“Everything is always about Sheldon.”
Warner Brothers is very familiar with superheroes. That goes double for the character of Sheldon, played by Jim Parsons, on The Big Bang Theory. A common thread in the superhero business, of course, is the origin story. With the popularity of The Big Bang Theory, and the Sheldon character particularly, it isn’t all that surprising that we would eventually be treated to Sheldon’s origin story. But instead of flashbacks on the series, the decision was made that Sheldon’s childhood was territory that could be mined for years. Thus is born Young Sheldon. For fans of the original show and character, it couldn’t have come at a better time. Parsons just turned down an offer of $50 million for two more years of Big Bang. I can’t imagine how it must feel to be able to turn down that kind of money. But faced with doing the series without him, the smart decision was to shut it down. What started with a big bang ends with a tiny little man. The Big Bang Theory has ended. I’m not sure we’ve seen the last of it in some form or another. Sheldon will live on as a kid for years to come. Not sure what Parsons’ paycheck is here, but it requires only his narration.
The series picks up in east Texas where 9-year-old Sheldon (Armitage) has skipped a few grades and headed to high school. Now 10, Sheldon is even looking at college, much to his mother’s despair. He has the brains and many of the mannerisms of the character we already know, but he’s even more lacking in the social graces, and the challenge is tough to be a 10-year-old in high school. Sheldon has two siblings. Missy (Revord) is his twin sister. She doesn’t share his brains, but she’s advanced in other ways. She often has the wit of an adult and is quite adept at the fine art of sarcasm. Georgie (Jordan) is his older brother, who is on the opposite side of the intelligence scale. He’s a football player who isn’t happy to have his younger brother joining him in high school, where Sheldon is in the habit of correcting his teachers and making his own kind of waves. Their father, George, (Barber) is the football coach at the school and struggles to bond with his smart son. Mary, their mother, is played by Zoe Perry, who happens to be the daughter of Laurie Metcalf, who plays the older version of Sheldon’s mother on The Big Bang Theory. It’s actually the second time she’s played a younger version of her mother’s character. She appeared in flashbacks on Rosanne. She’s the only other character from this series that we are already familiar with. She’s been most notably known for her Bible Belt religious tendencies. Finally, there is Sheldon’s Meemaw, played by Annie Potts. It’s a character the older Sheldon often talked about, but we never met.
Young Sheldon will feel familiar even to those who don’t already know the character. This show borrows heavily from The Wonder Years. Like that series, it is a period piece. This time it’s 1989 instead of 1969. And just like that series, the events are narrated with a nostalgic tone by the older character, in this case Jim Parsons as Sheldon. The show utilizes the iconic images, events, and sounds from the period to create its style. The family is also quite like the family from The Wonder Years, with brother Georgie looking and feeling very much like Arnold’s older brother Wayne. The show’s dynamics often mirror the same style with a lot of time spent with the family having dinner, which was a huge part of The Wonder Years. The big difference, aside from the personality of the main character, is the show’s point of view. Young Sheldon does not remain constant as a show from only Sheldon’s point of view. We do not see just what he sees. As the younger version of Sheldon grows, I suspect the effect will be very much as it was watching Fred Savage grow up on his show.
Iain Armitage does a pretty solid job. He’s in a very unenviable position. He’s expected to play a character the audience has known for over 11 years. He has to hit some of the mannerisms, but there must be room to allow the character to evolve and grow into what we already know. It’s a balance I think the young actor accomplishes for the most part. He has the speech patterns down and carries himself in that stiff, socially uncomfortable way that we are used to. The episodes often include events that shaped a new aspect of the familiar character, and it’s a rather pleasant journey. But it does take some getting used to. I was not enjoying the show at all for the first handful of episodes. I can’t quite put my finger on the reason, but it was rubbing me rather the wrong way. At some point I started to get a better feel and absolutely warn you that it is somewhat of an acquired taste. The series also contains some spoilers of Sheldon’s adult life that have not yet been revealed on The Big Bang Theory. It’s obvious that the Sheldon narrating the episode is one much older than the current version. He’s most certainly an unreliable narrator. He sees things in his own self-aggrandizing world, but we get to see it less filtered, and much of the humor is the inconsistency in how older Sheldon views an event and how it actually played out.
We learn where “Bazinga” came from. The season also gives us a really strong chemistry between Sheldon and Dr. Sturgis, played by whimsical Wallace Shawn. There’s a real connection here that goes beyond the shtick of the show. Not everything new this season works. Sheldon meets another child protégé in a girl, Paige. I get the idea she was intended to be a big part of the story, but it’s an awkward pairing. Sheldon’s parents were hoping that they’d have other people to use as a resource in raising this kind of son, but it’s just awkward all the way around. The writers appeared to have pulled away from this a bit, and I don’t think we’ll see much of her going forward. But they did bring in a girl for Georgie to pursue in Veronica, played by Isabel May. She’s the girl in school with the reputation of being “easy”; that is, until his first date with her, when Mom’s “Heck House” shows her the path to Jesus, and she becomes a strict Christian. That doesn’t stop Georgie from plotting ways to win her over.
Sheldon has some other landmark moments, some mentioned in The Big Bang in the past. We see the time he tries to harvest nuclear material from smoke alarms to build a reactor so his neighborhood can have free energy. He also gets addicted to video games after rejecting the entire concept when his Meemaw buys a Nintendo system and both get obsessed with finishing the game they’ve started together. We also witness that perfect SAT score that now has colleges trying to recruit him.
The episode titles are merely a list of a few of the elements of the episode. It’s an odd way to do it, but it does make it easier to find a particular episode down the road. You get all 22 episodes on two discs. No extras this time around. The season ends with an episode that aired to tie in with his winning the Nobel Prize on The Big Bang. He tries to interest his friends and family to listen to the prize live over their short-wave only to contemplate if he’d forever be alone. A wonderful season-ending touch is that we get quick glimpses of the other Big Bang characters at the same age. It will be interesting to see if their stories begin to be told here. The season also ends with a bit of a dire warning. Dr. Sturgis goes a bit insane as he realizes he’ll never win a Nobel Prize, and Sheldon and his family begin to worry if that’s what his future holds. “I’d say the time for worrying was when he was born.”