We’ve come to the end of season four. The season definitely wasn’t the best, but it’s going out until next fall on one of its strongest episodes. A death on a sitcom is hard to do, but with “Goodnight Gracie,” Modern Family achieved the perfect balance lighthearted comedy, touching human emotion and heartwarming family drama.
Because this clan travels in a pack, when Phil’s mom, Gracie, dies, the whole gang goes to a retirement village in Florida to be with him. As sweet as it is to see them all showing a united front for this event in Phil’s life, I can’t help but think: Where is Lily?
Lily-less, they all descend on Leisure Park. Manny is loving the retirement-style living: “manicured lawns, planned activities, early dinners, what more does a kid need?” So naturally Cam fits in as well. He’s right at home with a ladies’ book and Mahjong game club. Not sure why drama always follows him, Cam keeps stirring the pot and getting all the neighborhood gossip.
Jay is also intrigued by the neighborhood because he recognizes the lady across the street. He strikes up a conversation with her, and upon learning she’s from Pensacola, he remembers how he knows her: She was his first. He recalls this wonderful memory with Charlotte (“this beautiful moment that meant so much to both of us, set against the backdrop of fighting commies”). So poetic, that Jay.
Not surprisingly, Gloria has a warrant out for her arrest in Florida for conspiring to promote prostitution. Of course. Mitchell accompanies her to court, where he turns into a Southern lawyer a la A Time to Kill, with fanning, sweating and lots of pandering. He seems right at home, which is what leads him to the decision to get back in the courtroom.
Luke and Manny even seem to fit into this heat, with their old fogey routines. But the greatest storyline of all is all about Gracie. She left notes for her loved ones, and Phil’s is a plea for him to hook Frank up with a neighbor, Annie Fitzsimmons. He needs help because women in this community are vultures and as Gracie puts it, “I love Frank, but he’ll follow anything with a casserole.”
Phil balks but eventually confronts Annie about not being a vacuum salesman and about how she should meet his dad. Then Ty Burrell begins the most touching monologue we’ve probably ever seen on this show. I should preface with the fact that I cry at television easily, but this was a real tearjerker. It was so heartfelt, and it touched on something that nearly everyone can relate to: the death of a parent. It was raw and real. We never even met Gracie, but I think everyone watching fell in love with her. Everyone needs a mom like Gracie.
At the service, Alex pays tribute by using her gift from her grandma, the lighter, to set off fireworks, Gracie’s favorite. Then Alex begins a voiceover reading her letter about how it was Paul Newman’s lighter, which she pocketed after he left it behind at her diner. The man who saw her take it promised to keep her secret and turned into the love of her life, Frank. And cue more tears.
Maybe I’m just a sap, but I really loved this episode. It was funny, captured all of the characters at their best (except for Lily—I hope she and Stella had a babysitter at home), and perfectly balanced true-to-life sadness and joy.
In the middle of this season, I thought I wouldn’t mind if Modern Family returned for season five or not, but after this episode, all I can say is: fall get here sooner.
“Honestly, this funeral couldn’t have come at a better time.”—Mitchell
“Turns out she sent more men off to war than Lyndon Johnson.”—Jay
“She reminds me of my abuela with her headscarf and her petty theft charges.”—Gloria
“No, she’s not a nice girl; she’s my wife.”—Phil
“When my dad is ready, he gets to pick his own girlfriend. That’s the big upside to your wife dying… Also not having to think before you speak.”—Phil
-Seriously, guys, where is Lily?
-Don’t more shows need a Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman shout-out?
-Was Clare’s “I’ve made a huge mistake” comment during the week Arrested Development season 4 is released a coincidence?
-How great was Gracie?