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Worldly Distractions: Modern Family 4.24 - Goodnight, Gracie








Okay, I lied. There was one more regular episode to go. Modern Family finishes this week. Let’s get this show on the road – preferably with the help of Jolene.

We join Claire on the couch with the kids, where she breaks the news to the camera that Phil’s mother has died. Apparently the old lady had been sick for a while. Alex was especially close to her, as she states several times. The family will go to Florida to join Phil, who had been there when his mother passed. And when Claire says the family, she means the whole family. Oh, boy, can the Pritchetts ruin funerals too? We’ll see.

Phil mostly missed his neck pillow, but is pretty glad to see the family too. They offer their condolences, especially Cam, who loved Mrs. Dunphy’s artistic talent. Phil gets ample opportunity to give the kind of emotional hugs he specializes in. We cut to find that Mitchell is thrilled to have had an opportunity to escape the office, even if it means someone died. Classy, Mitch. Cam doesn’t even call him out on it.

Gloria emerges from the car in an elaborate mourning outfit, complete with a hat/veil combo worthy of a royal wedding, which she claims is part of the Colombian tradition. Jay is not exactly happy with it, but willing to go with her on it. Reluctantly. Especially since Gloria hisses at him whenever he suggests that she tone it down. Turns out she has an ulterior motive – she has a criminal record in Florida. Apparently, she used to live there, and when she left her roommate turned the apartment into a brothel with Gloria’s name still on the lease. Jay advises Mitchell to get it straightened out, and stay close to her just in case a lawyer’s services are needed. Cam protests that no, Mitchell is on a break from the law for the time being. Because a family funeral is a great excuse for a vacation, amirite? Mitch asks if Gloria looks like the kind of woman who would run a brothel, just as she sticks her incredibly shapely (clothed) butt out of the car. Time for the opening credits.

Phil’s dad (Fred Willard) comes out to greet the family. Everyone offers their condolences, and he seems touched to have them there. He says that he’s lost without her snoring. He introduces the family to a neighbour – and Jay swears he knows her. Where from, though, is beyond him. A gated-community security guard, clearly a hardass, pulls up on her scooter to confirm the booking of the promenade, go over the rules, and say I’msorryforyourloss in the most reluctant manner. Phil graciously thanks her, only to have her go after him for hiding bread in his pocket. Feeding the local ducks is strictly verboten.

Cam and Manny – now that’s a rarely-seen duo – walk around the grounds, reveling in the relaxing atmosphere. Family death, what a great chance to get away from it all! Manny invites Cam to the steamroom, but when his stepbrother-in-law declines, he happily skips off on his own. Some old ladies notice Cam and beckon him over. They have a book club and are interested in what he’s reading. He effortlessly charms his way into their good graces. He’s delighted to join in their discussion of what looks like a trashy romance novel. Upon hearing that he’s gay, one of the ladies remarks that her grandson is, too, does Cam know him? He says yes, “This tall, dark hair, circumcised,†which sends the ladies into gales of laughter. Score one for Cam.

Mitchell and Gloria are in a sweaty hot courtroom, where Mitchell is intimidated by the tough judge. A woman is called up for petty theft, but has no lawyer. Gloria volunteers her stepson for the task. Doesn’t Mitchell need to be licensed to practice in Florida or something, or are we just going to skip that little detail? Anyway, Gloria says the little old lady reminds her of her grandmother, so there goes the afternoon. Mitchell agrees, mostly so things will go faster. He starts to argue her case...with no knowledge whatsoever of what happened. Way to go, buddy.

Phil brings Claire a box that he claims his dad gave him. After establishing that it’s not his mom’s ashes, but stuff she left for the kids, they look through it. A note for Phil is included. Since he’s too overcome to read it, Claire takes the task. Dead Mom wants Phil to do one last thing for her. No, it’s not throwing her ashes in the Pope’s face, contrary to Phil’s guess. Instead, she wants him to set his dad up with a neighbour. They’d be just perfect together, dontcha know? His mom’s reasoning is that with so many single old ladies around, Phil’s dad is bound to pick the wrong one, so it’s best to start things in the right direction. Phil’s horrified at the idea. Just then, Haley comes in with cookies she claims she baked. Phil thinks that’s weird, because he would have sworn they came from a neighbour...Claire gets a suspicious look on her face.

Phil and Claire bring the kids the stuff Grandma left them, which Alex takes as an opportunity to point out their fabulous bond again. Haley gets a necklace and a card saying that she’s beautiful inside and out, Luke gets a nice grown-up pocket watch (though he thinks the chain is so you won’t swallow it). Alex, meanwhile, gets a lighter with a note saying “this is a lighterâ€. Um, was Grandma going a little batty at the end? Or is some big inspiring message underneath? Since this is Modern Family, I think we can guess. Phil chalks it up to end-of-life weirdness, Haley thinks Grandma was sending a clear message, Alex is confused and hurt. Luke sweetly tries to hypnotize her into feeling better with his new pocket watch, and Phil and Claire slip away. Claire asks Phil whether he’ll carry out his mom’s last wish. Phil tells her no, that if his dad has to lose his wife then the least he can do is pick out his own girlfriend when the time comes. The decision is made.

Back in court, Mitchell sweepingly declares that Mrs (he keeps getting her last name wrong) is actually owed more from the hotel than the tiny items she stole, which leads the judge to dismiss her case. He’s shocked and delighted. As he sits down next to Gloria, the judge calls up another case. The guy doesn’t have a lawyer either. Guess what happens next. Gloria encourages him to do it, as he can make her mistakes with other people first – so she won’t go to jail for prostitution. The men behind her look at her with interest, to which she snaps that they couldn’t afford her. Mitchell goes on a roll, defending several clients in a row and wearing out the judge with his inspiring arguments.

Alex and Haley walk alongside the pool, where Alex vents about her strange inheritance. She worries that maybe it meant she wasn’t so connected with her Grandma, while Haley thinks it could be a) the medication or B) a message to burn all her hideous clothes. Just then, the security guard from hell rolls up to chastise them for using the residents-only pool. Goody two-shoes Alex complies, but Haley protests, which the security guard does not appreciate. She starts to look threatening. Alex runs for it.

Back at the book club, Cam and his new friends are engrossed in a game of mah-jong. Man, I wish the Golden Girls were all alive so we could make this into the world’s most epic crossover. One lady, Edith, has been cheating the whole time, which looks like a highly suspicious winning streak. Cam whisks another woman (Marilyn) off to get some punch, where he tells her he saw Edith slip a winning tile out of her jacket. Uh-oh. Marilyn is shocked and thinks it’s appalling – before slipping all the cookies into her purse. Looks like this band of ladies is crooked all around. The third woman (Hattie) comes up to the punch bowl and asks what happened, and Cam begins to explain...

Jay finds Charlotte, the neighbour he thought he knew (Millicent Martin of Frasier fame) and introduces himself. “His son is married to my daughter.†“I’m so sorry.†“He kind of grows on you – oh, you mean the death.†Anyway, he asks the woman some questions, only to find out that she’s from Pensacola – where Jay did his military basic. Ooh, torrid affair? Yup. Not only that, but 31-year-old Charlotte took 18-year-old Jay’s cherry. Man, what is it with virginity loss and TV this week? He tries to get her to remember, but she doesn’t seem to recognize him at all, until he says “I was shipping out to Vietnam and you had the ass of a young Ann-Margret.†Bingo.

Alex and Grandpa Dunphy look through some old photo albums, where Grandpa details how he and Grandma got wasted last Fourth of July, where she ends up learning way too much about her grandparents’ sex life (it existed). Charming. Alex takes that moment to ask what was up with the inheritance. Grandpa points out that hey, the card opens – it stuck together in the Florida humidity. As Alex reads it, a smile grows on her face.

Phil and Claire walk around the grounds, talking about how hard the situation is. Claire says she will always be there for him, then declares that the house in front of them is cute. Huh, that’s weird. In fact, the house is so cute that she has to run up and look at it right now. Three guesses who this place belongs to. Phil balks, but Claire insists that if his mom insisted on it, she must have had her reasons. She knocks on the door only to have it answered by a good-looking older man. Yup, Annie is taken, so Phil’s dad can’t have her. Oops. Claire covers by pretending to be a vacuum cleaner salesperson. Wouldn’t you know it? Annie has a broken vacuum cleaner. Time to talk her way out of it. Phil helps her out, and covertly gets her to admit that she made a huge mistake. He claims it’s part of the training. They leave a very stunned older couple. Okay, Phil wins.

At the mah-jong table, Edith has won again. Marilyn is fed up and accuses her of cheating. When Edith protests, Hattie says that not only is Edith a cheater, but Marilyn is a cookie thief. Cam tries to defuse the situation. Spoiler alert: he can’t, especially when he accidentally mentions that Hattie’s slipping something into her coffee. Soon the three ladies are cursing each other out, and Cam demands to know what has gotten into them. To the camera, he wonders why drama always seems to follow him. Gee, Cam, I wonder.

Jay recounts the story of their encounter to Charlotte. As he gets into more details, she remembers his name and how handsome he was. He tells her of how he regrets not keeping in touch with her when she gave him something so wonderful. She replies that he gave her something too, and if he would just wait – okay, seriously, please don’t be a love child. Every TV show ever has done that. I’m going to tear my hair out if – oh, wait, it’s a ring from Jefferson High. The problem is, Jay didn’t go there, and he didn’t give her the ring. Charlotte’s confused, and she clearly feels awful. She brings out a medal. No, not his either. Letters? Nope. She gives him the box to look through. Jay realizes that she’s not going senile. She doesn’t remember him, not because he was unmemorable, but because “she sent more young men off to war than Lyndon Johnson.†Yeah, Charlotte really got around a few decades back. Maybe we should set her up with Phil’s dad.

Phil and Claire argue about what happened all the way back, with Phil insisting that his dad is fine without a set-up for now. They enter the house to find Phil’s dad surrounded by attentive older women, plying him with food and compliments. Yup, Mr. Dunphy’s going to be just fine. Cam comes in and comments on how disgusting it all is, though it doesn’t stop him from flattering the women and eating their food. Claire wonders if they should break up Annie and her boyfriend. Cam tells them that no, the guy was actually her visiting brother, and Annie’s single. Less than a day and he’s learned all the local gossip. Attaboy.

In court, we finally get to Gloria’s charge. Accused of conspiring to sell prostitution, she insists that she just plead guilty, pay the fine and go home. Mitchell won’t have this – she has to be declared innocent or else. Uh-oh, pride goeth before a fall? Since the judge is clearly tired of him, he might want to play his cards right. He shows some documents proving that Gloria had left Florida and was subletting to someone else. Looks like a slam dunk, right? Yes, sort of. She dismisses the case and adjourns court, but only because she’s sick of hearing Mitchell rant. Gloria is free and Mitch has his love of the law back. Everyone wins! As they leave, Gloria suggests that maybe he could come with her to Texas next week.

Phil knocks on Annie’s door, where she immediately asks if he fired “that nice girl†selling the vacuum cleaners. He comes straight out with the truth, from the vacuum cleaner ruse to the letter to the discovery of Marv. She’s overwhelmed to hear about Grace Dunphy’s last request. He assures her not to feel pressured, it’s just typical of his mom – she always wanted to take care of everyone – he breaks down in tears. Annie gives him a huge hug and tells him he’s a good son. Maybe Grace was right about her after all.

The funeral is held on the promenade on a hot evening, with a clarinetist playing “Amazing Graceâ€. Cam is overcome by the emotion of it all. Mitchell whispers to him that he wants to leave his current job and return to the courtroom. Phil seems to be emcee of the thing, and asks Alex to pay tribute. Reminiscing about their “special bond†(much to Haley’s disgust), she brings out the lighter, where a guy comes up and lights something. Suddenly, fireworks go off. Voice-over Alex reads the contents of the letter. The lighter belonged to Paul Newman, who was Grace’s favourite actor and left it in a restaurant once where she was waitressing. She stole the lighter, and a customer said “Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me.†The customer was Frank Dunphy. It’s a reminder to Alex not to be afraid to break the rules once in a while, as like her grandmother, she is inclined to be a bit too straitlaced. Alex sits down next to Haley, and the girls hug as the fireworks go off.

Tag scene: Luke and Manny rock back and forth on white rocking chairs and discuss the weather like a pair of Florida old farts. Claire nags them to pack. Luke wonders where the time goes. They get out of their chairs with perfect old-man groans.

This review doesn’t really convey all the funny little one-liners and great gags in this episode – one can only fit in so many references. Yet I would venture to say that this is the best Modern Family episode since that spectacular Season 1. We’re all familiar with the alleged downward slope the show has taken since, and Season 4 has certainly not been one for the record books. Here, however, the family converged with the perfect combination of humour and pathos that makes this show unique. Maybe a new environment or an emotional situation was what they needed, but every plotline worked and every character got a moment to shine. We were reminded of just how interesting each member of this family is, and found some excellent jokes out of it. Season finales are often a standout, the result of hard work and necessary closure. Here, Modern Family showed us how to do it right.

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