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Young Sheldon’s Database Story Sharply Separates Itself From TBBT’s Tone
2023/08/02

Warning: Contains SPOILERS for Young Sheldon season 6.

In Young Sheldon season 6, the handling of Sheldon's grant database plotline draws a distinct contrast between the spinoff and its predecessor The Big Bang Theory. When The Big Bang Theory's spinoff Young Sheldon premiered in 2018, few viewers could have predicted that the series would have a darker, more mature tone than its predecessor. After all, The Big Bang Theory's silliest, most over-the-top character was Sheldon and the sitcom's brief glimpses of his family assured viewers that they were as goofy as their most famous member. However, Young Sheldon did end up taking itself more seriously than The Big Bang Theory.

From the outset, Young Sheldon's Big Bang Theory backstory felt different from its predecessor. For one thing, Young Sheldon was a single-camera sitcom while The Big Bang Theory was a more traditional multi-camera hang-out show with a laugh track. This made Young Sheldon feel more nostalgic and less stagey than The Big Bang Theory. This tonal contrast was further accentuated when many of Young Sheldon's storylines focused on more serious subjects than The Big Bang Theory. This became particularly pronounced by Young Sheldon season 6, at which point The Big Bang Theory spinoff was juggling plots about pregnancy, infidelity, and teen drinking, sidelining Sheldon's own story about a grant database.

The Big Bang Theory's Stories Centered Sheldon

The primary reason that Young Sheldon season 6 ended up feeling so much more serious than The Big Bang Theory was that the spinoff doesn't, despite its title, focus on Sheldon. This was particularly notable in Young Sheldon season 6, episode 14, "A Launch Party and a Whole Human Being." Not only did this outing devote more screen time to George and Mary's Young Sheldon breakup than the eponymous launch party, but even the title itself contrasted the difference between Mandy giving birth and Sheldon's comparatively insignificant launch party.

This proves Sheldon is often incidental to the most dramatic stories in Young Sheldon.

The story of Sheldon's attempts to fund and operate a grant database has been a comedic subplot in Young Sheldon season 6, whereas this would have dominated the action of The Big Bang Theory. The Big Bang Theory's stories revolved around Sheldon, the show's most larger-than-life figure, while he is often relegated to the background of his spinoff. In the opening of "A Launch Party and a Whole Human Being," Sheldon's parents even admitted that they don't understand the database, and they were not particularly concerned about it.

When Missy is told "it's Sheldon's big day," she sardonically replied by asking when it isn't Sheldon's big day, further underlining this perspective shift.

Young Sheldon Made Its Title Character Less Important

The events of "A Launch Party and a Whole Human Being" episode reflected Missy's view, as Mandy, Georgie, George, Mary, and Missy all got into dramatic storylines while Sheldon's much-touted database launch proved an anticlimactic letdown. This Young Sheldon problem was caused by The Big Bang Theory spinoff aiming for a more dramatic tone than its predecessor.

This meant that Young Sheldon couldn't focus on Sheldon as he is an inherently comical character. While the romantic storyline of The Big Bang Theory focused on Leonard and Penny, most of its weekly standalone stories were centered around Sheldon's antics.

In contrast, the serious subjects that Young Sheldon touches on and the soap operatics of the character's family mean that the spinoff has little use for its title character. Despite ostensibly chronicling Sheldon's life before The Big Bang Theory, Young Sheldon focuses on the character less than the original series. This is unavoidable due to the spinoff's tone, but it does mean that Young Sheldon retcons The Big Bang Theory's backstory a lot.

To make Mary, Missy, Georgie, and George Sr compelling characters, Young Sheldon needed to humanize their cartoony personae from The Big Bang Theory.

Why This Works For Young Sheldon Season 6

Sheldon's grant database plot didn't have major stakes, instead acting as a buffer between more serious storylines like George and Mary's marriage and Georgie and Mandy's pregnancy. This resulted in Sheldon himself playing a less central role in a show that is theoretically about him. Fortunately, focusing less on Sheldon and more on his family works for Young Sheldon. The spinoff has a more dramatic tone than its predecessor and thus feels less like a rehash of The Big Bang Theory. Meanwhile, Young Sheldon sidelining The Big Bang Theory's cartoony character means that star Ian Armitage has a chance to put a fresh spin on Sheldon without carrying the series.

Young Sheldon returns May 30 on CBS

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