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‘Modern Family’ Season Finale Review: “Goodnight, Gracie”

Modern Family Goodnight Gracie
ABC

The latest season of ‘Modern Family‘ isn’t the only thing that comes to an end tonight — Phil’s mother passes away, bringing everyone together for a funeral in the finale.

‘Modern Family’ pulls off quite the feat tonight in “Goodnight, Gracie”: though we never knew Phil’s mom, the show manages to stir up the same emotions we’d feel during her funeral if we knew her character very well. And there’s nothing artificial or overly melodramatic about it — the show never once feels like it’s trying too hard to earn the final moment, with everyone gathered around as Alex finally discovers what to do with her grandma’s parting gift: a lighter her grandma stole when Paul Newman accidentally left it at a diner when she was a waitress. Alex gets a rare voice-over at the end of the episode as she reads the note that accompanied the lighter out loud; it’s a sweet message to Alex about how it’s okay to break the rules sometimes because stealing the lighter helped Alex’s grandma meet her grandpa.

Though the ending scene is far from melodramatic or precious, the time leading up to it is all about drama, drama, drama — of the funny variety, of course. See, kids, when you go to Florida, there are a lot of old people there, and old people are bored. When you bring the whole Dunphy/Pritchett family down there, things are going to heat up.

Jay encounters the woman to whom he lost his virginity as an 18 year old recruit about to ship off to Vietnam, and what could have been a lackluster filler plot turns gives us a great punchline when she pulls out a box of souvenirs she saved from all the young soldiers whose virginity she took — and she can’t even remember what Jay gave her. (In her defense, he can’t, either.)

The kids are mostly given the biggest fillers of the night, with tiny side-plots for Hayley and Alex leading up to Alex’s big lesson, which, in fairness, is a lesson this show seems to have been aching to teach her for quite some time. Of all the characters on the show, Alex has developed the most — I’d say Hayley is a close second, but the rest of the characters remain in stasis, the way most sitcoms need to in order to maintain the status quo. I look forward to hopefully seeing Alex get into a little harmless trouble next season.

The three bigger plots of the night (aside from the death, of course) belong to Gloria and Mitch, Cam and some old ladies, and Claire and Phil. Fred Willard reprises his role as Frank Dunphy, and though he gets little to do, he makes it work with that trademark glint in his eye and his kind, funny demeanor. While Claire and Phil fuss over whether or not they should honor Phil’s mom’s last wish by trying to set up a neighbor woman with Frank (because the neighborhood is overrun with vulture-women who will eat Frank alive now that his wife is dead), Mitch is off on an adventure to help Gloria in court. It seems that when Gloria was younger, she moved out of an apartment shared with a roommate, and that roommate started running a whorehouse — in order to avoid paying a fine or going to jail, Gloria needs Mitch’s help, but then Mitch sort of starts representing everyone in the courthouse, and realizes that he wants to get out of the law office and get back in the courtroom, setting us up for a whole new string of shenanigans next season, I presume.

And meanwhile, Cam has run into a trio of old ladies and fits right in with their group, to a fault. Seems Cam just can’t help himself from bringing the drama wherever he goes, so he starts gossiping about one woman to another and so on, until the ladies are at each other’s throats.

It might seem that the Dunphy/Pritchett family would have a fish out of water trip to Florida, but as it turns out, the whole crew fits right in, from Cam’s old lady adventures to Phil finding some closure with a woman who reminds him of his mother — a woman his own mother chose as a mate for his father following her death, no less. And while all of this sounds a touch dramatic, that’s because it is, but ‘Modern Family’ finds the hilarity in even the saddest of times, and isn’t that what we all try to do?

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