The best stories grab you from the first scene and refuse to let go. HBO's new show The Newsroom does just that, and it manages to do it with people sitting in chairs talking.
I have no idea what The Newsroom is about. I assume a newsroom. I started watching it today because I'd read a couple good reviews about it, saw someone tweet something about how it makes writers into stars or something, and because HBO put it on YouTube (thanks to Andy Stambergh [@sternbergh] for sharing the link), so I thought I'd check it out since, hey, who doesn't love free stuff?
I started the episode half an hour ago. I haven't gotten past the first eight minutes because of the four-and-a-half minute speech by Daniels' character, which just gave me goosebumps.
I have no idea what's going on, except that this is some sort of political debate. No clue who Daniels' character is supposed to be, and I haven't watched past this scene because I just spent the last twenty minutes or so transcribing Daniels' character's rant. Mostly I wanted to preserve it for my own notes, but I also wanted to type it out myself, to feel what it's like to write something so powerful. Then I figured you guys would probably like to read it, too. Video and transcription below the break. And if you can, watch the clip, because there's simply no way to convey through the words how well Daniels delivers the lines.
(In a packed lecture hall, a debate between … people, I’m not sure who … in front of a few hundred students. A young female student is asking a question.)
Jenny: Hi, my name is Jenny, I’m a sophomore, and this is for all three of you. Can you say in one sentence or less—
Jenny: You know what I mean—can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?
Sharon: Diversity and opportunity.
Debate Moderator: Lewis?
Lewis: Freedom and freedom. So let’s keep it that way.
Will: The New York Jets.
DM: No. I’m gonna hold you to an answer on that. What makes America the greatest country in the world.
Will: Well, Louis and Sharon said it. Diversity and opportunity and freedom and freedom.
(Will sees a woman in the back of the audience hold up a notebook. On it she’s written IT’S NOT. Then she writes something else: BUT IT CAN BE.)
DM: I’m not letting you go back to the airport without answering the question.
(Will looks back at the woman holding the notebook, but she’s gone, replaced by another woman wearing the same outfit. He is silent for several beats.)
Will: Well, our Constitution is a masterpiece. James Madison was a genius. The Declaration of Independece is for me the single greatest piece of American writing.
(The DM just looks at him.)
Will: You don’t look satisfied.
DM: One’s a set of laws and the other is a declaration of war. I want a human moment from you.
(Will looks back into the audience and again sees the first woman, who is again holding up her notebook. IT’S NOT.)
DM: What about the people? Why is it—
Will: It’s NOT the greatest country in the world, Professor. That’s my answer.
DM: You’re saying—
DM: Let’s talk about—
Will (addressing Sharon): Fine. Sharon, the NEA is a loser. Yeah, it accounts for a penny out of our paycheck, but he gets to hit you with it anytime he wants. It doesn’t cost money. It costs votes. It costs airtime. And column inches. You know why people don’t like liberals? Because they lose. If liberals are so fuckin’ smart then how come they lose so goddamn always?
Will (turning to Lewis): And with a straight face, you’re gonna sit there and tell students that America is so star-spangled awesome that we’re the only ones in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom. Japan has freedom. The U.K. France. Italy. Germany. Spain. Australia. BELGIUM has freedom. (laughs) Two hundred and seven sovereign states in the world, like, a hundred and eighty of them have freedom.
DM: All right—
Will points to Jenny.
Will: And you, Sorority Girl, just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there’s some things you should know. One of them is there’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy. Twenty-seventh in math. Twenty-second in science. Forty-ninth in life expectancy. A hundred and seventy-eighth in infant mortality. Third in median household income. Number four in labor fource and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next twenty-six countries combined, twenty-five of whom are allies.
Now none of this is the fault of a twenty-year-old college student, but you nonetheless are without a doubt a member of the worst, period, generation, period, ever, period. So when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I dunno what the fuck you’re talkin’ about. Yosemite?
(Silence for several beats. Will looks back at the woman with the notebook, but she’s been replaced by the real woman again.)
Will: Sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, struck down laws, for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed. We cared about our neighbors. We put our money where our mouths were. And we never beat our chest.
We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars. Acted like men.
We aspired to intelligence. We didn’t belittle it—it didn’t make us feel inferior.
We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn’t, oh, we didn’t scare so easy.
We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. By great men. Men who were revered.
The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.
(Will turns to DM.)
(Cut to black.)
(Next scene, after they fight a crowd to get to a private room)
Sharon: What the fuck was that?
Lewis: Are you out of your mind? That was a kid!
Will: I'm sorry! I'm taking medicine for vertigo and I think it works because I've got it.
Lewis: You're in trouble, man. You can't talk to me like that.
Sharon: You need a doctor?
Lewis: Jesus Christ—
Will: Listen! What did I say out there?