15 years after its first installment ended The Simpsons’ 6th season with a very literal bang, “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” remains a topic of fascination for fans of the long-running animated institution. Part of that is by design; looking to create an actual mystery for fans to puzzle over between seasons, writers Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein hid plenty of clues designed to point—obliquely—toward the culprit’s tiny-fisted identity within the two-parter’s first installment. That same attention to detail has also encouraged viewers to keep poring over the show years after the fact, though, discovering “clue” to the mystery that probably, in fine internet fashion, weren’t intended at all.
One such potential puzzle solver popped up on Reddit this week, with a user named Game_Of_Jobrones pointing out that there’s something odd about resident Springfield funnyman Krusty The Clown in the scene where the town gathers around Mr. Burns’ not-quite-murdered body. Specifically, that he looks less like Krusty’s usual design, and more like the one the show’s animators used just a few episodes back, when Homer Simpson moon-lit as as the clown’s understudy in “Homie The Clown.” The fact that Homer notably isn’t in that scene—and the fact that “Krusty” shoots some notable sideeye at hated Simpsons enemy Ned Flanders—gave birth to a theory that the character in the sequence is actually Homer himself, running a Sideshow Bob-style frame-up on his former boss.
All of which is made a little easier to swallow by the fact that Homer and Krusty look almost identical sans makeup—by design, as it happens, because Matt Groening originally toyed with the idea of making the clown Homer’s actual alter-ego. That idea was jettisoned early on in the show’s development, but the looks remained. Krusty’s stubble is a little wider than Homer’s—sometimes—and he’s got bags under his eyes, but beyond that, the only things distinguishing the two in “Homie The Clown” are their clown noses (detachable versus painted on), and the fact that Homer doesn’t hide his meager two hairs under Krusty’s distinctive triangle point. (Have we spent too much time looking at Simpsons character model sheets today? Who can say!) The Krusty in the “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” sequence does look a little extra-Homer-y, with rounded stubble and no bags—in contrast to his appearance just a few scenes earlier, when he abruptly returns to Simpson from a trip to Reno, just in time to get added to the suspects list.
But, like so many fun theories, this idea has now been at least mostly shot down by that most hateful of forces: “The people who actually made the show weighing in.” Oakley and Weinstein have both come out on Twitter today to say that they had no intent, during the planning or writing of these episodes, to suggest that Homer might be trying to pull a Krusty-based switcheroo. That being said, Oakley does acknowledge that the Krusty in “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” looks somewhat off-model, and seems open to the possibility that animator Jeff Lynch might have snuck in an additional hint or clue.
In fact, it’s kind of like what another guy named Lynch taught us, oh so many years ago: The clowns are not always what they seem.