Let me preface this hot take with a lukewarm opinion: The Big Bang Theory is bad. Please do not point to how, from time to time, the sitcom trails only Sunday Night Football in the ratings. Lots of bad things are popular—candy corn, for example, or Taylor Swift.
This is why, after hearing the news of the sitcom's imminent Texas-set prequel, I have tossed in bed late at night with a faint BAZINGA! ricocheting around my mind, that horrible laugh track ringing in my ear like a case of tinnitus. The worst of 2017 was yet to come.
Now that Young Sheldon has arrived to CBS primetime, there are many opinions. Our friends at Texas Monthly ran a short item casting the prequel as a parable for Red vs. Blue America. An English major at the University of Rochester just had to bring Kierkegaard into the matter, drawing a comparison between a prepubescent Sheldon Cooper and Death himself.
Pretty funny column in the Rochester student paper. The kids are alright. pic.twitter.com/yQrjGd93bH— Aryeh Cohen-Wade (@AryehCW) October 4, 2017
But, in a rare lapse of cynicism, I will side with the heartwarming origin story. The impulse for a Sheldon prequel is understandable: After 10 seasons of watching that condescending slug slime up every situation with his flatfooted snark, you might wonder how did this man get this way? And Young Sheldon somehow delivers a sympathetic answer.
For one, Jim Parsons looks like a kneecap next to the adorable Iain Armitage, whose bow ties beg the audience to reach out and rustle his perfectly parted hair. And the show catches Young Sheldon entering high school at age 9, while the character is still hoovering up knowledge about the world on his way to seemingly (and infuriatingly) knowing everything. This is not a "budding Left Coaster," as Texas Monthly puts it, but rather a precocious kid in a small town. Even if you, unlike Sheldon, did not have Stephen Hawking and Einstein posters plastered across your bedroom, how can you not relate to an outsider story?
As far as its Lone Star bonafides, the accents range from spot-on to generic marbles-in-mouth drawl, and the football coach dad/church lady mom rings true to a certain portrait of East Texas. Zoe Perry portrays Sheldon's utterly devoted mother, Mary, and inverts the Forrest Gump script, fighting for her son's education at a school where he doesn't fit in due to his freakish intelligence. He repays her love by dutifully sitting through church.
Sheldon's jock dad, played by Lance Barber, clearly has nothing in common with the budding physicist, but both father and son try to understand each other; at the end of the pilot, after learning his father got fired from a previous job for doing the right thing, Sheldon removes his germ-avoiding mittens to hold hands with his father while they say grace. Unlike in Big Bang, the little menace has feelings and—gasp!—shows growth.
No, I'm not going to schedule my life around its 7:30 p.m. Monday timeslot, but when I inevitably find myself in a hotel room and see Young Sheldon on TBS, I probably won't flip by. There's something charming about a boy genius, especially one with gap teeth. The only issue is what that boy becomes.