Someone must have pitched the title The Little Bang Theory, for this, right?
Young Sheldon is a prequel to CBS’s 11-seasons-and-counting smash hit, following its breakout character/catchphrase generator, as he navigates his Texas childhood. While Jim Parsons provides voiceover narration, Iain Armitage (Ziggy from Emmy-gold mine Big Little Lies) stars as the train-loving, rule-following scientific genius back in 1989, when he was a nine-year old starting high school after skipping a few grades.
As you might predict, Little Sheldon shares his modern-day counterpart’s particular lack of social grace: He innocently mocks his teachers for their lack of credentials, chastises those around him for violating the school’s dress code (“this girl’s blouse is diaphanous which means I can see her brassiere”), and compares his tater-tot loving siblings to monkeys. But the show’s heart is firmly centered around his middle-class Texas family unit, led by Zoe Perry as Sheldon’s mom (a bit of brilliant casting: Perry’s own mom, Laurie Metcalf, plays adult Sheldon’s mother).
It’s that focus on family, with Sheldon as an oddity and an outsider but still loved, that makes Young Sheldon sweeter than The Big Bang Theory. There’s no canned studio audience laughter here, or mockery of “nerdom” as some strange, foreign anthropologically fascinating character defect. Mercifully, as of now, there are no Bazingas, although it’s possible they’re saving that for the season finale.
Aside from the protagonist’s name, the companion series don’t share much DNA. It feels more apt to compare Young Sheldon to other single-camera family sitcoms: The Goldbergs and Everybody Hates Chris (which also features voiceover from that protagonist as an adult, and is set in the 80’s) and Fresh Off The Boat (which also features voiceover from protagonist as an adult, but is set in the 90’s). Although the humor — in the show’s pilot at least — is less reliant on what most people would call “jokes” and more reliant on “a tiny child in a bowtie saying the word ‘brassiere,’” as far as sitcoms go, it’s inoffensive and as comforting as Mrs. Cooper’s tater tots. B+