KIP MOONEY: It’s been a little more than two months since my grandfather passed away. I miss him every day, some days more than others. What usually makes me sad are the fragments of things he said that come to my mind, seemingly at random. They’re fond remembrances that simultaneously lift me up and take me back down. I’m grateful for the time I spent with him, but knowing he won’t be there at Christmas or my wedding puts a weight on my soul.
So when Phil starts talking about his mother’s endless generosity, I was crying right along with him.
This week’s episode, the best of all four season finales, was one of the most emotionally rewarding things the show has ever done. The death of Phil’s mother (whom I never recall seeing) serves as a catalyst for a series of heartwarming moments, and I say that with no sense of irony.
The whole family flies down to Florida for the memorial service and immediately breaks off for their stories. As I’m sure you’ve read all season, my most frequent complaint is that the show is too afraid to go an episode without involving every principal cast member in at least one story. But that can be easy to forget if all the stories are solid, as they were in this episode.
Jay’s is easily the weakest, but I like storylines for him that don’t involve him getting frustrated at someone younger than him. He notices Phil’s dad (the always uproarious Fred Willard) has a neighbor who looks awfully familiar. Turns out she was the older woman who sent him off to Vietnam no longer a virgin. She claims to remember him and brings him what she thinks was a memento he gave her. Turns out she’s got a whole box of special gifts from young sailors.
Now, Gloria pairing with just about anyone makes for great TV. But her and Mitch made for a dynamic duo as he tried to help get her out of an arrest warrant for, ahem, running a brothel. She claims it was the woman she sublet her apartment to, not her. So Mitch defends her, and several other folks, in court. The litigation ignites a fire in him, so much that he’s going to quit his job and go back to being a trial lawyer. That should make for some stellar episodes next season.
Alex, who I’d argue is the most neglected character on the show, arguably gets the show’s biggest moment. Disappointed that her grandmother only left her a lighter and card with “This is a lighter” written on it, she’s surprised to discover the card opens to reveal instructions for an elaborate rule-breaking tribute to perform during the memorial service. Her grandmother, with whom she always felt a special bond, gave her this so maybe this by-the-book girl would break a few rules. She does, and gives her character new layers the writers had previously hidden.
But the real golden moment, and possible Emmy showcase, is saved for the show’s greatest character Phil Dunphy. Ty Burrell has kicked it up a notch this season, a seemingly impossible feat considering he was already the show’s greatest asset. The emotional gut-punch, brought on by his fond memories of mom, is delivered beautifully. He’s sharing all this to a neighbor he’d never met, a woman with whom his mother wants Phil to fix up with his now widowed father. It’s a tough thing to do. But once Phil sees this woman’s equally generous heart, he knows he must, to save his dad from the cavalcade of lonely, horny women who are already swarming like vultures around his condo.
This season felt like a bit of a creative resurgence following the lackluster third season. It didn’t reinvent anything, but only rarely felt like it was coasting. A fourth win for Outstanding Comedy Series feels inevitable at this point, which is fine. But the show can’t rest on its laurels. After its greatest finale, it feels like it won’t.
One final note: This will be my last review of the show for this site. Despite being long-winded tonight, I really feel like I’ve run out of things to say about this show at length. Thanks for reading along for the highs and lows of the past three seasons.
Luke, upon seeing a shoebox containing gifts from Grandma: “Cool! Rockports!”
Phil: “Oh no. She’s going to ask me to throw her ashes in the pope’s face!”
Cam: “I’m gay.”
Older Lady: “Do you know my son?”
Cam: “About this tall? Dark hair, circumcised?”
Frank: “We [your grandmother and I] got hammered, then came back and made our own fireworks.”
Frank: “It was just a couple of glowsticks and a slingshot in the backyard, which led to some pretty memorable lovemaking.”
Frank: “Everything sticks together here.”