This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Growing Up Sheldon.”
If prime-time game shows like Match Game and prestige miniseries like Roots can enjoy a renaissance, why not another staple of seventies/eighties–era network television: the sitcom spinoff? So seems to be the thinking behind Young Sheldon (premiering on CBS on September 25), which imagines the childhood of Sheldon Cooper, the lovably supercilious physicist played so brilliantly by Houston’s Jim Parsons on the long-running hit The Big Bang Theory (Parsons serves as narrator of this new show). Young Sheldon takes place in the fictional East Texas town of Medford, rendered as a familiar Hollywood back lot of low-slung ranch houses and crowded churches. Unfortunately, what is part of an eccentric symphony on Big Bang becomes on Young Sheldon pretty much the only joke: the boy genius (played by Iain Armitage) responds with bewilderment to the rubes, bullies, and Bible Belters around him, over and over again. It’s a joke that feels tone-deaf to the current moment: Does America really need a comedy about a budding Left Coaster who feels superior to his Red State brethren? The absence of a laugh track and a couple of nicely judged moments when Sheldon’s financially strapped parents explain their struggles to him suggest that creator Chuck Lorre may be aiming for working-class pathos instead of the usual yuks. But judging by its pilot, the future of Young Sheldon looks more akin to Joanie Loves Chachi than to Laverne & Shirley.