Roush Review: 'Young Sheldon,' 'Good Doctor,' 'Myself' and 'Brave' Launch New Fall Season
It didn't take a genius to predict that several of this fall's new shows would aim straight at the heartstrings, given the popularity of NBC's breakout tear-jerker phenom This Is Us. (I actually expected to see a more pronounced trend of new feel-good sentimental drama, which didn't happen, or at least not yet.) What's maybe more surprising is that two of the best use the gimmick of offbeat exceptionalism to evoke an emotional response.
Taking a lighter touch is the much-anticipated Big Bang Theory spinoff Young Sheldon (launching behind Big Bang's 11th-season premiere before going on the shelf until November, when it joins Big Bang on CBS's post-football Thursday lineup). Far from a clone, this enjoyably sentimental memory piece is more like The Wonder-Kid Years. Jim Parsons (the adult Sheldon Cooper) narrates this wry, nostalgic look back at 1989 East Texas, where as a prim 9-year-old prodigy (the truly adorable Iain Armitage of Big Little Lies), Einstein Jr. enters high school alongside his more redneck older brother, Georgie (Montana Jordan).
"Jane Goodall had to go to Africa to study apes. I just had to go to dinner," Sheldon muses as we watch this oh-so-proper bow-tied budding genius astound and confound his teachers, fellow students and a begrudgingly loving family (including a scene-stealing polar-opposite twin sister, Missy, played by Raegan Revord). Like his older alter ago, Young Sheldon has no filter when it comes to speaking truth to glowers, whether that means calling out violations of the student dress code or correcting his teachers. Armitage delivers every zinger with an eager straight face, oblivious to the discomfort he causes others, especially his football-coach dad, George (a poignant Lance Barber), who fears the worst for his odd, and sometimes oddly detached, little boy.
Thankfully, his devout and devoted mother, Mary, has his back at all times. As played by Zoe Perry (the real-life daughter of Laurie Metcalf, who recurs in the role on Big Bang), Mary's faith in her son is at least as strong as that for the Almighty, and she never lapses into caricature as she tries to keep peace at home, school and wherever this precocious pipsqueqk may roam.
Co-creator Chuck Lorre, a hit maker in the underappreciated arena of multi-camera/studio-audience sitcoms, is on unfamiliar ground with this gentler single-camera comedy, and the strain sometimes shows. But its heart is in the right place, in part because the show isn't trying to copy the tone of its more bitingly funny progenitor, even as it presumably rides Big Bang's coattails to high ratings. That kind of exposure can bring risks, but with a style and a mind of its own, Young Sheldon deserves the wide audience it's likely to attract.
DOCTOR, DOCTOR: Sheldon Cooper would appreciate the dilemma of Dr. Shaun Murphy, a gifted young surgeon who can see what others can't—quite literally, as his mental diagnostics frequently flash on screen in animations reminiscent of the movie A Beautiful Mind. So why is a fancy big-city hospital so resistant to welcome this brilliant mind aboard its staff? It's not that he's an arrogant thorn-in-the-side like Sheldon. On the contrary, Shaun's condition of autism and savant syndrome renders him alarmingly aloof, impaired at communication and connection with colleagues. He feels deeply, but as a critic on the hospital board declares: "High functioning—is that our new hiring standard?"
This debate, which amounts to over-explaining the premise with oodles of exposition, occupies a great deal of the otherwise engaging pilot episode of ABC's The Good Doctor, and since it's obvious there wouldn't be a show if Dr. Shaun wasn't hired, even on a temporary basis, I'm eager to see how this medical drama (co-created by House's David Shore) will operate on a weekly basis. Groaningly routine when the focus shifts from Shaun onto an ensemble of Grey's Anatomy-style hot docs gawping at the wunderkind when they're not pawing each other, Doctor is in great hands with the mesmerizing star performance of Freddie Highmore (Bates Motel's memorably mad Norman Bates) as the soulfully determined Dr. Shaun.
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Highmore brings a dreamlike intensity to Shaun's disarming honesty and nearly superhuman acuity, as he contradicts superiors and shocks onlookers with his fearless triage and seemingly peerless wisdom. The very busy pilot episode reveals the young doc's tragic past while letting his champion, Dr. Aaron Glassman (The West Wing's Richard Schiff), argue for his future. I look forward to the day when The Good Doctor can speak for itself.
ME, ME, ME: He may not be a genius on the level of Sheldon and Shaun, but every-mensch Alex Riley doesn't let that stop him from concocting inventions that he hopes will someday change the world. Still, even an Edison might find it hard to justify laying out his life story in as schmaltzy detail as Me, Myself & I, an affable but only modestly amusing comedy that asks us to believe that Saturday Night Live's genial Bobby Moynihan could age from the 40-year-old Alex into the much taller, more patrician and otherwise unrecognizable 65-year-old version played by John Larroquette. (Rounding out the premise is the adolescent 14-year-old Alex, a benign and bland Jack Dylan Grazer.)
Constantly shifting between the three stages of Alex's life—a teen in puppy love, adrift midlife cuckold and older/wiser sage—Myself is prone to serving up cloying aphorisms posing as profundity: "Our life stories aren't defined by the things that happen to us, they're defined by how we choose to deal with them." And: "New beginnings don't always start on Page 1." Successful comedies are, however, often defined by first impressions, and despite Moynihan's considerable appeal as the fulcrum of these sappy, fragmented vignettes, you might feel tempted before even the first episode is over to tell Alex to get over he, himself and him.
MISSION DU JOUR: At least you know what you're getting when you tune into The Brave, NBC's entry in this fall's gung-ho armada of new military dramas. Same goes later this week for CBS's even more generic-sounding SEAL Team, with an almost indistinguishable hostage-rescue-in-global-hot-spot plot. The Brave is as sleek and slick as it is formulaic and uninspired. Though not without its tense moment, it hews depressingly close to any number of NBC action series in which elite ops risk their lives in the field while colorless analysts sit behind high-tech surveillance screens and guide the action from afar.
It's like a Colorforms version of Homeland, with cardboard heroes (led by the stalwart Mike Vogel of Under the Dome) executing impossible missions while implacable boss lady Anne Heche delivers pompously obvious directives: "We are fighting people that want to wipe us off the planet. That means we have to be as ruthless as they are." It would help if either side was shown with any degree of complexity, and giving Heche's brittle Deputy Director of Intelligence character a tragic backstory—she recently lost a son to the fight against terror—merely comes off clichéd.
True creative bravery is nowhere to be seen in the pilot episode until perhaps the very end, with a twist that will compel even this critic to check out the second episode. After that, it behooves us all to find a more substantive way to support our troops.
Young Sheldon, Series Premiere, Monday, Sept. 25, 8:30/7:30c, CBS
The Good Doctor, Series Premiere, Monday, Sept. 25, 10/9c, ABC
Me, Myself & I, Series Premiere, Monday, Sept. 25, 9:30/8:30c, CBS
The Brave, Series Premiere, Monday, Sept. 25, 10/9c, NBC