Anybody who’s become a fan of The Big Bang Theory will have become so partly as a result of Jim Parsons’ brilliant performance as the intellectually brutal but socially disastrous Sheldon Cooper. But just as the quality of the show’s writing has slumped in the current season, Parsons has been (perhaps unconsciously) signalling as much with an actorial tic.
I wouldn’t have spotted it if I hadn’t worked in theatre for a long time, but in the past season or so, Parsons has taken to prefixing his lines with a single, short, blurred, half-syllable, a sort of ‘Ahm-‘ or ‘Mbl-‘ or ‘Wll-‘. He usually does this when he’s about to deliver a line that should be good but isn’t. (I recognise that this would be a great moment to point you towards a YouTube montage of moments where Sheldon makes a weird noise before starting his lines, but I have neither the technology nor the time to put such a thing together.) It’s a thing actors do on stage when they don’t really have confidence in their own lines; it pulls focus towards them, so that by the time people have switched their attention towards the actor, they’re primed to pay attention to what the actor is about to say. It’s less noticeable in a theatre but on TV it’s glaringly obvious, and I’m surprised that nobody on Big Bang Theory has called Parsons on it. Unless they think it’s cute, which it isn’t.