There’s a funny thing about prequels – they often go on to become more popular than the shows that preceded them. And that’s exactly what’s going to happen with “Young Sheldon,” the new CBS sitcom that’s a prequel to “The Big Bang Theory.” There are several key reasons why you shouldn’t be surprised if “Young Sheldon” goes on to become more popular than “Big Bang Theory.”
The most common mistake that viewers and critics are making is assuming that “Young Sheldon” is the same show as “Big Bang Theory,” just with a little kid at the center of it all. This is a natural mistake to make, given that the image of that precocious 9-year-old kid who grows up to be Sheldon Cooper is a focal point for the advertising and marketing for this show.
But as we’ve seen already, “Young Sheldon” is more of an origin story of how the adult Sheldon Cooper came to be. The milieu couldn’t be more different. While “Big Bang Theory” is set in California, the new “Young Sheldon” is set in East Texas in the late 1980’s. Instead of roommates and nerdy science friends to give context to Sheldon Cooper, there is his family.
And that is really the key to the genius of “Young Sheldon” – it shows us how his family influenced him at an early age. In “Big Bang Theory,” his family is rarely seen, heard or mentioned. His grandmother is only referred to as “MeeMaw” and is portrayed as something of a negative influence on his life. And he appears to have a negative relationship (or, at least, strained) relationship with his mother. In “Big Bang Theory,” they are really just played for laughs – there is no context or dimensionality.
In contrast, “Young Sheldon” has much more of a softer, more nostalgic feeling to it. Part of that has to do with the way it’s shot – using a singe-camera approach, giving it much more of a film-like quality instead of a laugh-filled sitcom quality. And the family members here are much more fleshed out than the nerdy friends who surround Sheldon Cooper later in life. We see much more of how they are trying to understand and make sense of their precocious son. From that perspective, the show seems to have much more in common with “The Wonder Years” than with “Big Bang Theory.”
You could make the case that, since “Big Bang Theory” is one of the most popular shows on TV today, it also has a very broad demographic appeal. But that’s not necessarily the case – the demographic appeal appears to be clustered much more around the 18-to-34 demographic: the type of single, unmarried viewer who still lives in an apartment and is still trying to figure life out. That’s why “Big Bang Theory” resonates with them.
In contrast, “Young Sheldon” seems like it is going to find a real sweet spot with females, and especially, moms. In many ways, you can thank Zoe Perry (who plays Mary Cooper, Sheldon’s mother) for that . She is simply wonderful as the mother of an extraordinarily gifted child. At times, the show seems to adapt her point of view, and it’s easy to see how “Young Sheldon” could become a hit with mothers and other caregivers trying to make sense of parenting and family issues. For example, it’s long been assumed that the older Sheldon Cooper exhibits signs of autism. Is it possible, then, that this show could become a cult hit with parents who have children of their own who are exhibiting signs of being on the autism spectrum?
It’s impossible to overstate the important role of nostalgia in making us like things. Now, 30 years removed from the late 1980s setting of “Young Sheldon,” we’re ready and willing as an audience to embrace the wonderful nostalgia of the 1980s. In many ways, the show itself is a trip down memory lane, reminding us of all the delightful sitcoms of our childhood. Things seemed to be so much simpler back then, and the East Texas setting is perfect. Setting this show in Manhattan or Los Angeles would have detracted from the soft, nostalgic feel of this show.
The reason why prequels often turn out to be so popular is because they are created with one goal in mind: to answer questions and dilemmas from the original. We care intensely about these characters, and want to find out the “Why” of what makes them tick, and how they turned out the way they did. As noted above, this show is really an “origin” story, and it will captivate us to find out how Young Sheldon eventually morphed into the older Sheldon.
Some TV critics, for example, have suggested that there might be some “mystery” or “tragedy” behind Sheldon Cooper. “Young Sheldon” seems to have a bittersweet tone to it. Maybe it will explain why he and his mother seem to have such a difficult relationship. Maybe it will help us understand why he rarely mentions his family on “Big Bang Theory.”
To be sure, “Young Sheldon” is not pure comedy – there is something there waiting for us as viewers to discover it. And when we do, it is going to be wonderful. For viewers who think that “Big Bang Theory” could never be challenged by another show, “Young Sheldon” will surprise you. It is well written, it features an adorable child actor (Iain Armitage) and it will grab at your heartstrings with soft sentimentality and nostalgia.
In short, “Young Sheldon” is everything “Big Bang Theory” is – and more. So don’t be mistaken into thinking that it is just a garden-variety spinoff. There is something undeniably wonderful happening with “Young Sheldon’ and the way fans are talking about it. It might just turn out to be more popular than “Big Bang Theory.”