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Young Sheldon even better than adult version in "Big Bang Theory"

September 25, 2017 Updated: September 25, 2017 at 4:56 pm
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"Pilot" -- Pictured (L-R): Montana Jordan as Georgie, Iain Armitage as Young Sheldon, Lance Barber as George, Sr, Zoe Perry as Mary and Raegan Revord as Missy. 9-year old Sheldon Cooper is a once-in-a-generation mind capable of advanced mathematics and science but learns that isn\'t always helpful growing up in East Texas, a land where church and football are king, on the special series debut of the new comedy YOUNG SHELDON, Monday, Sept. 25 (8:30-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. YOUNG SHELDON moves to Thursdays (8:30-9:00 PM, ET/PT) as of Nov. 2. Photo: Robert Voets/CBS ©2017 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Cast: Iain Armitage ("Big Little Lies""), Zoe Perry ("Scandal," "The Family"), Lance Barber ("The Comeback" "Black-ish"), Annie Potts ("Designing Women," "Ghostbusters"), Jim Parsons ("The Big Bang Theory"), Raegan Revord ("Modern Family") and newcomer Montana Jordan

Airs: The season premiere airs at 7:30 p.m. Monday on CBS

The premise: Growing up in east Texas in 1989 isn't easy for 9-year-old Sheldon Cooper (Ian Armitage). Brilliant and mature for his age, his analytical nature and blunt language don't have a place in a small town where football reigns supreme. And Sheldon's about to start his freshman year at the high school attended by older brother Georgie (Montana Jordan). But Sheldon always has one person in his corner, his doting and protective mother, Mary (Zoe Perry).

This new CBS series is a spin-off of the long-running sitcom "The Big Bang Theory." Chuck Lorre and Steven Molaro created it, and Jim Parsons is one of the executive producers.

Highs: In many ways, 9-year-old Sheldon is significantly more interesting than his adult counterpart. The pre-teen model is adorable and likable but with all of the adult's idiosyncrasies, which makes him a lot of fun to watch. Of course, Sheldon still grates on those around him and has a penchant for being unintentionally rude. But his naiveté makes the diminutive Sheldon's brusque demeanor easily forgivable and quite charming. It's a lot easier to be entertained by a hyper-intelligent, oblivious child than by a hyper-intelligent, oblivious adult.

This view only applies to the audience, however. Sheldon offends and even angers plenty of people, mostly in his family. His twin sister, played with aplomb by Raegan Revord, is savvy enough to know the dangers an egghead like her brother will face in high school, and she isn't afraid to scare him with details. She also threatens to lick his toothbrush and kick him in the groin. A father who doesn't understand him and a brother who never gets any attention because of his younger sibling leaves few family allies.

His problems aren't confined to home. At school, he questions one staff member's credentials, accuses another of being in breach of the hygiene code and points out the facial hair of a female teacher. The ensuing negative attention would make a person with less spirit fold. But not Sheldon. He's surprisingly confident. His strength comes from a heartwarming relationship with his mother. In many respects, they're the only family members who understand each other despite not having much in common.

Lows: This sitcom has a strong "us against the world" vibe. It works well in the pilot, but if left unchecked can lead to Sheldon being an isolated character. While annoying, even adult Sheldon has a circle of trusted friends. Yet we get no hint of that in the pilot. Watching Sheldon belittle adults and teenagers is OK for a while. But without some characters begrudgingly accepting him for who he is, the boy genius will turn into a lonely figure.

Grade: (B) When his mother says other students might be intimidated by him, Sheldon replies: "Maybe they'll recognize my intellect and make me their leader." That line would be funny from Jim Parsons, but it works even better when spoken by Iain Armitage, which is why this new series works. "Young Sheldon" is a smarter, more humorous and heartfelt show than "The Big Bang Theory." Adult Sheldon is entertaining, but young Sheldon is even better.

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Gazette media columnist Terry Terrones is a member of the Television Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @terryterrones.

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