What Young Sheldon Is Missing From The Big Bang Theory’s Formula


While Young Sheldon’s divergences from The Big Bang Theory formula helped the show to establish its own identity, they also meant that the spinoff missed out on one of the earlier show’s best elements. While Young Sheldon is a spinoff from The Big Bang Theory, the two shows are very different in terms of style and tone. The Big Bang Theory was a contemporary multi-camera hang-out show with a laugh track, while Young Sheldon is a single-camera family sitcom without a live audience and a more nostalgic, coming-of-age bent.

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Not only are there inconsistencies between Young Sheldon’s version of events and Sheldon’s recollections in The Big Bang Theory, but there are also a lot of dramatic, soapy plots featured in the spinoff that would not have appeared in the earlier show. By and large, The Big Bang Theory was a low-stakes sitcom that focused on the antics and misfortunes of its characters, while Young Sheldon is often a more dramatic series that touches on issues like infidelity and teenage pregnancy. However, there are still some elements of The Big Bang Theory’s formula that Young Sheldon could learn from and some recurring stories that the spinoff could benefit from borrowing.

Young Sheldon’s status as a family sitcom robs the spinoff of one thing that helped make The Big Bang Theory such a huge hit, namely Sheldon’s interactions with his peers. While Young Sheldon’s battles with his adult co-workers make for amusing viewing (and can occasionally give surprising insight into the origins of his The Big Bang Theory foibles), the spinoff is missing Sheldon’s comical struggles to maintain friendships because the series rarely focuses on the title character’s peers. Although Sheldon has friends in Young Sheldon (despite his Big Bang Theory counterpart’s claims to the contrary), the spinoff rarely focuses on these characters for entire subplots. This means Young Sheldon misses out on one of The Big Bang Theory’s richest veins for character comedy and drama alike.

The Big Bang Theory & Young Sheldon’s Differences

The Big Bang Theory was a hang-out show where Young Sheldon is a family sitcom, meaning that the former is lighter, focusing on a small friend group’s romantic, professional, and personal antics, while the latter is more sentimental, focusing on dysfunctional family dynamics. Young Sheldon’s dramatic storylines, which touch on the breakdown of George Sr and Mary’s marriage, feel organic thanks to the show’s focus on a family, but leave little room for silly misadventures among Sheldon’s peer group. In comparison, The Big Bang Theory featured only a small handful of episodes throughout the show’s twelve seasons that could reasonably be called tearjerkers, with the hang-out show often prioritizing goofy punchlines over character focus.

Why Young Sheldon’s Family Focus Works

Since The Big Bang Theory was squarely focused on a small group of adults, the show never gave viewers an idea of what Sheldon was like among peers that he hadn’t hand-picked. Young Sheldon filled in this blank and the show’s focus on the Cooper family has made Sheldon’s world feel more lived-in and believable. Like one of the show’s most obvious influences, the earlier working-class family sitcom Roseanne, Young Sheldon mixes moving moments that prove the central characters really love each other with punchlines. This was something that The Big Bang Theory focused on less since, while the gang did care for each other, they were inevitably more self-sufficient and independent as adult friends than the Cooper children are in Young Sheldon.

Why Young Sheldon Needs The Big Bang Theory’s Formula

Although Sheldon has friends in Young Sheldon, his interactions with them don’t tend to form the main body of his primary plots. Young Sheldon tends to focus on his academic and professional travails as well as his family’s antics, but plots like Paige’s arc prove that Young Sheldoncan shine when the show focuses on the title character’s attempts to form friendships with peers his own age. Every appearance from Paige has tended to be a fan-favorite Young Sheldon episode, and for good reason since Sheldon’s interactions with a friend/rival his own age make for compelling viewing. While it is fun to see Sheldon outsmart his elders (and just as often find himself outsmarted by them), seeing the character form the sort of dysfunctional, one-sided friendships he had in The Big Bang Theory can also be funny, poignant, and interesting for viewers invested in the character’s backstory.

While it can be tricky for Young Sheldon to justify lighter episodes focused on Sheldon himself, the spinoff doesn’t always remember The Big Bang Theory’s original appeal before dismissing these outings. One of the funniest episodes in Young Sheldon season 5 ignored Mary and George’s failing marriage and George Jr’s messy relationship with Mandy completely to focus on the simple story of Sheldon secretly attending his first comic convention during Spring Break, and the outing’s story proved that Sheldon’s own stories as a younger version of his The Big Bang Theory self are worth watching in and of themselves. Young Sheldon doesn’t often aim to recreate the tone of The Big Bang Theory, but the spinoff could benefit from some of the earlier hit’s focus on Sheldon’s life outside of work.

How Young Sheldon Can Recapture The Big Bang Theory’s Appeal

More stories involving Sheldon’s dorm mates, fellow child prodigies like Paige, and other peers closer to his own age could help to avoid Young Sheldon season 6’s darker family drama taking over the spinoff’s next outing. After all, Young Sheldon viewers were originally attracted to the spinoff by years of watching Sheldon and his Big Bang Theory friends interact, meaning the show could afford to bring back this star focus for at least a few of its upcoming episodes. While this doesn’t mean that Young Sheldon can’t keep paying attention to the rest of the Cooper clan (and indeed, the season 5 episode mentioned above does feature a subplot about Mary trying out a new sales job), it does mean that The Big Bang Theory spinoff would do well to recapture some of the earlier show’s tone. More stories about The Big Bang Theory’s eventual hero navigating social life as a young man despite his eccentricities could help Young Sheldon bring back this lighter, funnier story balance.

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