Leave it to Modern Family, the most stubbornly formulaic sitcom on television, to make a high school commencement, one of the most significant days in a young person’s life, feel like business as usual. Speaking of business as usual, Modern Family was recently renewed for a seventh season, and given how long it has been on the air, “American Skyper” is more than a season finale, it’s yet another example of how static the show’s characters are and how bereft it is of actual stakes. “Skyper” isn’t bad necessarily, but with every Modern Family episode, save for the occasional, polarizing structural experiment, it becomes clearer that for this show, “not bad” is the ceiling, and “Please God, put this thing out of its misery” is the floor.

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For once, I feel comfortable saying “Skyper” may conclude the last season in which Modern Family is able to blithely maintain its status quo. At least one character, the guest of honor in “Skyper,” has to do something other than what she’s been doing for the past six seasons. The college problem had an easy solution when it involved Haley, who could be swiftly cycled back into the Dunphy house after getting expelled. Alex, the overachiever, isn’t nearly as quick a fix. Sure, they could keep her living at home while she’s in college, but Alex is such a focused overachiever, it’s more than a notion to keep her rooted in the trifling family drama when she’s entering her freshman year. This, if for no other reason, makes “Skyper” a celebratory occasion.

It’s also a celebratory occasion in-universe, with the whole family gathering at Jay and Gloria’s to celebrate Alex’s graduation. The title pun is inspired by Phil, who can’t make it home from a business trip and is forced to attend the festivities via telepresence robot. Mocking telepresence robots is all the rage these days. Of the examples that immediately spring to mind, The Good Wife did it a couple seasons back, and Community had fun with it this season. The “telepresence robots are stupid” jokes don’t work quite as well here because it’s an idea you have to push really far if the audience has seen it before. Even for those who haven’t seen it before, it’s Modern Family’s second extended commercial for Apple products this season, and while the product placement is much more subtle than in “Message Received,” it still feels a bit sketchy. The distant Phil story does have its moments though, another example of Ty Burrell’s ability to elevate almost anything he’s given.

“Skyper” does have a satisfying rhythm to it, as do most episodes where the entire family is jammed into one house. And it’s an especially full house, with Andy’s girlfriend Beth visiting, as well as Gloria’s cousin Armando. In the Beth story, Haley has convinced herself that she’s willed herself past her feelings for Andy, and has warmed to Beth. But after a few unfortunate mishaps and some extremely ill-advised phrasing choices on Beth’s part, Haley becomes convinced Beth is dead-set on destroying her. The story yields a few funny moments, like Beth’s takedown of Manny to show off the skills she’s learned in the Coast Guard. (Manny: “What happened? Did I get the pen?”) But mostly, the story falls flat because it prolongs the irritating cat-and-mouse game between Haley and Andy.

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The Haley and Andy relationship is one I had to warm to over time. It seemed completely out of left field when it was introduced, but as the writers kept hammering away at it, the idea of Haley and Andy together grew on me, especially as the writers continued building parallels between Andy and Phil. If “Skyper” had been the episode in which they finally confessed their feelings for each other, I’d have been satisfied. But now we’re at the umpteenth near-miss, and now I can’t help but feel like the writers are grossly overplaying their hand. It’s one thing to talk me into Haley and Andy together, but it’s another to talk me into it, then dangle it endlessly without resolution as if it’s a romantic pairing I’d been clamoring for all along. I wish the show would pull that trigger already, if only as a sign of good faith for the season to come. At this rate, they’ll be on their first date in the season 12 finale.

The other guest, Gloria’s cousin Armando, was a bit more welcome, although a non-speaking role seems like a waste of Horatio Sanz. But it’s a plot with a more satisfying conclusion than the Haley-Andy-Beth love triangle. Jay is suspicious of Armando, and Gloria chides him about making assumptions, only to discover Armando is lifting everything in sight. The way Gloria lights into Armando while pretending to interpret Jay’s apology is a thing of a beauty, even if it’s a bit familiar.

Familiarity also plagued the Cam and Mitchell story, with Mitchell going to great lengths to conceal from Cam the fact that he’s been spending his days in the park with his new elderly friend Spencer since getting laid off his job yet again. As reluctant as I am to admit it, the thing I found funniest was Cam’s slurred speech as a result of his adult braces. Such a simple, juvenile thing, but anytime Cam was on screen, I was laughing. The couple gets a heartwarming conclusion when Mitch finally confesses, but the real tearjerker belongs to Claire and Alex, with the latter telling her mother she doesn’t own her a graduation gift. Her company on Alex’s European vacation will be enough. Modern Family is still running on fumes, but at least they’re sweet-smelling fumes.

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Stray observations:

  • Joshie’s back…for tonight, anyway. Gwen had a prior engagement, allowing me to check in with the season one more time, and for that I am grateful.
  • Sarah Hyland nailed it this week. As consistently great as Burrell is, Hyland is the one who looks like she’s slumming it.
  • “Go Ask Alex” was kind of catchy.
  • Claire: “Go get a Roomba.”

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