Hit or Sh**: CBS’s YOUNG SHELDON

In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.

young sheldon

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In this latest addition to the “Because Why Not?” genre of network television, YOUNG SHELDON centers around a younger version of Sheldon Cooper, the only Sheldon that CBS entrusts with its Monday night lineup. THE BIG BANG THEORY spinoff follows a nine-year-old Sheldon living in East Texas as he prepares to enter his freshman year of high school, much to the pride, chagrin, and horror of the other members of his family.

The two leads are solid. Iain Armitage (previously the scene-stealing Ziggy on BIG LITTLE LIES) is winning as a young Sheldon Cooper. He’s a fine young actor, well up for the task of navigating the character’s neurosis and  extensive dialogue that feels clunky at times, even for a child prodigy. His mother, Mary (played by Zoe Perry, the older Mary from the BIG BANG and Laurie Metcalf’s real life daughter) is pitch-perfect. If young Sheldon is the soul of the show, then Mary is the beating heart.  She’s raising her neurotic son who she knows is destined for greater things while keeping the rest of her family intact with sheer grit, ferocity, and Jesus Christ.

Sheldon’s twin sister Missy’s razor-sharp wit and emotional intelligence is also a welcome counterbalance to his blunt naivety. However, Sheldon’s father, George Sr. (Lance Barber), and brother, Georgie (Montana Jordan), are not as well fleshed out. George Sr. falls into the gruff, heart-of-gold but-can’t-express-his-feelings male trope, while the eldest Cooper child mostly just plays football and complains about Sheldon. With the other members of the family making such a strong impression, their lack of dimension is notable and disappointing.

Ironically, one of the biggest things YOUNG SHELDON has going against it is the fact that it is a prequel to THE BIG BANG THEORY. YOUNG SHELDON is firmly its own thing, but comparisons will inevitably be drawn. It has a lot going for it—the concept is compelling and Adult Sheldon’s eccentricities are significantly more endearing in miniature. While many of the jokes leave something to be desired (the pilot is overly dependent on Sheldon using big words and saying inappropriate things), it is also not a sitcom, and the humor is based more on character moments as opposed to punchlines. The highest-rated television show in the US casts an unreasonably tall shadow on this smaller, more intimate spinoff that deserves time to find its footing.

“In a world filled with uncertainty this place will be here forever” – Sheldon Cooper

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However, what’s permanently problematic is that these characters are bound by the events of its predecessor. While it’s sweet to see Sheldon reach for his father’s hand sans his sanitary mittens for the first time, we also know that if continuity is to be followed, his growth as a character is still constrained by the version of Sheldon we met in the BIG BANG pilot 10 years ago, who was every bit the child he was at nine. While people essentially are who they are from a young age, this closes the door for him to mature substantially—or at all, really. It also dampens the spirit considerably to know about George Sr.’s premature demise, and that Mary ends up widowed and her Christian zealousness only intensifies.

*Character Growth*

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YOUNG SHELDON’s first half-hour is equal parts charming and uneven. Not all of the jokes land, and there is too much reliance on Sheldon to make them. It  also needs to do a better job of exploring its secondary characters. Georgie and George Sr. are in need of more substance, and Mary deserves more screen time. However, it is backed by a capable cast and a built-in audience that is no doubt eager to travel back to 1989. If YOUNG SHELDON successfully expands the world it has established and becomes as consistently funny as it is endearing, it will deserve the multiple season renew CBS is sure to give it.

Verdict: Sh** Probation

April French

April is a guest contributor for Crossfader Magazine. She believes cold brew coffee holds the answers to life.

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