Monologues are an important part of TV and Film and appear as a dramatic device to share important details about plot, characters, their thoughts and feelings, or their backstories.
However, used incorrectly, monologues in TV and Film can come across as lazy, ineffective, or unnecessary, instead of being a useful tool to add new dynamics to your screenplay.
A great monologue should hook an audience in, captivate them, inspire them, motivate them, but most importantly – make them enjoy watching someone talking.
Below are our picks for the Top Eight Best TV Monologues.
Give the clips a watch, look at your television screenplay and decide whether a strong monologue could be effective in your work, or if you can tighten the monologues you already have.
Also, check out our Top Eight Best Movie Monologues here.
Head’s up – Spoilers and strong language ahead.
1. Fargo – Lou’s War Story
Lou Solverson’s monologue in Fargo‘s Season Two finale is one of the best examples of storytelling within a monologue. In a series where characters often monologue, break into seemingly random rhetoric, or share quirky stories, this one is of particular note. The tension in the car is broken by Lou’s retelling of a war story, which has nothing to do with the current storyline but subtextually echoes his passenger Peggy Blumquist’s part in the events of the series.
The sequence doesn’t feel like an actor giving a monologue; instead, you truly believe Lou’s words and the tale he’s telling as being real. As it nears its conclusion, you can even observe that Lou has stopped telling the story to Peggy – it’s almost as though he’s trying to remind himself about what he’s been through.
It’s the rock we all push – men – we call it our burden, but it’s really our privilege.
It’s a very telling scene about Lou’s character, his place in society, the values of family and men in the period, but also a great piece of storytelling.
2. House of Cards – Claire Underwood V Audience
Monologues can also appear, although uncommonly, as direct speech to the audience – effectively cutting out the middle man of speaking to another character by having a character express their internal monologue out loud.
This ‘Fourth Wall Break’ technique is common within House of Cards, but we particularly enjoy this chilling addition to the series when Claire Underwood acknowledges the audience. This monologue isn’t a villain speech or a revelation of thoughts or feelings, just an acknowledgement that she knows we are watching her.
Just to be clear, it’s not that I haven’t always known you were there.
This technique should only be used if you know how to do so effectively. It has to fit tonally or be used consistently, otherwise, it will be seen as a gimmick rather than a dramatic storytelling device.
3. The Thick of It – Malcolm’s Exit Speech
Peter Capaldi’s machiavellian anti-hero Malcolm Tucker delivers an intelligent, passionate, and destructive monologue which not only ends his career but casts shame on his peers and his profession. Less sweary than his usual rants in The Thick of It, here we see Malcolm in the public eye, but still just as dangerous and pointed.
A very cleverly written monologue and strangely prophetic, with its message being perhaps clearer today than it was when it was penned.
I’m finished anyway. You didn’t finish me.
Take a look at your monologue, and think about whether it is serving a purpose. Are you making a point? What is your monologue revealing about your characters, and how are they using their speech to their advantage or disadvantage?
4. Breaking Bad – Monologue from ‘Cornered’
If you can instantly quote your monologue, you’re onto a winner. The iconic phrase:
I am the one who knocks,
has entered into the lexicon; been printed on t-shirts, posters, mugs, and everything else in between. This almost Shakespearean tirade is memorable, as is Walter White’s bewildered reaction after spouting it – almost as though he can’t believe he has.
This is a particularly effective scene, as it shows the inversion of Breaking Bad‘s initial half of the series featuring Walter White adapting to be someone he’s not and failing, and the second half where Walter struggles to be a normal person again.
Despite being one of the shorter monologues on this list, this entry does just as well as some of the others for the layers it adds to its character.
5. Sherlock – John Watson Deduction
Some of Sherlock‘s best monologues come in the form of the titular character’s deductions. These voiceover/monologues reveal information crucial to the plot, and where they reaffirm the character’s hyperintelligence, they’re more impactful as intelligent observation for the audience.
The police don’t consult amateurs.
Sherlock Holmes’ deduction of John Watson is one of the best and is our first glimpse into his powers of reasoning.
If you write your dialogue to be lightning fast, observational, and serve a purpose, your screenplay could easily be as successful, memorable, and as intelligent as Sherlock.
6. The Newsroom –
Why America is Not the Greatest Country in the World
Again, this is a highly intelligent monologue with a purpose. Initially avoiding the question, Jeff Daniels’ Will McAvoy unleashes a speech about why America is no longer the greatest country in the world, including lists, facts, and figures to prove his point and stun his audience.
We see McAvoy’s struggle – we see the moment he decides that he can no longer hold his tongue – and his truth is so devastating, and real. The reactions are particularly great, but his truth hitting harder and faster as he notices the cameras on him is more so.
The first step in fixing a problem is recognising there is one.
When writing your monologue, ensure that you manage to get your point across. How are you going to manage it? Do you need evidence? Would this character be able to express their point diplomatically like McAvoy, or struggle to hold it together?
Make sure your dramatic speech is warranted, and earned. Build to it, like this monologue, and use it to create as much drama as possible.
7. The Leftovers – Grace’s Story
Storytelling is one of the most common forms of dramatic monologue, but this one is powerful, captivating, emotive, and you don’t even need to see what Lindsay Duncan’s Grace is talking about. We are taken by her story – by the tears running down her face – and her truth. We feel her every word; her fear; her regret; and it is perfectly juxtaposed against the stoic Kevin, as played by Scott Glenn.
So I thought you’ve been sent by God. Sent with a message just for me. But you’re not an angel. There is no message. And God doesn’t care about me.
In a phenomenal and underrated series with many emotive, dramatic, and often tense monologues, Grace’s story is one of our personal favourites. Not only do we feel her story, but the show’s message and general theme of faith vs nihilism is also present to underscore it.
If you’re interested in taking a look at more monologues from The Leftovers, check out the supercut below which demonstrates the parallels between the characters and their stories, and study how well they’ve been devised.
8. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – Will’s Dad Leaving
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is one of the most prolific comedy TV Shows in the world, and for a good reason.
In an exciting combination of great writing and great acting, this monologue leaves its mark as one of the most emotive scenes in TV history.
What’s great about this TV shows narrative is that although it’s a light-hearted show stitched together with comedic moments, like any great story it has many sad undertones.
How come he don’t want me man?
The reason this monologue works well is because it’s entirely built on subtext. Will is talking as if he’s ok and as if he doesn’t need his real dad but the audience can clearly see that it’s not the case.
The end shot lingers on the gift and powerful ornament of a father nurturing his young child. Quality writing at its peak.
You can read more screenwriting advice in our Blog section, and check out our Top Eight Best Movie Monologues list here.
Eden Luke McIntyre is a Scottish writer, editor, and script consultant. His qualifications include a Master’s Degree in TV Fiction Writing and Bachelor of Arts with Honours Degrees in Film & Media Studies and English Studies, specialising in Scriptwriting, Creative Writing, and Researching the Media. Besides consulting on scripts, Eden writes content for radio, stage, and online, and was appointed as a BBC Writers Room Scottish Voice in early 2020.