel omelets.” What elevates it to one of the best tv monologues is the delivery, Michael puts his all into his character of Prison Mike, and by extension, Steve Carell shows why he’s a comedy legend for his commitment to the bit.
3. “Carousel” Don Draper – Mad Men
Don Draper (Jon Hamm) gave one of his best pitches and a legendary tv monologue in the final episode of Mad Men’s first season by comparing the Kodak wheel of slides to a carousel. He delivers the lines, “It’s a time machine, it takes us backwards, forwards, to a place that we ache to go back to. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel,” all while showing slides of his family. The speech wins over the executives and, after 13 episodes of debauchery, manages to win over the audience watching from home as well.
The best tv monologues tell us about the character delivering the speech, and with Don Draper, that’s especially difficult since that’s not even his real name. After watching the slippery salesman at work for over 10 hours, the carousel speech brings home all the season’s themes, adding layers to Draper with his voice barely holding together and Jon Hamm getting a wistful, sad look in his eyes.
2. “Time Is A Flat Circle” Rusty Cohle – True Detective
Matthew McConaughey‘s Texas drawl makes him perfect for delivering fantastic tv monologues, but his speech in Season 1 of True Detective resonated with viewers, becoming one of the show’s standout moments. In a broken, drawn-out way, he explains that “time is a flat circle. Everything we’ve ever done, or will do, we’re gonna do over and over and over again,” summing up his nihilistic view on life as ultimately, being pointless.
This tv monologue comes in the middle of the first season, rewarding viewers that have been part of the time-hopping series since the beginning and intriguing those that had been ignoring the show. After this episode aired, viewership shot up, turning the solid show into a mainstream hit. Later seasons have been unable to capture the magic of the first, even if quality acting and great writing have become hallmarks of the series.
1. “I Am The One Who Knocks” Walter White – Breaking Bad
For plenty of reasons, Breaking Bad is one of the greatest shows in history, but if it was to be summed up in one minute, it would be Walter White’s speech to Skylar when she wants him to stop because he’s in danger. Slowly, Walter stands up, takes off his shirt, and transforms into Heisenberg, explaining in no uncertain terms where he is at this point in his journey into darkness.
Anna Gunn isn’t acting in this scene, and she would explain that Bryan Cranston was so terrifying she was scared at this moment. As with the other great tv monologues, it’s a short summation of Walter White: “A guy opens his door and gets shot, you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks.”
In a series of iconic images, moments, and lines, this is the one that has resonated with fans and stood the test of time, making it the greatest tv monologue ever given.