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'Young Sheldon': Still Socially Awkward
September 25, 2017  | By David Hinckley
 

If you ever wondered whether there might have been a time in Sheldon Cooper’s life when his behavior was cute and charming, the answer apparently is no, not really.

Young Sheldon, a Big Bang Theory prequel portraying Sheldon as a precocious 9-year-old, premieres Monday at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS and stars Iain Armitage as the character enshrined by Jim Parsons on Big Bang.

Young Sheldon is set up as older Sheldon looking into his own past. Parsons, who came up with the idea and is an executive producer, provides a voiceover narration from the perspective of the present.

That voiceover serves the additional purpose of giving viewers an audible link to the distinctive Parsons voice they know from the beloved BBT.

Young Sheldon, to no one’s surprise, has precisely the same advanced mental skills and deficient social skills as the older model.

As played nicely by Armitage, young Sheldon has no filters and little sense of either appropriate conversation or appropriate behavior. He doesn’t get jokes, he doesn’t read body language. He sees the world literally, with no sense life is a series of adjustments and understandings.

Because he’s so bright, our young Sheldon has just been jumped ahead into high school. To prepare for his first day he reads the extensive high school handbook, making him the first person ever to do that, and upon arrival starts pointing out everyone who is violating the dress code.

Not to spoil the joke, but just as an illustration, he notes that his homeroom teacher has a mustache. She does not appreciate the observation.

Surrounded by the population of a small town in East Texas, Sheldon is advanced theoretical calculus in a room where most others stop counting when they’ve run out of fingers. Throwing him into high school sets him up for extreme bullying, and it would be safe to expect we will see some of that as the season spools out.

The first episode, however, makes it clear Sheldon does not see himself as anyone’s victim, and that whatever his challenges, he’s not without weapons. 

In one scene he passes the music room and hears someone playing an instrument. While he’s never had any music training, he wanders in and starts hitting notes on the piano, which leads to the discovery that – again, not surprisingly, since so much of music is math – he has perfect pitch.

It’s suggested he might become a musician. No thanks, he says politely: “Musicians take drugs.”

What Young Sheldon cannot do if it’s going to succeed on its own is simply recycle older Sheldon’s jokes in a different time and place.

It avoids that potential problem, wisely and quickly, by emphasizing young Sheldon’s very different social context. 

On Big Bang, his posse is other nerds. All quirky in their own ways, but nonetheless, nerds.

On Young Sheldon, there’s no one even a little bit like him. He’s a small island in a wide sea, which doesn’t change his character at all, but makes his impact on those around him dramatically different.

Since he’s 9, that starts with his family.

His mother Mary (Zoe Perry) comes the closest to getting him. While she doesn’t always understand him, she understands she has to fight for him – like by insisting he be kept in high school even when he drives everyone there nuts.

His father George (Lance Barber), the football coach at the high school and a seemingly gentle and reasonable soul, also loves him and understands he must be nurtured even when it’s not easy.

Sheldon’s major impact falls on his twin sister Missy (Raegan Revord), who’s pitch-perfect herself as a pre-teen wiseguy, and his older brother George Jr. (Montana Jordan).

Their problems are twofold. They take the grief at school for their weird brother and their home life is often dictated by accommodations for Sheldon.

Sheldon, who sees the world through a literal, narrow and personal lens, rarely thinks one way or the other about how other people feel. So he doesn’t tend to show, for instance, appreciation.

Most of the audience for Young Sheldon, presumably, will be Big Bang fans. The new show’s challenge is to keep a balance of fresh and familiar.

[After Monday’s early premiere, Young Sheldon goes into its regular weekly timeslot on Nov. 2.]  

 

 
 
 
 
 
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