Young Sheldon makes its return with its second episode, “Rockets, Communists, and the Dewey Decimal System.” The episode is actually equal parts endearing and everything that’s questionable about Chuck Lorre’s sense of humor. It’s clear the writers are still finding their footing in the translation of tone and humor from multicam to single cam with the show, but there is certainly a notable seed of good story in this show, with the potential to become something completely its own, separate from the multicam giant that gave birth to its existence.
I say ‘everything that’s wrong with Chuck Lorre’s sense of humor’ because Chuck Lorre shows have a tendency to make fun of things and shine a light on things that the show can’t fully understand or address. In the Big Bang Theory, it’s ‘nice guy’ culture and the depiction of socially awkward men and their treatment of women. In this week’s episode of Young Sheldon, it’s Sheldon’s new ‘friend’ that he’s made – an older, equally antisocial vietnamese boy whose parents are essentially refugees of the Vietnam war.
Ecstatic that her son has finally found a friend, Mary has Sheldon invite the boy over for dinner, where he proceeds to tell Sheldon’s family about his family’s misfortune. He details his father’s choice to fight with the Americans, how the government forced him to go through reeducation about communism and how he and his mother lived very poorly while his father was away, and then how they moved to America, where his parents work 16 hour days for very poor pay.
It’s an awkward moment, and it’s meant to be, as the Coopers aren’t expecting a story like this to come from Sheldon’s ‘friend.’ And therein lies what is supposed to be the joke: here is this country-southern white family, middle class, completely unaware of the social problems and worldly burdens that inflict and surround them.
But the joke is a throwaway; nothing comes of it. It doesn’t spark one of the characters to seek change in anyway, and it doesn’t even get addressed – Sheldon just comments that it’s “depressing.” And the show moves on.
I don’t really have an answer for how this joke could have played better – I give kudos to the show for addressing it at all. The writers could have very easily chosen to make Sheldon’s friend white and completely ignored cultural diversity or the very timeliness of Vietnam conflict during the period when the show is set. I think it’s great that they decided to add some complexity and depth to the kid who might wind up having some growing screen time with Sheldon as the show progresses. But do I think they incorporated that background story in the best way possible? Definitely not.
I also think the show could do with diversifying its story focus. So far, the show has Sheldon and his mother as the main characters, with Sheldon’s father, his brother, and his sister simply in recurring, supporting roles. However, we’ve seen the too-smart-for-his-britches, trying-to-get-through-high-school story before, even if it hasn’t necessarily been through the eyes of someone on the spectrum. What would really make this show dynamic is to expand upon the world in which young Sheldon lives. Who are his family members outside of Sheldon’s interactions with them? What makes them tick and do the things they do? How does this shape their relationship (or lack thereof) with Sheldon? These are all questions I hope the show plans to answer. I think doing so will really form a world audiences will be happy to retreat to once a week.
Season 1, Episode 2 (S01E02)
Young Sheldon airs Thursdays at 830PM on CBS
Tasha is a freelance writer currently based in Los Angeles. Originally from Kansas, when she’s not writing about or watching TV, Tasha is searching for the best BBQ place in LA to fill the KC BBQ hole in her stomach.
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Tasha Cerny | Contributor