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The Journal Gazette

Monday, September 25, 2017 1:00 am

Spinoff 'Sheldon' keeps roots in original show

Jay Bobbin | Zap2it

How would “The Big Bang Theory's” Sheldon Cooper have been as a child?

As its title suggests, the prequel series “Young Sheldon” answers that question more than sufficiently. Debuting today – right after the 11th-season premiere of the parent show, and before it starts its regular Thursday run in November – the CBS comedy introduces Iain Armitage as the younger incarnation of the brainy, fussy Sheldon, who's expectedly way wiser than his years. The show also retains the voice, literally, of “Big Bang” Emmy winner Jim Parsons in the title role: An executive producer of “Young Sheldon,” he also narrates it.

“When we shot the pilot,” Parsons recalls, “I was able to interact with Iain a lot, and kind of discuss certain things that are peculiar to this character. Whether it was just lines or moments in general or Sheldon's take on the world, it's interesting for us to go over together. I have to tell you that, in the same way that we're mining the writing for what they've been putting in for 10 years, it was very moving for me to see this 'machine' take off that's related to all that. You don't think that your putting together these kind of things are going to add up to something like this. And to see it come back like that is very exciting.”

Seen as Shailene Woodley's son in HBO's “Big Little Lies,” Armitage auditioned to become “Young Sheldon” by recording an iPhone video at his grandmother's house in Georgia.

The result won over the show's makers. Executive producer Chuck Lorre remembers Parsons' initial reaction being, “I think we just got extremely lucky,” though Armitage hadn't seen much of “The Big Bang Theory.” The 9-year-old actor reasons, “It is aimed at a different audience than me. Also, I don't watch a lot of TV, but I saw a couple of appropriate clips.”

Annie Potts will play Sheldon's grandmother, or “Meemaw,” and another intriguing piece of “Young Sheldon” casting is that of the character's mother. Laurie Metcalf has appeared as Mary Cooper on “The Big Bang Theory”; on the spinoff, the role is assumed by Potts' daughter, Zoe Perry.

“Genetics do a lot for me,” Perry says of following her mother in the part. “Certain mannerisms just come with the territory. Upon knowing I was going to audition for this, I rewatched all the ('Big Bang') episodes that she was in, because I just wanted to be sure that I was in the same ballpark as her. I think what's so wonderful and a privilege to play Mary Cooper at this age is that we don't know her at that stage of her life yet, so I think it provides me a little bit of flexibility.”

Unlike “The Big Bang Theory” and his other comedies (“Mom,” “Two and a Half Men,” etc.), “Young Sheldon” is the first of Lorre's shows not to be filmed in front of a studio audience.

“It's more intimate,” the producer notes. “The pacing, obviously, is very different. The actors aren't having to 'hold' for laughs; they're not playing to the proscenium. Also, we knew going in that we were going to be working with a cast of young children, and it seemed like the more appropriate way for them to get the best work – in a closed setting where they had the time to develop these characters.”