Created by Chuck Lorre and Steven Molaro, “Young Sheldon” serves as a prequel to the popular sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.” Both shows explore the life of Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons and Iain Armitage), a peculiar but brilliant theoretical physicist who works for CalTech. But instead of taking place in modern-day Pasadena as “The Big Bang Theory” does, “Young Sheldon” brings viewers back to Medford, Texas in the ‘80s and ‘90s to explore Sheldon’s childhood.
“Young Sheldon” is a delight to watch for fans of the adult show. Viewers get to see how old Sheldon came to be, and they also get some insight into the lives of characters who only briefly appear in “The Big Bang Theory.” Additionally, the prequel hosts so many hidden connections to the original show that it’s impossible for fans of “The Big Bang Theory” not to be enticed.
One appealing aspect is the large number of actors that appear on both shows. Jim Parsons is the most obvious example of this, as he plays the older version of Sheldon Cooper in both programs. However, he’s not alone.
Lance Barber, who plays George Sr. in “Young Sheldon,” actually made a one-episode appearance on “The Big Bang Theory” years earlier as Jimmy Speckerman, the high school bully of Sheldon’s roommate, Leonard (Johnny Galecki). Vernée Watson appeared on both shows as well, playing Nurse Althea Davis on “The Big Bang Theory” and Nurse Robinson on “Young Sheldon” — notably, she has also played nurses in two other CBS shows. Kaley Cuoco, the original show’s beloved Penny, voices the pool monster from Sheldon’s nightmare in the prequel’s episode “Teenager Soup and A Little Ball of Fib.”
The most ingenious character connection is between the two Mary Coopers: Zoe Perry, who plays Mary, Sheldon’s mother, on “Young Sheldon,” is the daughter of Laurie Metcalf, who plays Mary on “The Big Bang Theory.” Since they’re related, the two share similar physical features, mannerisms and overall acting styles, making them a remarkably believable pairing.
Of course, matching actors are not the main connection between the two shows; the real link lies in Sheldon Cooper’s character. Obviously, viewers see a lot of corresponding interests between the younger Sheldon and older Sheldon. His love for trains is shown in the very first scene of the childhood series. Parsons says in his voice-over, “I’ve always loved trains. In fact, if my career in theoretical physics hadn’t worked out, my back-up plan was to become a professional ticket-taker. Or a hobo.”
It’s fun to see some of old Sheldon’s more eccentric quirks pop up in the newer show as well. His bathroom schedule is mentioned several times, and when he’s sick, viewers get to hear Zoe Perry’s masterful rendition of “Soft Kitty.” Sheldon’s love for “Star Trek,” Professor Proton and spaghetti with chopped up hotdogs are also referenced early on in the series.
But despite their similarities, the two Sheldons are not identical. Instead of being presented with a smaller carbon copy of old Sheldon, viewers see young Sheldon slowly transform into the man they know and love from the adult show. “What you’re seeing is [how] Sheldon became what we’re seeing in the adult show,” Parsons noted. “All the things that you associate with Sheldon now, you see how they got there through [young Sheldon].”
The audience gets to watch Sheldon discover his love for superheroes when his best friend, Tam, introduces him to the comic book fandom. His dislike for geology begins when his rock-loving friend disrespects him. Viewers see him make his first hot beverage, adopt his famous catchphrase, “Bazinga,” and write his first Relationship Agreement.
Even more intriguing are the prequel’s hints about Sheldon’s future, even after “The Big Bang Theory” storyline comes to a close. Parson’s voiceovers reference his future children multiple times throughout the series, even revealing in the Season 3 finale that the name of his future son is Leonard Cooper. The voice of Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik) shows up for the first time in this episode as well.
However, despite the numerous connections that “Young Sheldon” has to “The Big Bang Theory,” even those who aren’t fans of the original show can still enjoy the newer show on its own. As Chuck Lorre commented, the show “lives and dies by its own merits.” The prequel’s unique style and storytelling techniques make it enjoyable to all sitcom fans, and the references to “The Big Bang Theory” don’t detract from the experience for new viewers.
Although they may have characters in common, the two shows are quite stylistically different. “The Big Bang Theory” zeroes in on the comedic aspect, and it can always get viewers to chuckle with its hilarious one-liners and frequent use of the laugh track. Even in serious moments, “The Big Bang Theory” finds a way to bring humor to the situation.
“Young Sheldon,” on the other hand, puts less emphasis on punchlines and more on world-building. The single-camera format and absence of a live studio audience bring a more intimate and grounded tone to the show. “Young Sheldon” still has many comical moments, but they tend to be less laugh-out-loud funny and more subtly clever. Although the prequel may be less humorous on the surface, many fans believe it to be funnier than “The Big Bang Theory” because of how thoroughly thought-out the jokes are.
Whether you prefer “Young Sheldon” or “The Big Bang Theory,” it’s hard to deny the tremendous entertainment value of both shows. If you’re a sitcom-lover, try tuning in to “Young Sheldon” on CBS, and check out all 12 seasons of “The Big Bang Theory” on HBO Max or Amazon. Neither of these shows will disappoint.