“The Big Bang Theory” may have rocketed into the stratosphere as one of the world’s most popular sitcoms, but it’s definitely had some rocky moments. The show has drawn mixed commentary since its CBS debut, with viewers and critics alike pointing out the program’s sexism and its rarely-evolving characters. Viewers have even noticed that the show’s actors fail to chew their food during those ubiquitous takeout and Cheesecake Factory scenes, leading to “The Big Bang Theory” having some of the worst fake eating in television history. In short — no pop culture icon is perfect.
And those issues show up in the finished series. Just take a look at what didn’t end up on the air in the form of the show’s first, and unaired, pilot. This initial installment lacks much of its future supporting cast and features an entirely different sort of attitude. Can you imagine Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) and Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki) donating their sperm for desperately-needed cash? It happens in this pilot. The presentation also features Sheldon sipping beer and frankly discussing his adult magazine preferences, having selected an issue featuring women “with large buttocks.”
This is a far cry from the Sheldon we come to know and love in the actual series and its prequel, “Young Sheldon.” The episode leans in the direction of Chuck Lorre’s more cynical work — it feels like a more intellectual version of “Two and a Half Men” than the more heartfelt middle ground he’s trod with “Dharma and Greg,” “Mom” and “The Big Bang Theory” itself. While the pilot is overall weaker, Sheldon is definitely the worst part of it because it fails to capture the qualities that make him captivating in the first place.
Sheldon’s unique nature doesn’t shine through in the pilot
The biggest problem the pilot version of Sheldon Cooper is that it ignores why he’s such a special character within the sitcom ecosystem. His social awkwardness, his quirkiness, his neurosis and even his socially conservative behavior (referring to sex as “coitus,” for instance) is eschewed entirely. Viewers get to know a much more forward Sheldon who stands apart from Leonard not because one of them is technically-minded and the other is a romantic, but because one’s a romantic and the other’s more sexually forward.
While this version of the character is still obsessed with “Star Trek” and still has a wealth of comic knowledge, he’s not easy to love, or even easy to loathe — he’s the kind of guy who simply exists instead of standing out as a protagonist. The version of Sheldon we get in the show can be smug, but in the pilot he’s grating. And not even the fun kind of grating — most irritating qualities also fail to make it into the pilot, turning the character into even more of a void. Ergo, he’s a lot less human, and a lot less interesting to watch.
It’s hard to imagine liking this version of the character enough to follow him back into his childhood for a spin-off. Thankfully, the version of Sheldon we did end up getting turns out to be worth watching as a young man and an adult — a legendary sitcom character who shed his pilot-related beginnings.