It felt like there were a few scenes missing from last night's Modern Family, especially the tragically absent scene where Jay and Pepper go record-shopping, but what they left in was so charming and funny that it's hard to pine for what isn't there.
Modern Family often catches flak for its super-imposed themes, especially when they are reinforced through the moralizing end-of-episode voiceover. But "Boys' Night" overcomes this supposed deficiency in two ways: it's moral is not inherently simplistic or cheesy, and it is delivered in a humorous fashion, as Mitchell's narration is retrospectively revealed to be about Rob Lowe, and not his family. (This trick was also used in one of my favorite Modern Family episodes, when Jay's monologue was revealed to be from Manny's love poem.)
The moral of "Boys' Night" is that people can surprise you, not by changing or being different from themselves, but through your own perceptions of them becoming clearer. Mitchell dreads having Jay spend time with his gay friends (his "homo homies" as Cam might put it) but he realizes, after Jay is a big hit, that he's been unfairly keeping his dad out of that part of his life. The differences between "friends" Mitchell and "family" Mitchell were plain to see early on in the episode, and it was nice to see Mitchell let his father see that part of him.
Also nice to see? Phillip Baker Hall, one of the great "that guys" of all time. Most people probably recognized him as Bookman, the library cop who hounds Jerry Seinfeld for the overdue fees on Tropic of Cancer. Here, Hall plays the curmudgeonly neighbor that scares Phil and Claire. It was a nice inversion of the classic story that here it was the kid who was unafraid to go get his ball, and then chastised the old man for being mean to his parents. Hall showed his dramatic chops when he delivered the onions to the Dunphy house. "I used to be a fireman, I don't hurt kids" was a surprisingly moving line.
Most of the rest of the episode seemed like filler, but was not wholly without value. I didn't get much enjoyment from Alex's unexplained fear of random animal deaths, but it was great to see Dylan back. His explanation for how he could possibly leave his shoes behind was hilarious, as was his constant use of the word "uncleses" to describer Cam and Mitchell's house.
A very nice return from hiatus for Modern Family.