Airdate: December 16, 1998
The boys are forced to write a current events paper to save Mr. Garrison's job. Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny are grouped together with Tweek, a jittery child, who suggests that the presentation be on the "Underpants Gnomes", tiny men who sneak into his house and steal his underwear. Meanwhile, a local cafe, ran by Tweek's parents', is being threatened by Harbucks, a big-time corporate coffee shop, and Tweek's father uses the boys' current events assignment to rally people into shutting down Harbucks.
"Gnomes" contains examples of:
- Armor-Piercing Question: Mrs. Tweak asks the townspeople if they even bothered to try Harbucks coffee.
- Caffeine Failure: The boys are introduced to coffee by Tweak's father while working on a school presentation. Pretty soon they're bouncing off the walls; one Time Skip later, they've crashed completely and Cartman is throwing up coffee on the floor.
- Now we know from South Park: The Stick of Truth that Tweak Bros Coffee is made with locally brewed Meth, after all the jokes about Tweaking, and the reaction the boys had to their first try of Tweak's coffee, and how their coffee has always been terrible but still stays in business, it's possible this was always a joke Matt and Trey wanted to pull.
- Cassandra Truth: Tweek insists that the Gnomes exist, but nobody believes him and he's increasingly terrified that he's going crazy until the boys see them too.
- Groin Attack: Mr. Tweak has increasingly colorful comparisons for the relative positions of "they" (his corporate competition) and his balls.
- Hard Truth Aesop: Being a big corporation does not automatically make a company evil, and that being a small family-owned business does not automatically make it good. While the episode doesn't hesitate to portray the representative for the big corporation as being extremely obnoxious and the small coffee shop owner opposing them as being quite likable and persuasive, it's made clear at the end that big corporations tend to get big in the first place because they make superior products ("25 percent less raw sewage taste!"), while protectionist laws like the one the small coffee shop owner is lobbying South Park to pass are demonstrated to be a terrible idea and the coffee shop owner himself is revealed to be smarmy, manipulative, and self-serving.
- Hidden Depths: The Underpants Gnomes know heaps about big corporations and teach the boys why they're good in exchange for underpants.
- Mr. Garrison threatens the boys more than once throughout the episode.
- Mr. Tweak uses the boys for his own agenda without remorse.
- Keet: The boys when they've been drinking coffee until they end up crashing around 3:30 in the morning.
- Missing Steps Plan: The Underpants Gnomes plan to steal underwear and then somehow profit from it. Also the former Trope Namer.
- No OSHA Compliance: The cave where the Underpants Gnomes work has shoddy railways that can easily allow a mine cart to fall off them. Kenny becomes crushed by one.
- Oh, Crap!: The Underpants Gnomes are horrified when Kenny is squished. The boys not so much.
- Parental Neglect: It's hinted that Tweek's parents feeding Tweek lots of coffee is why he's so jittery and they're oblivious to this and just keep feeding him coffee. The Stick Of Truth implies he is actually addicted to the meth his parents put in the coffee since Tweek operates the brewing machinery.
- Properly Paranoid: A twitchy, easily-panicked child swears that gnomes are stealing his underwear... and he's absolutely correct.
- Tastes Like Feet: The coffee at Tweek Bros. Coffeehouse is described as tasting like sewage. But people keep going back.
- Take That!:
- Mrs. Tweak says that by trying to use the boys to push their agenda, they're no better than Rob Reiner.
- The whole Harbucks plot is also a Take That! at both sides of the "big corporation vs. small business" argument and shows just how bad both sides can be.
- Tweek's coffee habit is a possible jab at ADHD meds, which are indeed stimulants for those who don't have ADHD (and are often abused for that very reason)
- They Killed Kenny Again: Kenny is crushed by a mine cart after it goes off the rails. Stan and Kyle breeze through their usual response so they can learn about business from the Underpants Gnomes.
- Would Hurt a Child: "If I do get fired, Mr. Hat is gonna smack you bitches up."