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‘Young Sheldon’ review: ‘Big Bang’ Sheldon is funnier as an adult

New CBS sitcom about Sheldon Cooper of "The Big Bang Theory" when he was 9 years old. (Credit: CBS)

THE SERIES “Young Sheldon”

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Monday night at 8:30 on CBS/2.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Living with his family in east Texas, 9-year-old Sheldon Cooper (Iain Armitage) is about to enter high school — he’s that bright — but he wants to wear a bow tie to his first day of school. His father, George (Lance Barber), is concerned, but his mother, Mary (Zoe Perry, who is the real-life daughter of Laurie Metcalf, the mom of adult Sheldon on “TBBT”), insists he wears one. Sheldon’s brother, George Jr. (Montana Jordan), and sister, Missy (Raegan Revord), can’t believe he’s their brother. Jim Parsons narrates, while Annie Potts plays Sheldon’s grandmother, in “Young Sheldon.”

MY SAY On “The Big Bang Theory,” Sheldon Cooper (Parsons) is socially clueless, self-absorbed, dismissive, sarcastic, non-empathetic, intolerant, exceedingly bright and essentially good-hearted. A long-held assumption by fans is that Sheldon as a child was exactly the same. After 11 seasons and no hard evidence, they finally have their proof: Yup, the same.

But as Sheldon himself might observe, such proof offers both a degree of comfort and a degree of consternation. The comfort is that human character is constant after all. The concern is that what’s funny in an adult can be like a rake dragged across a chalkboard when exhibited by a child. The words “insufferable” and “brat” come to mind.  What’s most remarkable about Parsons’ performance all these years is that he always found that heart in every utterance. He’s lovable, but fans couldn’t or wouldn’t imagine him without those unlovable parts, either.

 They may now. Young Sheldon speaks out of turn, and lectures adults. He’s a know-it-all and, when the mood strikes, a goody-two-shoes. He wields his intellectual heft and moral authority like a sword to level those lesser troglodytes strewed in his path by an indifferent universe.

Someone put this kid in timeout. A long timeout.

Presumably “TBBT” czar Chuck Lorre knew this could be a problem, which is why “Young Sheldon” is a single-camera show, and Armitage is in the role. Single-camera takes the onus off a studio audience to laugh at awkward parts or unfunny ones. Also, as a very young actor, Armitage has considerable charm and talent. There’s not much he can do about the child part, however.

 At least the “Young Sheldon” pilot (the only one for review) files off some of Sheldon’s edges and hints at some larger, potentially more interesting stories and characters. Who, for example, are his parents, and why did this particular apple fall so far from their tree? There’s a hint of melancholy, too. Fans know George dies within a few years of alcoholism. Here, he’s not quite a beaten man, but he does appear resigned to whatever the fates have in store for him. Precocious Sheldon has the slightest of hints that he may have something to do with his father’s problems.

BOTTOM LINE What’s funny in Sheldon/adult is grating in Sheldon/child. .

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