Photo: Robert Voets/CBS ©2017 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In CBS’ YOUNG SHELDON, getting a special preview at 8:30/7:30c tonight before it moves to its regular home (still behind THE BIG BANG THEORY) on Thursdays (11/2, after football), we’re introduced to Sheldon Cooper as a 9-year-old.

He wears a very specific bow-tie to school, the high school where his academic achievements have placed him at least 5 years early. He doesn’t get along very well with his family because his advanced brain puts him outside of their down-home norms (things we’ve known as viewers of THE BIG BANG THEORY for 10+ years). His mom (Zoe Perry) loves him the most though she’s not exactly sure how to be a parent to a gifted child like Shelly. His dad, who we’ve been told across 10 seasons of TBBT wasn’t much of a father, is portrayed sympathetically, yet gruffly by Lance Barber, as here we’re shown that he didn’t know what to do with his precocious son that lacked the ability to keep himself from asking questions about testicles and female mustaches (loudly, in a public setting), all while dad was dealing with financial struggles and a growing family.

His brother is dirty and gross; his sister is an obnoxious tattletale. Since we’re led to believe that these are stories being told by a future (current?) Sheldon, like Daniel Stern in THE WONDER YEARS (a show that this mimics more than the predecessor that will initially drive fans to check this out), it stands to reason that he’s a step more dirty and she’s a step more obnoxious due to exaggerated painful memories of the past.

Where there’s a lightness, a happiness even, to THE BIG BANG THEORY, where insults are traded in jest, there’s a darker tone to YOUNG SHELDON that I really wasn’t expecting.  We knew life down in Texas had been bad for Sheldon; we knew he had to get out and flex his mental muscles away from the family, but didn’t realize that this is how it would be explained.  I also think Iain Armitage is fantastic and handles that material quite well- he captures the Sheldon Cooper antics we are used to, and adds a new level to this backstory. 

For me, it’s all about Zoe Perry – she is her mother’s daughter, both literally and fictionally (her mother is Laurie Metcalf, who is Sheldon’s mom on TBBT). She mimics her mother without mocking her more over the top personality that TBBT has always exaggerated and imbues her with a certain sweetness. She plays so many levels to a mom exasperated with her brood, and dis-heartened when she sees how the world could and will impact her otherwise unaware child.  It’s a really great performance that I hope people remember long after the show.

In short, YOUNG SHELDON is good, not great, but has potential to convince me otherwise.