‘Young Sheldon’ Is Ending. So Is Its Idea of Science Versus Religion.

For seven seasons, the show has offered a clichéd (and nostalgic) vision of how atheists and believers relate to each other.

My mom was the one who told me to watch The Big Bang Theory. It was a show about nerds—and I was a nerd. She thought I’d enjoy it. A friend had already mentioned that the main character, Sheldon Cooper, was “exactly like” me. After I watched the show, at Mom’s encouragement, I joked that I had mixed feelings about the comparison.

The Big Bang Theory was extremely popular and not just with my mom; at its height, it averaged 20 million viewers a night. But it never really resonated with actual dweebs. Its audience was largely Gen X women—not people who were Sheldon but people who “knew a Sheldon,” not the geeks themselves but their mothers and friends.

It’s fitting, then, that the even-more-popular Big Bang spinoff would be Young Sheldon, a prequel about the title character’s childhood in East Texas—and that Sheldon’s relationship with his mom, Mary, would be at the heart of the show. Young Sheldon sits at the top of the prime-time rankings; one recent week, the show (which streams on Netflix, Max, and Paramount+) topped all streamed content across US household televisions.

As Young Sheldon comes to an end (its series finale airs May 16; a spinoff starring two breakout characters—Georgie and Mandy—has already been announced), so too does the onscreen dynamic between Sheldon and Mary. So too does a nostalgic vision for how the “science vs. religion” debate plays out in our families.

Mary is Sheldon’s opposite in nearly every way. He’s a logical atheist physicist with no people skills; Mary is a warm, folksy conservative Christian. In many ways, she serves as an audience surrogate. (For what it’s worth, Mary was my …

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