Throughout 10 seasons of The Big Bang Theory, audiences have gotten to know and love Sheldon Cooper, the brilliant and infuriating theoretical physicist played to precise perfection by Jim Parsons.

With Big Bang's long-standing status as the most-watched show on television, and mainstream pop culture's tendency to wring every last drop out of any success, a spin-off was surely inevitable.

Enter Young Sheldon: A new prequel that explores Sheldon's oft-referenced Texas upbringing.

"The origins of Sheldon have been something we've been interested in writing about for a couple-hundred episodes of The Big Bang Theory," says co-creator Chuck Lorre on the LA set of the new show. "And so, when Jim sent me an email discussing the possibility of actually taking it a step further, it just seemed like the greatest idea in the world."


Sheldon is 9 years old in the 1989-set series, with breakout star Iain Armitage (who played Shailene Woodley's son in last year's smash-hit Big Little Lies) taking on the titular character. Although he's been well-received in the role, Armitage admits he's never actually watched The Big Bang Theory.

"Well, I don't watch that much TV anyway," says Armitage. "But it is aimed at a different audience than me. It's not really for me. But I saw a couple of appropriate clips."

Equally endearing and precocious, in way that only young actors are, Armitage says he enjoys playing Sheldon.

"I like that he's smart, obviously. He's an interesting character, not particularly hard to play but he isn't easy either. And you kind of have to think totally differently because he's this incredibly smart kid and I'm not. This guy [points to Parsons] helps me with a lot of it, kind of putting me in the mindset."

Parsons, who has won four Emmys playing Sheldon in Big Bang, is involved in the new series as an executive producer, as well as narrating the series.

"When we shot the pilot, I was able to interact with Iain a lot and kind of discuss certain things that are peculiar to this character," Parsons explains. "And whether it was just lines or moments in general or Sheldon's take on the world, you know, it's an interesting topic for us to go over together. I have to tell you that it was a very moving experience for me to see something that I've put a decade of my life toward. To see it come back like this is very exciting."

Iain Armitage, who starred in last year's hit series Big Little Lies, plays Young Sheldon.
Iain Armitage, who starred in last year's hit series Big Little Lies, plays Young Sheldon.

Parsons admits his upbringing shares few similarities with Sheldon's.

"Mine was completely different," Parsons says. "I was not an overly bright child. I was mediocre. I didn't befuddle my parents. That came much later, with my sexuality. So, no, it's very different. And to the point of Iain, Iain's so much more in control as a human being than I was back then. So, yeah, very little in common, but I am enjoying watching it happen immensely."

There are many elements in Young Sheldon that will be familiar to Big Bang fans: his beloved grandmother 'Meemaw' has a large presence on the show and is played by sitcom legend Annie Potts (Designing Women, Ghostbusters). And in an inspired piece of casting, Sheldon's famously devout mother Mary is played by Zoe Perry, the real-life daughter of Laurie Metcalf, who plays the older version of Mary on Big Bang.

But there's one big difference that will strike viewers immediately. Unlike Big Bang, which is filmed in front of a live audience in the classic multi-camera sitcom format, Young Sheldon is shot single-camera style, like a movie, and doesn't feature a laugh-track.

"We knew going in that we were going to be working with a cast of young children," explains Lorre. "And it seemed like the more appropriate way for them to do the best work was in a closed setting where they had the time to develop these characters. It's an entirely different way to tell a story. The comedy plays differently. The moments are more intimate. It's been quite a learning curve. But I love the opportunities we get, the details are more available to us as writers."

Young Sheldon has been a huge success right out of the gate and a second season has already been commissioned.

"It's very exciting, says Parsons. "Ten years would be lovely. But yeah, who knows, I hope so. It's going very well so far."

Who: Chuck Lorre, Iain Armitage and Jim Parsons
What: Young Sheldon
When: Monday, 9pm
Where: TVNZ2