Episode 24: Goodnight Gracie
The Season Finale
By: Carlos Uribe
Modern Family is a show about three branches of a family.
Have we ever met Phil's mother? I'm trying to remember if we have but I can't remember a single episode where she has appeared. We've met his father, Frank, so it's a bit odd if we never got to meet her. We won't be able to because she's dead. All of the characters have to head to Florida for the funeral. Well, almost every character as Lily and Baby Joe don' appear this week. Anyways, the series quickly splits the characters up into multiple sub-plots before they're brought together at the end for the funeral service. Only two characters have a plot that is actually affected by Gracie's death. The first is Phil. It makes sense that losing his mother would involve him in some way. He might have been able to be there for her last few days but it's still a deeply personal matter for him. It wouldn't be a lot of fun if he was simply grieving so the writers gave him something to do. His mother has only one last request for him: that he hook up his father with a nearby old lady. At first, he refuses to do this because he has too much respect for his father. When Claire tries to sneakily force him to do this, the two think that Phil's mother might have been wrong because they see a guy in a robe at the lady's house. Only they later learn that Phil's mother was right. Not only will all the wrong ladies descend on Frank but he'll be weak to resist their casserole. They learn that the man in the bathrobe is merely the lady's brother rather than her boyfriend. Phil is able to go back to her and he fulfills his mother's last request by asking the lady to consider going out with his dad. In this request, Phil is able to express just the kind of mother that he had. It's a great, touching scene that Ty Burrell simply knocked out of the park. Phil's speech, while barely being able to hold back tears, is truly the most emotionally moving the show has ever been. It truly allowed the writers to bring Phil's mother to life so that it's like we knew her and could understand Phil's loss. It allowed the writers to show that this series is capable of tackling serious content. I might like Modern Family because it's funny and the characters are largely great. I watch this show because I expect to laugh but I don't really expect it to move me. I think this is the first episode that truly made me feel. It's all because of that scene where Phil talked about how great of a mother he had. It's hard to make anyone care about a character's passing that they had never met but Modern Family surprisingly accomplished this.
The second plot directly influenced by Phil's mother's death was Alex. She always felt like she had a special bond with her grandmother so she's shocked when all she gets is a lighter and a simple note that basically states what the gift is. She has trouble accepting this because she truly felt like she was connected with her grandmother. Her siblings try to make her feel better even as they feel a bit resentful by her insistence on the existence of the special bond. She's only able to feel better when she realizes that the note opens up. The Florida weather had made the paper stick so she has to force the paper to open. The episode has a closing voice-over where Alex gets to read the letter. The lighter belonged to her grandmother's favorite actor, Paul Newman. She had secretly stolen the lighter and the customer that had caught her promised to keep it quiet. The customer turned out to be Frank, her husband. It's a great story that's followed by advice that really fits Alex: don't be afraid to break the rules every now and then. As if to honor her grandmother's memory, Alex sets off fireworks at the funeral. A move that was actually predicted when Frank talked about how his wife had only missed one fireworks show in her life. This plot wasn't as moving as the Phil one but having the letter come after Phil's speech was the smart move because emotions were already flying high. It was basically able to use the emotional momentum to make the closing voice-over actually resonate. I imagine that without the speech it would have been like most voice-overs that closed episodes: full of sap but without any real emotion.
There are actually several plots aside from this. The first is with Cam. He finds himself befriending a group of old ladies. He's happy to be with them because he's sick of all the petty drama that his friends back home deal with. Only Cam quickly figures out the secrets of these old ladies and slowly reveals them to the others. He does this with the proclaimed intention of not shaking the pot up but that's basically what he does. His gossip turns the group of twenty-year friendship into a table of arguments. He had found drama in Florida. The best part is that Cam is completely oblivious as to why drama seems to follow him around. He's simply not very good at keeping his mouth shut and it's his gossip that creates internal conflict. It's a simple plot but it fits with Cam's plot very well. The other plot that deals with a Floridian character is Jay. He happens to meet a girl that he had lost his virginity to before he was shipped off to Vietnam. He's delighted to meet her after all these years because she had always been a cherished memory to him. Only it's a memory that's ruined when he learns that she had a thing for service-members going off to war. His romantic notion of what they had was ruined as he realized it was a common event for her. I'm not sure why he didn't connect the dots sooner as the way she had slept with him so easily should have tipped him off. It was still a funny plot even if it was the weakest one in the finale.
The final plot is with Mitchell. He has to defend Gloria in petty crimes court but there's a long line. He quickly gets hired by other accused people and he successfully manages to defend them in court. There's a pretty hilarious montage of Mitchell defending his clients that culminates in a great clip of him pointing at the American flag while yelling shame. He has the time of his life which makes him realize that he misses being in court. He decides to quit his job so he can go back to court. What's odd is that this is a season finale of Modern Family but it's only this plot that seems to indicative it. As moving as Phil's mother's passing might have been, we've never met her before this episode. There is no plot that's been running through this season, not even in the background, that gets resolved this week. The only potential material for the next season to cover is Mitchell switching jobs so he could be in court more. In a way, Goodnight Gracie could have easily aired at any point during the season. It came at the end of the season but it really wasn't much of a “finale” in that it wrapped nothing up and barely set up anything. Which is okay because Modern Family is largely a weekly self-contained series. There's some recurring plots but the writers never really commit themselves into exploring them throughout a season.
The fourth season of Modern Family has been a consistently good one. Modern Family has long stopped being a show that deserves the Emmy love it gets but it is a well-oiled joke machine that is still capable of surprising. The fourth season finale of Modern Family was pretty great. The only part that might have worked as a finale is Mitchell because of his decision to switch jobs. His montage as a lawyer was hilarious. The Cam and Jay plots worked well as well in being funny even if they were somewhat forgettable. Alex's plot was a strong one that was bolstered by Phil's plot. As for Phil's plot...it had a beautiful resolution with his speech at the end. Overall: a great episode of Modern Family.
“I made a huge mistake.” I'm guessing is a reference to Arrested Development.
I'm going to try and write a piece this summer on Modern Family: primarily why this show was so good in the first season before becoming standard sit-com fare. It'll even take behind-the-scenes into consideration!