Will Big Bang Theory Prequel Young Sheldon Be As Bad As It Looks?

Should we hold any hope out for Young Sheldon?
This Is gonna blow, right?
This Is gonna blow, right? CBS

When news broke that CBS was developing a prequel to The Big Bang Theory based on the life of young Sheldon, appropriately titled Young Sheldon, as you might imagine I had several reservations. The Big Bang Theory is like most recent Chuck Lorre productions in that it is supposedly a massive hit, though I’ve never met an actual fan in person. (Do you know someone that genuinely enjoys Two and Half Men?) Moreover, the fan base it feigns affinity for seem to hate it the most.

I mean, Sheldon is essentially the nerd equivalent of Uncle Remus. He’s a character meant to represent a general member of the eclectic nerd community, but is reduced to a socially inept, comic book fan, theoretical physicist? The bulk of the main players on the show are to varying degrees antiquated misrepresentations of various facets of “geek” from Simon Heldberg’s ungainly mama's boy routine, to Kunal Nayyar’s horny foreigner, to Kaley Cuoco's Penny standing in for entertainment’s ever-enduring nerd wish fulfillment trophy to the perfunctory shoe-horned pop culture references. I think Sheldon suffers from this the most, obviously. His trite one-dimensional characterization reads more like jock commentary rather than adoration for the culture.

But then CBS dropped the trailer, and while many of the issues I had with the initial series seem to be present in this unearned prequel spin-off, the whole gawky genius thing appears to work better with a younger Sheldon, both comedically and in terms of selling the anal charm the older Sheldon played by Jim Parsons didn’t quite convey.

The difference ends up being marginal, unfortunately. The writing just doesn’t seem to be there. Ian Armitage does an admirable job in the trailer, and it’s my understanding that Parsons went through a lot of young auditioners to get to the young actor. The trouble is the precious way the first look was shot – it gives the impression that Lorre believes Sheldon resonates with audiences in a much more meaningful way than he actually does. I mean, to the Middle Americans that tune in every week, Sheldon is just a caricature of the nerd they use to pummel in high school, nothing more, and to members of the actual nerd community, he is a walking parody. Neither one of these groups bears the sort of attachment or interest that warrants this kind of prequel. There isn’t a hint of self-awareness. Young Sheldon is in love with its “lore,” and it assumes you are too.

Also, as a much of a near perfect impression that Armitage is doing of Parsons, the portrayal remains problematic to me. One has to look no further than Danny Pudi as Abed in Community to get an idea how a character like Sheldon should read to the audience. Abed is a geeky, socially impaired dude, but he’s winsome above all else, largely due to his relatively grounded characterization. In comparison, both adult Sheldon and young Sheldon are cartoonish persnickety assholes.

In the show’s defence, we have Annie Potts, who is always a delight to watch, playing Sheldon’s feisty mother. What’s more, the first episode of Young Sheldon is directed by Jon Favreau. Who knows? The bar isn’t set particularly high.

Young Sheldon is set for a Sept. 25 release.

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