Just like millions of people throughout the country, I tune in to watch The Big Bang Theory from time to time. I started watching the show with my parents around age fourteen and we pretty much fell in love with the show. Recently, since moving to college, I have fallen behind on a couple seasons. Of course I still enjoy the show whenever I watch it, but it was only recently that something quite quizzical caught my attention. It was just a week ago that I saw on my Facebook feed a link to the YouTube video of the trailer for CBS's TBBT (The Big Bang Theory) spinoff show, Young Sheldon. If you haven't seen it, I recommend you watch the video here before continuing my article.
As I was quite curious myself, I decided to watch the video. In the process, I found myself asking, "Why?" With more of an air of curiosity than criticism, I questioned the necessity or purpose of having a spinoff series featuring TBBT's most popular character. Of course the writers and producers can easily assume that this show will rake in reasonable ratings due to the popularity of Sheldon himself. But what intrigued me more is what the purpose of the show could possibly be. Obviously, Young Sheldon's primary plot is to tell the story of a young Sheldon Cooper, but is it supposed to portray it in a more humorously or dramedy type? Personally, just from the trailer, I would guess that Young Sheldon is aimed to be a comedy, much like it's big brother counterpart. One of my first impressions of the trailer was how striking the resemblance of the child actor to Jim Parson's portrayal of Sheldon; he looks like, talks like, and even moves like the adult Sheldon, which is good note on the part of the child actor. However, this similarity got me thinking about a bigger issue.
Some of the largest reasons why Sheldon is such a humorous character on TBBT are because of his socially awkward quips and observations that would seem to be more appropriate if he kept them in his head. Sheldon has also experienced difficulties in detecting other people's emotions and actions, and whether or not he should take things personally or not. These factors have remained key not only to Sheldon's character, but also to his comedic value throughout the show's ten-year run (thus far). On a few separate occasions, when Sheldon says or does something inadvertently offensive or insulting by stating his opinion or making an awkward observation, he tends to be written off as "quirky", quoth the show's other main protagonist Leonard Hofstadter and other main characters. Oddly enough, watching the trailer for Young Sheldon reminded me specifically of this occurrence in TBBT. From what the trailer shows, most of the "funny" instances include Young Sheldon making obtrusive observations about other people (and accidentally insulting them), being picky about making physical contact with his family members, and arguing with his siblings. In the big picture, it's important to realize why Sheldon is the way he is.
Sheldon has high-functioning autism, or more specifically, Asperger's Syndrome (AS).
TBBT makes no attempts to cover this up or pretend that Sheldon isn't the way he is, but they still have yet to address is outright on the show. Viewers are painfully aware that Sheldon is something more than just "quirky" when he says inappropriately-timed observations and such, but there's a problem with this. If viewers are unaware that Sheldon acts the way he does because of AS, then they just assume that his mannerisms and such are just funny little traits about him for the sake of comedy. This is why I feel the necessity of TBBT to come out and give what Sheldon has an actual name, instead of just having Sheldon say, "Sometimes I find it hard to read other people's emotions." This is because autistic characters in film/TV are not just a joke. Autism is a real mental condition afflicting hundreds of thousands of people across the world, and when media attempts "accurate portrayal" of people with autism, they're only portrayed as a comedic ploy to be laughed at when they say things that are inappropriate or make rude observations.
Now, I'm not trying to slander TBBT or Young Sheldon for being insensitive monsters to those with autism. I just feel a little wary of a show that sometimes uses autism for laughs, especially when a spinoff show is created where we only laugh because of the child with autism. Since Young Sheldon has not aired yet, I can't formulate a reasonable opinion of the show based on the trailer alone. At the moment, all I can do is hope that in Young Sheldon, the writers really address the way Sheldon is with respect and open-mindedness. As we can see in the end of the trailer, Sheldon shows a moment of interpersonal emotion by removing the mittens from his hand to actually hold hands with his father. There are little moments just like this strewn about in TBBT as well, which are very beautiful moments to behold. It shows that people with autism aren't completely incapable of breaking their comfort zone and learning about things that scare them. People with autism are not just a joke for us to laugh at; they're real people that deserve as much respect as anyone else. It is important for people who do not have autism to learn and understand why autistic people are the way they are, and seeing them more than just as a person who "says inappropriate things therefore it's funny." TBBT and Young Sheldon made an inadvertently bold move when deciding to include a prominent character with autism/AS. This opens up a real opportunity to educate their viewers on subjects some of us have never dealt with before. Hopefully the writers decide to treat Sheldon and all their viewers with autism some respect and dignity by treating them as more than just something we laugh at.
For more knowledge on autism/AS, try the links here and here.