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Sheldon Lee Cooper, PhD
Sheldon Cooper.jpg
Jim Parsons as Dr. Sheldon Cooper
First appearance "Pilot"
Portrayed by Jim Parsons
IQ 187
Information
Nickname(s) Shelly (by his family), Moon Pie (by his grandmother)
Gender Male
Occupation Theoretical physicist
Title Dr. Sheldon Lee Cooper, MS, Ph.D.
Family Mary Cooper (mother), George Cooper (deceased father), Missy (fraternal twin sister), grandmother "Memaw", unnamed older brother
Nationality American

Dr. Sheldon Lee Cooper is a fictional character on the CBS television series The Big Bang Theory, portrayed by actor Jim Parsons.

A Caltech theoretical physicist, Sheldon is Leonard Hofstadter's (Johnny Galecki) roommate and colleague. They live across the hallway from Penny (Kaley Cuoco).

Sheldon is distinct for his overtly intellectual personality: he is calculating and cynical, he exhibits a strict adherence to routine, a lack of understanding of irony, sarcasm and humor, and a complete lack of humility; these characteristics are the main sources of his character's humor and the center of a number of episodes. He has been described as the show's breakout character.[1][2][3][4]

Jim Parsons's character is named in honor of actor/producer Sheldon Leonard.[5]

Contents

Personality

Aside from his idiosyncrasies, Sheldon is purely logical. Sheldon has an overly extensive general knowledge, such as shown by his comments regarding various details of anecdotal knowledge (for instance, about the introduction of the fork into Thailand).[6] Despite his intelligence, Sheldon is usually inept in most social interactions.

Sheldon's eccentricities, snide remarks, and highly logical and intellectual personality put him at odds with his own friends and especially Penny. He not only fails to understand the simplest sarcastic jokes made by Leonard[6], but also regards Penny's sadness over her breakup with blatant confusion.[7] However, recently, he has begun to understand the concept of sarcasm, attempting unsuccessfully to employ it himself towards Penny in the second season,[8] and successfully employing it towards his friends in the third season. Sheldon occasionally uses slang but essentially fails, and his new catchphrase is "Bazinga!". He isn't entirely sure how to hug someone.

Sheldon also has childish qualities. For example, he must get his way, such as in naming the Caltech Physics Bowl team or deciding to go to San Francisco by train (due to his fascination and love for trains) for a conference where he seeks Nobel laureate George Smoot's approval, and he needs his mother (or Penny) to care for him when he is sick, which involves singing "Soft Kitty" and rubbing Vicks on his chest. He cannot stand to be interrupted, concede when he doesn't know something, keep a secret, or hear a person bicker or people fight, crinkling his lips with insane frustration when any of these happen.[9][10][11] Sheldon cannot drive an automobile, and needs his friends to take him places; he feels someone of his intellect does not need to learn how to drive.[12]

Like his friends, he is scientifically inclined, and is fond of comic books, video games, and general science fiction, with numerous references made to Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who, Stargate, Star Trek, and Star Wars. Sheldon is particularly fond of the Star Trek franchise and is a fan of science officer Spock. Penny once gave Sheldon a napkin used by Leonard Nimoy, the actor who originally played Spock, and this greatly overwhelmed Sheldon as he now possessed the DNA of his famed idol.[13] However, Leonard Nimoy and Stan Lee have both applied for restraining orders against Sheldon.[13][14] He also used to idolize fictional prodigy Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation for qualities of the character he found similar to himself, but Wil Wheaton's surprise cancellation of an appearance at a Jackson, Mississippi Trek convention in 1995 caused Sheldon to swear vengeance against Wil in the form of a customizable card game tournament, only to have his hatred for Wheaton reinforced when he beat Sheldon in the tournament by claiming he canceled the convention appearance due to his dying grandmother, the tactic working to cause Sheldon to throw the game out of sympathy only to find out the story was a ruse.[15] Another favorite character of his is Batman.[16][10][17] He likes playing Halo every Wednesday[18][16] and paintball on the weekend with his friends.[16] Unlike Leonard, Sheldon embraces his genius fully and is not ashamed of admitting his particularly eccentric interests (such as Klingon Boggle).[7][19]

Sheldon does not seem to be able to tolerate alcohol, caffeine or other drugs very well as demonstrated in different instances. A small amount of alcohol made him extremely boisterous;[20] and a small amount of coffee made him extremely hyperactive;[21] taking valium also affected his behavior.[17]

Sheldon often wears vintage t-shirts adorned with superhero logos, specific to the DC universe, among them the Flash, Superman, Aquaman, and the logos of the Lantern Corps. He usually wears his shirts with a long sleeve underneath and commonly wears plaid pants. Sheldon is tall and thin (setting him apart from his shorter colleagues), with Penny saying he looks like a praying mantis, and Raj likening Star Wars C-3PO to "a shiny Sheldon".

Background

Throughout the series airing, a number of facts are mentioned about Sheldon's past that illustrate his early life as a prodigy.

Born in Galveston, Texas,[22] Sheldon was a child prodigy with an eidetic memory.[15] As a kid, he built a poorly-working CAT scanner,[22] a so-called "Sonic Death Ray",[23] and an armed robot constructed using integrated circuits made from materials cooked in his sister's Easy Bake Oven, which he modified.[24]

Sheldon entered college at the age of eleven, right after completing the fifth grade, and left college at the age of fourteen.[25] When Sheldon was twelve years old, he wanted a titanium centrifuge to separate radioactive isotopes.[26] According to his mother, he also built a nuclear reactor at thirteen years old in order to provide free electricity for his town; however, this was halted after a government agent informed him that it was illegal to store yellowcake uranium in a shed.[23] At age fourteen, he dabbled in lasers,[6] began doctoral work, and was the youngest person at the time to receive the Stevenson Award when he was "14 and a half".[27]

Sheldon worked as a visiting professor at the Heidelberg Institute in Germany at age fifteen,[28] and received his first Ph.D. at sixteen years old,[10] working on twistor theory.[12] He then spent four years on his second dissertation, and at the beginning of the series had held his current job for three-and-a-half years.[23]

Characteristics

Sheldon possesses several qualities commonly associated with someone who has autism spectrum disorder, such as social ineptitude, a lack of empathy, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, and many more traits which make him the most eccentric and bizarre of the characters in the show.

A number of traits that are seen are:

  • Obsessive compulsive personality disorder. Sheldon exhibits a strict adherence to routine, such as doing specific recreational activities on specific days of the week, eating specific food items on specific days, being unable to reconcile changes to food orders, doing laundry on a specific day and time, or knocking on the door a certain number of times while repeating the name of the person he is seeking with a particular frequency, etc.
  • Mysophobia. He is constantly worried about others touching his food, washes his hands as often as he can, and showers twice daily.[18]
  • Hypochondriasis. He is extremely worried about becoming sick. He became worried about Penny infecting him with influenza and subsequently contracted it.[28] Another time, he wanted a full medical examination by Leonard's girlfriend, Dr. Stephanie Barnett, in order to discover the cause of a high-pitched noise in his head.[29]
  • Inability to lie. When Sheldon is complicit in a lie, he exhausts all of his efforts in his always unsuccessful attempt to make it believable.[30] Similarly, he cannot be entrusted with a secret because he develops nervous tics.[17]
  • Inability to sit in strange places. He refuses to sit anywhere other than his designated spot on the couch in his apartment, which he considers his "single point of consistency in an ever changing world".[31] He regularly reproaches Penny and other people for sitting in his spot. Even disruptions to this location are enough to disturb him. However, he can adapt to seats with sub-optimal conditions, such as suitable cushion densities and light dispersion, provided he has the opportunity to test them.[32]
  • Intolerance of people in his bedroom. One time, he was distraught when Penny entered his room at the middle of the night.[33] On another occasion, Sheldon hesitantly let Penny in his bedroom to help him search for a specific USB flash drive.[34]

He also places "strikes" on someone if that person violates his imposed conditions, and upon giving three to one person, gives them a choice of either apologizing or taking a "class".[19] For many of the characteristics aforementioned, Sheldon's friends often consider him "insane" or "crazy", even though Sheldon stated that his own mother had him tested for insanity in the past.[35][31]

Despite his strange behavior, Sheldon has shown to be a kind person at times. When Penny was low on money, Sheldon let her borrow a large amount of his savings without caring about being paid back promptly, which has been described by Leonard as "one of the few idiosyncrasies that doesn't make you want to, you know, kill him".[36] Also, when Sheldon accidentally forgot his keys and locked himself out of his apartment, Penny let him stay at her place and, despite annoying Penny, Sheldon sincerely thanked her for it.[37] When Penny gave Sheldon a Christmas present, he was extremely anxious because he did not know what it was and therefore did not know how to reciprocate. He purchased multiple gift baskets of bath items (in order to choose one which matched the value of her gift), only to find that she got him a napkin autographed by Leonard Nimoy (which he had also wiped his mouth with, and therefore had his DNA on it). This prompted him to give her all the baskets and a hug (the first time he has shown any physical intimacy with anyone).

Asperger syndrome

Several viewers have noted that Sheldon's behavior is similar of those with Asperger syndrome.[38][3][39] The writers have stated that they did not use Asperger syndrome as a basis for the character, but instead thought of his actions as "Sheldony".[38] Series co-creator Bill Prady stated: "We write the character as the character. A lot of people see various things in him and make the connections. Our feeling is that Sheldon's mother never got a diagnosis, so we don't have one".[39] In an interview, Jim Parsons noted the writers' response, but added that in his opinion, Sheldon "couldn't display more traits" of Asperger's.[40] Parsons has read John Elder Robison's memoir Look Me in the Eye about his life with Asperger syndrome, and said that: "A majority of what I read in that book touched on aspects of Sheldon". However, he also stated that "the way [Sheldon's] brain works, it’s so focused on the intellectual topics at hand that thinking he’s autistic is an easy leap for people watching the show to make".[41]

Family

Sheldon's family contrasts strongly with him, as they are neither scientists nor intellectuals.

Sheldon's mother, Mary, is a devout Christian whose spiritual beliefs are often at odds with Sheldon's scientific work. Nevertheless, Mary appears to be an extremely good mother and is the only one who has ever been able to control Sheldon. Leonard described Mary as Sheldon's "Kryptonite".[19]

Sheldon has a fraternal twin sister, Missy. Tall and attractive, she immediately captures the attention of Leonard, Howard and Raj, who all tried to date her. Sheldon recognized that within Missy's eggs lay the potential for another "superior mutation" like himself, and on this grounds considered his friends unsuitable to be with his sister. Sheldon became offended when he found that Missy tells others he is a rocket scientist; he apparently thinks the title is inaccurate and below him.[24]

An unnamed older brother of Sheldon is also mentioned.[42] Both siblings commonly beat Sheldon up, and their mother describes them to be "dumb as soup".[23]

Sheldon's father, George, died before the start of the series and is often mentioned as being an almost-redneck Texan.[23][11] Although it is not stated when or how Mr. Cooper's death occurred, it is assumed to be close to the show's start, as Missy visits Sheldon to bring paperwork regarding their father's estate.[24] Sheldon recalls his father would force him to watch football despite his lack of interest for the sport.[43]

Sheldon is very fond of his grandmother, whom he calls "Memaw", who in turn calls him "Moon Pie".[34]

Work

Sheldon is a published theoretical physicist and has earned a Master of Science and two PhDs.[6] Sheldon conducts string theory research at Caltech. Throughout the course of the show, Sheldon has switched disciplines from bosonic string theory to heterotic string theory and reconciled the black hole information paradox using a string network condensate approach.[16]

With Rajesh, he has worked on the string theory implications of gamma rays from dark matter annihilations and considered a method for optimizing a 500 GeV particle detector to this end.[44] Sheldon and Leonard jointly wrote a paper on supersolids to be presented at an Institute of Experimental Physics topical conference on Bose-Einstein condensates.[45] He often rambles on about his imaginative ideas and theories, much to Leonard's annoyance, but does not listen to his friend concerning his (Leonard's) research.

Like Leonard, Sheldon keeps a whiteboard in the living room for scientific theories. It usually contains virtual particles in quantum mechanics or series of Riemann zeta functions.

Once, when he was obsessed with solving a physics problem, he took on menial tasks to clear his thought processes as to emulate Albert Einstein's success under similar circumstances.[46]

Being a theoretical physicist, Sheldon has shown disdain for engineering, referring to engineers as "noble semi-skilled laborers" and "the Oompa Loompas of science",[27] and calling engineering "the slow younger brother of physics".[47]

Relationships

Among all of his friends, Sheldon shows the least interest in forming social relationships of any sort, and he appears to be satisfied with his current circle of friends.

According to several reviewers, Sheldon appears to be asexual. Noel Murray of The A.V. Club stated that "giving Sheldon a girlfriend, boyfriend or even a "friend with benefits" would be [...] far outside the scope of the character".[48] Kona Gallagher of TV Squad wrote that "the idea of Sheldon with a lady is a jarring one".[49] Series co-creator Chuck Lorre said: "Part of what’s wonderful and unique about [Sheldon] is he has chosen not to play in the relationship game either way — heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, any sexuality".[50]

Penny once asked what is Sheldon's "deal", meaning his sexual orientation. Leonard responded that "we've been operating under the assumption that he has no deal"[16].

Others, however, are opposed to this interpretation. Jon Weisman of the Los Angeles Times wrote that "the right woman could draw [Sheldon] out of his shell".[51] In an interview, Parsons said that he thinks that his character eventually will have a romantic relationship.[52]

Sheldon does inadvertently become involved in one "relationship" with Ramona Nowitzki, a graduate student. After a lecture, Ramona arranged dinner at Sheldon's apartment and subsequently kept seeing him for days, pressuring him to avoid distractions and concentrate on his research. Sheldon eventually became tired of her, and sought Penny's help to end the "relationship". Sheldon finally kicked Ramona out when he reached a breakthrough and refused to share credit with her for the discovery.[16]

Sheldon has formed a strong bond with Leonard's mother, Dr. Beverly Hofstadter (Christine Baranski). The similarity in their personalities allowed them to bond on a level Sheldon has been unable to find with anyone else.[53] After their initial meeting, they have kept in touch via e-mail, sharing information and research papers. When she visits to inform Leonard that she is divorcing his father, Penny gets her drunk. She kisses Sheldon in a fit of passion, but rejects seeking further physical intimacy with him.[54]

Friends

Sheldon can only handle having a limited number of friends in his "landing party" at a time.

Sheldon is best friends with Leonard, as they live together and are accustomed to tolerating each other ever since Sheldon put out an ad for a roommate with a list of criteria to follow. Despite Sheldon sometimes making remarks to the contrary, he appreciates Leonard and assures Leonard that his friend will not die alone. Bill Prady stated that "the fact that, despite everything, Leonard considers Sheldon his best friend reminds us of Sheldon's essential humanity."[55] Sheldon refers to him as "the muscle" of the group, presumably because everyone else had already been given roles.

Sheldon once tried to cut off Raj from his circle of friends to make room for Barry Kripke.[9] Though, he does lend help to Koothrappali by giving him a job under his supervision, and he indeed considers him a friend.[44] He refered to Raj as a person who tries to fit in with them and fails.

Sheldon often makes fun of Howard for not having a doctoral degree. In "The Bozeman Reaction", he referred to Howard as "a treasured acquaintance" instead of a friend like the others.[56] However, he still helped him in his work and missed him when Howard became distracted by a woman.[18] He also refered to him as "the funny one" in their group.

Despite Penny not being a scientist nor sharing many of the group's interests (Parsons described the characters as "polar opposites"[57]), and having constant fights with Sheldon in the early episodes, they became close friends, due to some time alone with each other, such as when Penny cares for Sheldon during illness[28] or when Penny takes him in as he is locked out of his apartment while his friends are in Las Vegas.[37] Sheldon returns the favor as he cares for Penny when she dislocates her shoulder. In all of these instances, the story line ends with one of them singing "Soft Kitty", a song Sheldon's mother used to sing to him, when he was sick.[28] The interaction between Sheldon and Penny was praised by critics. James Chamberlin of IGN wrote: "Cuoco and Parsons are great in their own right, but when put together, they truly shine."[58] Matt Roush of TV Guide said that Sheldon and Penny's "scenes and episodes together are usually Big Bang at its best".[59] Todd WanDerVerff of The A.V. Club wrote that they "made such an inspired odd coupling that at times, it seemed as though the entire show were about them" and their chemistry "has some of the rattle and rhythm of the great comedic duos".[60] Chuck Lorre stated that Sheldon and Penny have "become a natural comic pairing" and they "bounce off each other beautifully".[50] Some fans support a romantic relationship between Sheldon and Penny.[52][51] Lorre, however, is opposed to this, saying: "We’ve stumbled into creating a character who has chosen a lifestyle for himself that is unique. And I don’t see any reason to modify it."[50] WanDerVerff was also critical of the idea writing: "TV teaches us that any time a man and a woman are in some sort of relationship with any sort of spark to it, that man and that woman will inevitably begin sleeping together, and I think that's what the Sheldon/Penny shippers are responding to, but The Big Bang Theory is showing us that that doesn't necessary [sic] have to be the case".[60] Kaley Cuoco said that if they dated, "Penny would kill Sheldon".[61]

Creation and casting

The character of Sheldon was inspired by a computer programmer Bill Prady knew.[62] According to Prady, the character "began to evolve after episode five or so and became his own thing".[39] Chuck Lorre originally intended Johnny Galecki to play the role, but Galecki thought he'd be "better suited" for the character of Leonard.[63] Lorre said that when Jim Parsons auditioned for the role, he was "so startlingly good", that Lorre "asked him back to make sure he hadn’t gotten lucky".[64]

Reception

Jim Parsons' portrayal of Sheldon received praise from critics, and it was often cited as the main reason for the program's success.[65][66][67] James Chamberlin of IGN wrote: "It's hard to imagine what The Big Bang Theory would be if it weren't for Jim Parsons' great portrayal of Sheldon Cooper."[68] Matt Roush of TV Guide stated that "there’s a spark of divine inspiration in Jim Parsons' uproarious Sheldon Cooper".[69] Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly wrote that "Parsons is doing something rare on network TV: making intellectualism admirable, even heroic".[4]

On July 16, 2009, Jim Parsons was nominated for an Emmy Award for Lead Actor in a Comedy for the role of Sheldon.[70] In August 2009, he won the Television Critics Association award for the highest individual achievements in comedy.[71] He was also nominated for a People's Choice Award for Favorite TV Comedy Actor[72] and a Satellite Award for best actor in a comedy or musical series.[73]

See also

References

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