Anyone expecting 'more Big Bang' will be sorely disappointed by Young Sheldon. This is a very different kind of show - and a far, far better show than we had any right to expect. Young Sheldon could have been a quick cash-in on the huge popularity of Big Bang Theory. But it turns out to be a whole new thing, only loosely connected to the previous show.
True, Young Sheldon does pick up the backstory established for the Sheldon of Big Bang. But the writing takes off in a whole new direction. Gone are the zippy one-liners, the exaggerated characters, the zaniness, What we get instead is something no one could have predicted: heart.
It's a huge mistake to think of Young Sheldon as a prequel to Big Bang. Think of it, instead, as a 21st Century reboot of Leave It to Beaver. This is a slice-of-life story of growing up in Texas. Instead of being set-bound like Big Bang, Young Sheldon is shot largely on locations. Instead of being stylized, it's realistic. Instead of being glib, it's thoughtful. There's plenty of humor, but it's gentler and more complex.
The third episode, for example, deals with a child coming to grip with the possible death of a parent, and with the role of faith in his very logical universe. The script doesn't judge, and it doesn't forget to be, at times, hilariously funny. (The last line had us in stitches.)
The acting is uniformly superb. Sheldon's mom perfectly evokes Laurie Metcalf's older version from Big Bang. Annie Potts playing Sheldon's 'Meemaw' is as brilliant as she's ever been (and that's saying quite a lot.) And then there's Iaian Armitage in the title role. He doesn't mimic the older Sheldon, but he does ring absolutely true as a precocious yet naive kid, totally out of step with his surroundings. After watching him for a half-hour, I no longer cared whether he was supposed to be a younger version of some other character. He's a totally memorable character in his own right.
Chuck Lorre has taken a huge risk, defying audience expectations with Young Sheldon. Let's hope he and Steven Molaro (who've co-written the early episodes) can keep the series going as powerfully as it has begun. And hope also that audiences can shake off their addiction to Big Bang Theory long enough to appreciate something that's as fresh and ground-breaking today as Big Bang was eleven years ago.