"When a Tree Falls" is the ninth episode from Season 4 of Modern Family, it aired on November 28, 2012.

Plot Summary

Against his wishes, Mitch is dragged into helping Cam save a tree from being cut down in the park. Phil and Jay battle it out in the ring at an Olympic-themed birthday party for Luke and Manny's friend. Claire takes an absentminded Gloria on a shopping trip, but things get a little out of hand. Haley begins her community service, while Alex's plan to get revenge on her sister goes awry.

Episode Description

Haley is off to do community service for her assault on a cop. (HALEY: Because I do not have any priors! PHIL: Taking a little too much pride in that, sweetheart.) She isn't much for picking up garbage, but she loves what the orange safety vest does for her. Alex may be enjoying this, but Luke's got Haley's back, even making her a shiv out of a knife.

CLAIRE: You don't make a shiv out of a knife!

PHIL: Yeah, you make a shiv out of a rusty spoon or glass.

CLAIRE: ...or a human femur!

In the meantime, Cameron comes home to tell Mitchell they were cutting down the tree at the park where they always picnic: Treeona Helmsley. Even Lily thought it was a nightmare, and clearly she's picked up Cam's gift for hyperbole. Sure enough, Cam went to give the tree one final hug goodbye, and the next thing you know, he's climbed up it. And Lily thinks THAT'S a nightmare. Cam thinks he needs to show Lily the value of what's important. And he'll do that just as soon as Mitchell takes his place in the tree. He had to go replace someone at a play where he was an understudy. Mitchell refused, but Cam pointed out the tree is where Lily first rolled over, where home base was when they played hide-and-go-seek, and where they took shelter from a terrible lightning storm. That was enough for Lily, who begged Mitch to save the tree.

While Claire takes Gloria on a Costco Jay's request because Gloria had a serious case of 'pregnancy brain'...he takes Manny to a classmate's party, the same one Luke and Phil were attending. It's an Olympic-themed party, and Manny was only invited to represent Mexico. Which naturally offends him since he's from Colombia. (LUKE: You keep saying that, but we've never seen a birth certificate.) Manny didn't want to do it, but Jay insisted he get out of his comfort zone once in a while and have fun outdoors. And take off the wingtips and change into his sporty shoes. Jay was all set to drop Manny off and leave, but it turned out the sports party involved the fathers as well, and Phil was wondering why Jay-Lo was in such a hurry to leave.

MANNY: What's the matter, Jay? Afraid to step out of your comfort zone?

JAY: I will send you back to Mexico...

Jay hangs around and starts getting used to the insulting back and forth. Phil chides him about being a technophobe and Jay fires back about Phil not being able to drive a stick shift. In the meantime, Alex decides she wanted revenge for a bad pic Haley took of her and posted on Facebook by posting a pic of Haley picking up garbage along the highway. And the plan works...until a truck scared her smartphone out of her hands and into a sewer. And as Haley talks with a cute co-worker on community service and finds a gold bracelet, Alex falls into the mud, gets her hand stuck in the grate, and has a bag of garbage thrown on her.

Mitch was doing a pretty good job of saving the tree, even convincing a cop he was just doing this to support his partner. The cop agreed; his therapist said the same thing. But Mitchell realized it was something he had to do and there were so many good memories of that tree. And he was ready to go all night to save that tree...until he was told there were a hundred rats hidden in it. Then Cam had 20 minutes to get back.

After Gloria closed the liftgate of Claire's SUV on her, Claire went crazy. She told Gloria pregnancy was tough; she could remember her own name when she was carrying Alex because there were two humans fighting for all of the resources.

GLORIA: What about Haley and Luke?

CLAIRE: No, they were OK. Pretty much let me do my thing.

But Claire insisted Gloria focus on what she was doing. In the meantime, Claire would be taken into custody for shoplifting a hoody out of Costco. Claire only put it on in the store and forgot to take it off before she left.

GLORIA: Listen, mister policeman, if we really wanted to steal it, you wouldn't even know it was gone!

No, that didn't help Claire's cause.

Jay continues at the party with some great Phil stories, including one where Phil went all Lloyd Dobler (from Say Anything...) on Claire when they were kids, only the boom box played Olivia Newton-John's Let's Get Physical, which prompted Jay to turn the sprinkler on him. Phil was still upset for getting his boom box broken and Jay never replaced it. So Jay thought they should get in the ring over it. If Jay won, Phil would have to do his "Let's Get Phil-sycial" dance in front of everyone. Jay wasn't worried; he boxed in the navy.

JAY: I never thought I'd say this, but I'd rather box my daughter's husband than my son's.

Of course, Jay forgot they wore oversized gloves and Phil was holding onto a lot more anger over that boom box than anybody realized...even him. It was reminiscent of that fight in Rocky IV right before Apollo was killed. Jay later apologized for giving Phil crap and was upset that in 25 years, they still couldn't communicate. How would it be for Jay in 10 years with his new kid? (PHIL: Oh, you're insecure and vulnerable. This is the cutest thing I've ever seen! Who's a shy bunny?) But Phil assured Jay the guys really liked him. And even Manny was making inroads with the other much the same way Jay did.

While Cameron returned to the tree, complete in his costume from Cats, Claire pleads her case at Costco to the manager but he thinks Claire is just another one of those bored housewives looking for a thrill. He even thinks Gloria's baby is really a turkey she stole. Well, she showed him. Her water broke right then. He changed his tune quickly, and Claire and she got out of there. And then Gloria REALLY showed that guy. She was faking it, using a water bottle she got from the store. She didn't want Claire to have to go through what she did just over one stupid thing. Although Claire would appreciate if Gloria could do it one more time for the cop that was pulling her over for running a red light.

More good news: a very disheveled Alex finally retrieved her phone, only to have it run over by the cute guy who was taking Haley out on a date. And of course, Haley got a picture of it. (ALEX: 593 likes...and counting.)

Cameron won his fight. The city workers went home for the weekend, giving Mitchell a chance to call City Hall on Monday and try to get an injunction. Mitchell was very proud, and Cameron was happy to get down. Until he got his costume tail caught and he was now hanging from the tree. Yup, stuck like a little cat. But he did get down and the tree was saved. It even made the paper.

CAMERON: (reading a review) This production of Cats should be put to sleep?!?

Main Cast

(The characters striked out do not appear in this episode)

  • Jay Pritchett
  • Gloria Pritchett
  • Manny Delgado
  • Claire Dunphy
  • Phil Dunphy
  • Haley Dunphy
  • Alex Dunphy
  • Luke Dunphy
  • Mitchell Pritchett
  • Cameron Tucker
  • Lily Tucker-Pritchett

Guest Starring

  • Paul Scheer as Store Manager
  • Drew Powell as Terry
  • Alex Fernandez as Park Worker
  • Kevin High as Bill
  • Larry Herron as Terry's Partner
  • Michael C. Alexander as Store Security
  • Bob Wiltfong as Jerry
  • Nicholas Furu as Doug
  • Peter Christopher Douglas as Fireman



  • We see mugshot photos of Haley when she got arrested in "Arrested". She also does some community service.

Cultural References

  • "They are chainsawing paradise to put up a parking lot!" is a reference to "Big Yellow Taxi".
  • Luke references the Birther controversy.
  • The picnic tree is called Treona Helmsley, after "Queen of Mean" Leona Helmsley
  • Sean Penn, Anne Hathaway and Julianne Moore are recommended to appear in a movie about the tree.
  • Manny compares himself to Sisyphus.
  • Phil sang a version of Olivia Newton-John's "Let's Get Physical" while mimicking the final scene of Say Anything....
  • Cam played Rum Tum Tugger in CATS.