Young Sheldon: Why Everybody Loves Lance Barber’s George Sr.

Fans' undying appreciation for George Cooper Sr. is The Big Bang Theory prequel's real legacy.

“A New Home and a Traditional Texas Torture” - George Sr. gets an exciting job offer, and Sheldon prepares for his move to California, on YOUNG SHELDON, Thursday, May 9 (8:31-9:01 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network, and streaming on Paramount+ (live and on-demand for Paramount+ with SHOWTIME subscribers, or on-demand for Paramount+ Essential subscribers the day after the episode airs)*. Pictured (L-R): Lance Barber as George Sr. and Montana Jordan as Georgie
Photo: Bill Inoshita | 2024 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

This article contains spoilers for the final episodes of Young Sheldon.

Allow me to offer you a peek into the TV-viewing habits of the Bojalad household. I was not a dedicated watcher of The Big Bang Theory, nor its prequel spinoff Young Sheldon. I am, however, a daily watcher of American quiz show institution Jeopardy!.

Since Jeopardy! airs at 7:30 p.m. ET on CBS in my particular TV market (it broadcasts on NBC or ABC in other parts of the country at varying times), sometimes I forget to change the channel and catch some of the 8 p.m. ET showing of Young Sheldon on Thursday nights. One of those “accidental Young Sheldon” nights just happened to occur on May 16, the date of the two-part series finale. That was the night I discovered that my wife, and pretty much the rest of the TV-viewing public, really, really loves Sheldon’s dad, George Cooper Sr. (Lance Barber).

As the “previously on” segment relived the moment in Young Sheldon‘s penultimate installment when the Cooper family learns that George Sr. died from a heart attack, my wife screamed from the other end of the couch “Wait! Young Sheldon’s dad is dead?!?” The news cast a dark shadow over the rest of the evening. My TV-agnostic spouse was genuinely devastated by the death of a TV character on a show that she’s seen only a handful of times and in 10-minute increments at that.

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Really, however, I shouldn’t have been surprised by her reaction. George Sr. is a remarkably lovable character. His mere absence is enough to turn the finale of Young Sheldon into one of the TV season’s biggest tearjerkers. Both “The Funeral” and “Memoir” revolve around the Cooper family’s varied reaction to the death of their beloved patriarch. After 279 episodes of The Big Bang Theory and 141 episodes of Young Sheldon, the emotional climax of this whole storytelling universe comes down to the passing of a middle-aged high school football in suburban Texas in the 1990s. And it works!

That’s partially because George Sr. represents one of the most successful archetypes in all of television: The Good Dad. While Sheldon’s (likely exaggerated) memories of his father in The Big Bang Theory didn’t always paint the man in the warmest light, the George Sr. that fans meet in Young Sheldon is somewhere between Ted Lasso and an actual saint. He doesn’t fully understand his son, but he always loves him.

In a pre-finale interview with Den of Geek, Meemaw actress Annie Potts said that the show was ultimately “a study on how we all have people in our family that we have to explain to everyone else. But at the end of the day, it’s like, well, you just love them, you know?” It’s hard to think of a character who better typifies that than George Sr. Yes, Sheldon is difficult, but George Sr. routinely supports his son and frequently protects him from his less-understanding peers in 1990s Galveston.

And speaking of protecting people, one time George Sr. basically became John Wick! In a season 2 episode, George Sr. just casually knocks a bad man out cold and goes about his day. The man in question is the abusive boyfriend of Veronica Duncan’s (Isabel May) mother but to George Sr., he’s now just some unconscious bum on his front step. King shit. Shortly after George Sr.’s death in the May 9 episode of Young Sheldon, TikTok users boosted a humorous edit of this particular moment, causing it to go ultra viral.

Still, Young Sheldon couldn’t pull off The Good Dad archetype without the right actor to do so. Thankfully the show found that actor in the form of Midwestern workhorse Lance Barber. Though Barber will now likely always be known as Young Sheldon‘s dad to most, some comedy nerds will forever see him as terrible TV writer Paulie G on The Comeback or human disaster Bill Ponderosa on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The latter role even serves as a dark funhouse mirror version of George Cooper Sr.

Bill Ponderosa or “Pondy” is one of Sunny‘s most pathetic characters (which is saying a lot for a show that features Rickety Cricket). Like many individuals who enter into the Gang’s orbit, his life becomes irrevocably ruined because of it. Pondy goes from being a decent, if unremarkable family man to a drug-addled degenerate after sleeping with Dee Reynolds. He pops up several times throughout the series and looks increasingly worse for wear. In the ultimate contrast to George Sr., at one point Pondy’s kids tell the Gang that they wish he would just die already.

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That, my friends, is what they call range. Barber works as George Sr. for the same way he works as Bill Ponderosa. He’s just such a dad. From his pleasantly rotund figure to his coif of meticulously gelled hair to his resting disappointed dad face, everything about Barber expresses a paternal presence. That’s what fans (including my wife apparently) responded to on Young Sheldon. And it’s why they’re all so sad to see him and the show go.