'Young Sheldon' is a big time spinoff with little payoff

“Young Sheldon” chronicles the upbringing of “The Big Bang Theory” star Sheldon Cooper as a precocious, socially-inept nine-year-old. The show premiered Monday, Sept. 25. (Screenshot courtesy of CBS.com)

“Young Sheldon” chronicles the upbringing of “The Big Bang Theory” star Sheldon Cooper as a precocious, socially-inept nine-year-old. The show premiered Monday, Sept. 25. (Screenshot courtesy of CBS.com)

“Young Sheldon” chronicles the upbringing of “The Big Bang Theory” star Sheldon Cooper as a precocious, socially-inept nine-year-old. The show is centered around Sheldon’s attempts to navigate life in East Texas, an area dominated by conservative Christian values and a stereotypical suburban family lifestyle.

Iain Armitage, known for his role in the recent biographical drama film “The Glass Castle,” does a credible job of conveying Sheldon as more than just a boy genius oblivious to sarcasm and the behavior of normal kids his age. This, however, doesn’t prevent a handful of lines coming off as plainly pompous and off-putting. It is clear the writers of this show were conscious of this problem because they make many attempts to humanize the somewhat robotic character of Sheldon. On multiple occasions, the camera cuts to Sheldon’s pint-sized perspective, depicting the anxiety he feels in everyday situations involving something as simple as crossing the street, crowds of kids or even a taxidermied wolf on display in his high-school.

In this first episode, we follow Sheldon’s first day of high school. As expected, a number of jokes were based on the basic premise that Sheldon is so much younger than everyone else in his grade and is therefore endlessly ridiculed for his inability to fit in. For the most part, these jabs at Sheldon’s expense do not land. Despite charming voiceover from Jim Parsons, who actually plays Sheldon in “The Big Bang Theory,” it is not enough to save young Sheldon’s entirely predictable punchlines. The problem isn’t that the jokes are poorly written, but rather that they lack any real originality. It’s all the same stuff audiences across America have heard for 11 seasons on “The Big Bang Theory.”

Sheldon’s mother Mary Cooper, played by Zoe Perry (who is actually the daughter of Laurie Metcalf who plays Sheldon’s mom in “The Big Bang Theory”), is definitely a highlight of the show. In a pilot episode dominated by subpar child actors, most notably Sheldon’s sister whose only apparent role is adding annoying quips at the end of characters’ lines in the form of forced exclamations, Mary acts as a voice of reason in an intolerant town and a guardian angel for her son.

If it were not for her, Sheldon would be entirely alone as it is made explicitly clear that his father is unwilling to involve himself in his son’s life. A prototypically aloof father, George Cooper is introduced as a generally unhappy, football-loving, southern man with a sizable gut no doubt the result of his fondness for beer, as Sheldon is keen to point out. He shows little interest in his family and almost no respect for his wife, a plot point which will surely be developed more in future episodes as the strain on their relationship was revealed throughout the pilot.

Episode one wasn’t a complete flop, but it is difficult to see how the show will proceed in a way that will garner continued interest from an audience that is already familiar with the tricks and gimmicks of the show’s predecessor. Literalness and a lack of interest in social norms are not enough to sustain a series. That being said, there is hope for “Young Sheldon” if they can allow for some flexibility in an otherwise rigid storyline.


Mitchell Clark is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at mitchell.clark@uconn.edu.