Young Sheldon’s Most Ambitious Episode Made The Big Bang Theory So Much Sadder

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While Young Sheldon‘s penultimate episode was arguably The Big Bang Theory‘s spinoff’s most ambitious outing, its experimental style was in service of a tragic character detail. Broadly speaking, Young Sheldon was not particularly interested in formal experimentation. Some sitcoms, like 30 Rock and Community, are stuffed with meta-gags that lean on the fourth wall, acknowledge the show’s status as a TV show, and play with familiar television conventions to subvert audience expectations. In contrast, Young Sheldon’s cast of characters provided most of the show’s laughs, and, broadly speaking, the series was a traditional single-camera family sitcom with the usual tropes.

There was an adult narrator recalling their childhood, a dysfunctional but loving family, and an older character who was comically brazen and outspoken. Young Sheldon’s stories were original and fun, but their formula was familiar thanks to shows like The Wonder Years, Everybody Hates Chris, and Malcolm in the Middle. That said, Young Sheldon’s series finale subverted expectations by playing with the show’s formula. The final episode, season 7, episode 14, “Memoir,” introduced the show’s narrator as an onscreen character, but it was the preceding episode that pushed Young Sheldon’s boundaries and showcased the spinoff’s surprising ambition.

Young Sheldon’s “Funeral” Was Unusually Ambitious

George Sr. and Sheldon’s Conversations Were Perfectly Staged

Whenever Young Sheldon cut back to his grieving family, who grew increasingly frustrated with him staring into space, the title character’s plight became more tragic and moving.

Young Sheldon’s penultimate episode “Funeral” focused on the funeral of Sheldon’s father, George Sr. The event impacted the entire Cooper family, but “Funeral” was particularly invested in how Sheldon coped with the tragedy internally. “Funeral” proved just how much Sheldon struggles with reality, as the show’s title character spent the entire episode replaying his final conversation with his father in his mind. This was an atypically risky, ambitious storytelling gambit for such a conventional series, but it was one that paid off in an outing that could rival Young Sheldon’s best episode when it comes to heartbreaking storytelling.

Watching Lance Barber’s George Sr. and Iain Armitage’s Sheldon repeatedly go through new iterations of the same scene was trippy by Young Sheldon’s standards, but it was also a perfect illustration of Sheldon’s unique grief. Whenever Young Sheldon cut back to his grieving family, who grew increasingly frustrated with him staring into space, the title character’s plight became more tragic and moving. “Funeral” proved something that The Big Bang Theory avoided acknowledging, and Young Sheldon danced around for years. Namely, Sheldon isn’t a thoughtless or callous person but rather someone who sees the world differently and can’t help that fact.

Young Sheldon’s Second-Last Episode Illustrated Sheldon’s Internal World

Sheldon Replayed His Last Conversation With George Sr Endlessly

Sheldon’s unique grief alienated him from his sister Missy when his looping thoughts made him appear distracted during George Sr.’s funeral planning.

Sheldon couldn’t contend with the fact that a bland exchange of pleasantries was his last interaction with his father, so he was stuck in a loop coming up with new endings for their conversation. Young Sheldon’s finale made Sheldon’s character arc sadder by confirming that much of the character’s supposed arrogance was rooted in a need to control his surroundings and feel a sense of order in his world. “Funeral” saw Young Sheldon invite viewers to see how Sheldon’s way of processing the world impacted his relationships with family and friends, and it was surprisingly poignant to watch.

Sheldon’s unique grief alienated him from his sister Missy when his looping thoughts made him appear distracted during George Sr.’s funeral planning. His inability to understand the sentimental significance of his father’s empty chair led to awkward, angry confrontations with Georgie, much like Missy’s inability to understand the jokes at Young Sheldon’s George Sr. funeral resulted in her feeling like his memory was being insulted. Sheldon’s struggles with looping thoughts made him more sympathetic than ever before. They proved that The Big Bang Theory’s hero wasn’t intentionally acting obstinate, but trying to make sense of the world around him.

Young Sheldon’s Penultimate Episode Illustrated A Tragic TBBT Truth

Sheldon’s Obstinacy Wasn’t Born Out Of Arrogance

While Sheldon was certainly conceited, it was arguably unfair for The Big Bang Theory to treat this as a straightforward character flaw. Judging by the events of “Funeral,” he was seemingly genuinely unable to see things from another point of view. Seeing him struggle to accept his last conversation with his father was a poignant reminder that he had a hard time contending with reality when it failed to meet his expectations. Meemaw and Sturgis’s Young Sheldon relationship touched on similar themes when the theoretical physicist’s years of work in abstract academia resulted in a breakdown and period of mental ill health.

It is tough to finish watching “Funeral” without feeling like Sheldon was somewhat misrepresented throughout both shows. Sheldon’s demanding attitude was generally portrayed as a character flaw and his heart-warming Nobel Prize acceptance speech was moving precisely because it saw the self-centered character acknowledge how much gratitude he owed to his family and friends. However, “Funeral” used a formative tragedy to prove that Sheldon’s demeanor wasn’t a result of petty stubbornness or self-aggrandizement. These were factors, but the root cause was his struggle to accept a disordered, chaotic world that was apt to break his heart without warning.

Young Sheldon Made The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon More Sympathetic

George Sr’s Death Shaped Sheldon’s Future Friendships

Far from being a thoughtless, emotionless character, Sheldon was as deeply affected by his father’s death as the rest of his family and simply unable to communicate this in the same terms as them.

Sheldon’s inability to let a small slight go and his conviction that seemingly random things like his “Spot” needed to be safeguarded were both mirrored in his attempts to rework his last conversation with George Sr. Young Sheldon’s series finale didn’t justify every detail of the Cooper family’s future, but it did offer a meaningful justification for Sheldon’s behavior throughout both shows. Where he was previously portrayed as a lovably annoying intellectual with delusions of grandeur, “Funeral” proved Sheldon was just an ordinary kid trying to make sense of a tragedy with the tools he had to hand.

Sheldon is often spoken of in euphemistic terms, with Penny comparing him to a child, his mother doting on him, and his friends making excuses for him. “Funeral” justifies this by giving viewers more insight into Sheldon’s internal world than ever before. Far from being a thoughtless, emotionless character, he was as deeply affected by his father’s death as the rest of his family and simply unable to communicate this in the same terms as them. Seeing Young Sheldon’s hero sitting unmoored among his grieving family, it was hard not to feel for The Big Bang Theory’s misunderstood antihero.

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