If you've passively thought there were differences between the child version of Sheldon Cooper on Young Sheldon versus the adult incarnation portrayed by Jim Parsons on The Big Bang Theory, know that it was an actively conscious choice by the creative team. Young Sheldon’s showrunner knew exactly what he was doing. As with the origin story of any protagonist, Sheldon Cooper did not stay the exact same person throughout his life. (Something Amy could definitely preach about.)
Young Sheldon and The Big Bang Theory share the same streaming home in HBO Max, but that does not mean they share the same Sheldon Cooper. In fact, there has been a concerted effort to make Sheldon less annoying for the prequel spinoff, and for a reason that might surprise fans. Showrunner and former Big Bang writer Steven Molaro said this while guesting on the I Saw That Years Ago podcast:
When we were writing that pilot we didn’t want to just write him as adult Sheldon and have a kid just say it. . . . As annoying as adult Sheldon can be, he can get away with it so we decided he’s not this person yet – we made him a lot more naive.
Turning back the clock to a time when Sheldon was more naïve seems to have paid off for Young Sheldon, which has been a ratings winner as it continues to take steps towards The Big Bang Theory’s timeline. The series’ showrunner acknowledged that adults can get away with a bit more annoying behavior on TV than kid characters can, especially in a network sitcom with a studio audience, as opposed to a more subdued single-camera comedy. While that may sound counterintuitive to some, it actually makes a lot of sense to me.
Despite being brilliant beyond his years, Young Sheldon's titular character had some of his more nerve-grinding key attributes dialed back by making his youthful step more naive than simply a know-it-all. In doing so, the CBS series has helped keep Sheldon the same fan-favorite he has always been, just in more youthful and less annoying doses.
Rest assured that Sheldon is still on track to become the same quirk-driven guy that viewers loved for twelve seasons on The Big Bang Theory. Unlike the “big bang,” though, Sheldon’s more annoying qualities did not happen instantaneously. As he became an adult, Sheldon got a lot more comfortable in his skin, making the kinds of friends who helped shape his personality over the years.
Young Sheldon’s showrunner has admitted to being willing to break with The Big Bang Theory’s continuity in the past. In this regard, the show decided to showcase a different side to the “young” Sheldon, as opposed to his adult self. Let’s face it; the evolution makes for more entertaining television.
It gives Young Sheldon and its star a place to go. If Iain Armitage’s Sheldon was basically having to mimic all the dialogue stylings of Jim Parsons’ incarnation, it would have cemented Sheldon Cooper as having his Big Bang Theory personality right out of the box. That would not have given Armitage much to do as an actor. Plus, he would have had to stick much closer to Parsons’ take.
There is still a lot for Young Sheldon’s Sheldon to do before he catches up with The Big Bang Theory’s. For one, he has to stop wearing buttoned-up plaid shirts and embrace his love of comic-inspired T-shirts. In this way, Sheldon remains dressed up in his younger years, while his annoying traits have been dressed down. I love that juxtaposition.
Young Sheldon will return to CBS for Season 4 at an undisclosed date in the future. Until then, you can see Sheldon in his his past and...more distant past self now. Young Sheldon is available to stream on HBO Max along with its predecessor series, The Big Bang Theory. You can watch both shows as you anticipate this fall’s premieres.