Penny (The Big Bang Theory)
|This article relies on references to primary sources. (November 2013)|
|The Big Bang Theory character|
Kaley Cuoco as Penny
|Created by||Chuck Lorre
|Portrayed by||Kaley Cuoco|
|Nickname(s)||"Bestie" (by Amy)
"Slugger" (by Wyatt)
|Significant other(s)||Dr. Leonard Hofstadter, PhD (boyfriend/fiancé)
Zack (2010-2013; annulled)
Penny is the primary female character in the series, befriending her across-the-hall neighbors Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki) and Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons), two physicists who work at the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Penny's lack of advanced education, but outgoing personality and common sense drastically contrast with the personalities of the primary male characters in the series, even though she is considered part of their group. She is the love interest of Leonard, with whom she maintains a brief romantic relationship during the third season, which is later resumed in the fifth season and culminates in an engagement at the end of the seventh season.
Originally from a small town outside of Omaha, Nebraska, Penny has aspirations of becoming an actress. Until the seventh season, she worked as a waitress at the local Cheesecake Factory. She is a Sagittarius, born on December 2. She has full confidence in horoscopes and psychics, which has led to arguments with Sheldon and Leonard about their accuracy.
In contrast to the rest of the group, Penny is not well-educated or savvy in a specific technical field, but she has great social skills and is more streetwise than her neighbors. She is very knowledgeable about popular culture. She is messy and disorganized, but appears to like it that way. Having dropped out of community college prior to the start of the series, she is the only regular character with less education than Howard Wolowitz, who has a Master's degree. Despite her weak education, she is insightful. While Sheldon routinely disparages both Penny's and Howard's educations, he occasionally acknowledges her intelligence and potential, though he rarely treats Howard so. He has also asked for her advice more than once regarding various social situations.
Leonard has likened her to The Hulk when she gets angry, while Sheldon once said to recurring character Stuart Bloom that she would "maul [him] like a rabid wolverine" if Stuart woke her up from a sound sleep.
A recurring theme is Penny's poor driving. She fails to service her vehicle regularly, and ignores her check engine light, which has been mentioned in multiple episodes. She once left her car's passenger side wing mirror in a parking lot. She once hit a Mercedes in a parking lot and left without leaving a note. She also inadvertently revealed that she knocked the mirror off Bernadette's car and did not leave a note. When her car is totaled in Season 7, Leonard buys her a new one so she can go to auditions and pursue her dream of becoming an actress.
In the fifth season episode "The Speckerman Recurrence", it is revealed that Penny was a bully during her time at school. However, she seemed to be genuinely unaware of the hurt her actions had caused, and upon her realization, she attempted to make amends with a classmate she tormented, with little success.
A recurring personality trait is her consumption of alcohol, specifically wine. In "The Flaming Spittoon Acquisition", Penny, while spending the evening with Bernadette and Amy, observes that they have finished the bottle of wine, and when Bernadette and Amy point out that they consumed only half a glass and no wine at all respectively, Penny snaps, "Okay, don’t judge me! So, what do you want to do, go to the movies, go dancing, lay down for a little bit?" At the end of that episode, she passes out while she, while the three of them play Twister, and when Bernadette initially fails revive her, she says "Penny, we're out of wine", which manages to wake Penny. In "The Locomotive Manipulation", Leonard declines Amy's suggestion that the group spend a weekend in Napa Valley, leading to this exchange:
- Leonard: "I'm not sure it's a great idea to take Penny to where wine comes from. (Looks at Penny) What? It's a joke. Oh, come on. We bust on each other. I wear dorky glasses, you might have a problem, it's all for laughs."
- Penny: "That would really piss me off if I didn’t have a buzz going on."
Interaction with Sheldon
A staple of the series' humor is Penny's awkward interactions with Sheldon, which are fueled by the fact that they are almost polar opposites in terms of intellect and social aptitude.
In one episode, Sheldon tries to "improve" Penny, rewarding her with chocolate for what he considers "correct behavior", as in operant conditioning of lab rats. Although the two characters sometimes clash, and Penny is frequently irritated by Sheldon's obstinacy and lack of social awareness, she has developed an affection for him. She and Leonard occasionally behave as if Sheldon were their child, and Penny is very pleased whenever Sheldon acts tenderly towards her. Penny often calls Sheldon "sweetie", a term of endearment she rarely uses with other characters (a fact that Sheldon has himself pointed out), and Penny and Amy are the only principal characters who ever openly demonstrate their genuine fondness for Sheldon.
Evidence of Penny's affection for Sheldon is apparent in various episodes. Penny takes care of Sheldon while he is ill and lets him stay at her apartment when he is locked out of his; Sheldon lent her money when she needed it and takes care of her when she dislocates her shoulder. Despite not being as well versed as the men in geek culture, Penny has shown attention to what each of her friends likes. For instance, during a Christmas episode, Penny gives Sheldon a signed napkin autographed by Leonard Nimoy. In return, Sheldon gives Penny several baskets of bath products and then a long hug, to both her and Leonard's surprise. When Sheldon's World of Warcraft account is hacked and the four men all back down from the much larger hacker who also steals Sheldon's Klingon Bat'leth, Penny kicks the hacker in the groin. Following her breakup with Leonard, Penny takes Sheldon along when she and some friends from work went to Disneyland, for which he is thankful. In the same episode, she notes that she takes Sheldon shopping for his linens. She has also helped Sheldon resolve conflicts with Amy, as in "The Shiny Trinket Maneuver".
Sheldon has also acknowledged that he likes Penny, although he claims this was only because he was forced to because Leonard "made him", and that Sheldon liking her was a "hard row to hoe". Despite Sheldon's overall friendly interaction with Penny, he does, on occasion, not always intentionally, insult her intelligence.
A number of episodes depict Penny's assimilation of nerd culture through her relationship with the men. After Sheldon introduces her to the online role-playing game Age of Conan, Penny becomes addicted, to the point of ignoring her friends, her hygiene and her job, and pesters Sheldon incessantly for gaming advice. She finally overcomes her addiction when she realizes she has agreed to go on a virtual date within the game with Howard.
In episodes such as "The Apology Insufficiency", "The Dead Hooker Juxtaposition", "The Wheaton Recurrence" and "The Love Car Displacement", she makes casual references to Star Trek. In "The Bakersfield Expedition", Penny, Amy and Bernadette read some of the men's comics, and end up getting into the same type of heated arguments over the various fictional premises in the stories as the men do. In season 7's "The Proton Transmogrification", she alarms herself when she realizes that she understands Raj and Howard's corny Star Wars-related puns.
Penny also references science and technology-related ideas. In "The Codpiece Topology", Penny, having previously learned of Schrödinger's Cat in "The Tangerine Factor", mentions that concept to her less-than-erudite date, and finds herself having to explain it to him. In the "The Beta Test Initiation", Penny correctly identifies that Leonard is describing beta testing when he uses a software development analogy to illustrate a point about their relationship, and demands credit for this when Leonard fails to acknowledge it.
A recurring theme throughout the series is Penny's ongoing financial problems. This is seen in "The Financial Permeability", when she finds herself behind on her bills, and borrows money from Sheldon, only to later become paranoid that he is pestering her for repayment, even though he makes no such indications of this. More subtle references are seen in the fact that she once attempted to pay for her electric bill using a Starbucks gift card, an apology note and pictures of her in underwear.
A subset of this trait is addressed by other characters is her freeloading. In the second season episode "The Financial Permeability", when Penny is short on money, Leonard pays for her share of a group dinner, which causes Raj and Howard to joke that they would get free food too if they wore wore skintight jeans and a tank top. A recurring gag in the fourth season is Sheldon's frequent change of his and Leonard's Wi-Fi to address Penny's use of their signal. In "The Thespian Catalyst", he changes the password to "Penny is a freeloader", and in "The Roommate Transmogrification" he has changed it to "Penny, get your own Wi-Fi". In the seventh season "The Convention Conundrum", when the women go out for drinks, and ponder their own maturity, and Penny questions the significance of that trait, Bernadette replies that it would mean that their check would be split three ways.
In "The Maternal Capacitance", Penny reveals that her father Wyatt (Keith Carradine) tried to raise her like a boy, which is a source of pain for her. When she and Leonard begin dating, Wyatt comes to appreciate that she is dating an accomplished academic, rather than an uneducated hick, so much so that when he visits Penny in the third season episode "The Boyfriend Complexity" following her and Leonard's breakup, it is revealed that she has not revealed the breakup to her father. When she later informs Wyatt of the breakup, Wyatt secretly encourages Leonard to not give up on her. In contrast to all other characters, Penny and her father's surname have not been revealed. Co-creator Bill Prady stated that Penny's last name will be revealed eventually. Executive producer Steve Molaro, however, has since stated her surname will remain a secret.
In an early episode, Penny talked to Raj about her sister having shot her brother-in-law. In another episode, Penny accompanied the men to the comic book store to shop for a gift for her 13-year-old nephew.In "The Boyfriend Complexity" (4–9), Wyatt (Penny's father) tells Leonard he wants grandchildren one day. In "The Dumpling Paradox", Penny has an unwanted guest, Christy, staying with her who had slept with her brother while being engaged to her cousin, saying, "she's kind of family". Christy knows Penny from back in Omaha and, according to Penny, she slept with nearly every man in the city, earning her the nickname "Whore of Omaha". While staying with Penny, Christy sleeps with Howard Wolowitz.
In the Season 5 episode "The Pulled Groin Extrapolation", after Penny quickly grabs and eats the last dumpling of a group dinner after a brief disagreement over who should get it, Sheldon makes the sarcastic comment, "I've seen pictures of your mother. Keep eating", a reference to Penny's mother's weight that upsets her. In "The Flaming Spittoon Acquisition", Penny confesses to Bernadette that her mother smoked pot while she was pregnant with her.
Penny has mentioned having a brother on parole, who she says is "kind of a chemist". In "The Rhinitis Revelation" (5–6), she is more explicit in revealing that he is in the practice of cooking crystal meth. She mentions that he is back in prison for 12-18 months, depending on his behavior, in the seventh season finale, "The Status Quo Combustion".
Until the seventh season, Penny's main job was as a waitress in the local Cheesecake Factory, although in the first season episode "The Grasshopper Experiment" she trained as a bartender. It seemed that she occasionally picked up the bartending shift in the restaurant. In 2010, when actress Kaley Cuoco broke her leg, Penny was shown working as a bartender in several season 4 episodes to hide the cast on her leg.
Her work at the Cheesecake Factory, however, was actually meant to be a temporary job for her desired profession as an actress, although she has yet to find much success. Her expectations are somewhat high and naive at the beginning – she admits in season 2 that her plan was "waitressing for six months and then become a movie star", and her back-up plan was to become a TV star. She regularly goes to castings, but often ends up unsuccessful, or finding the role being auditioned to be quite different from what she expected, as was the case when she thought she was auditioning for a cat food commercial and it instead turned out to be a casting for a pornographic film. In the season one episode "The Loobenfeld Decay", she is cast in a production of Rent, and in "The Terminator Decoupling" she refers to another of her roles as "Anne Frank in a theater above a bowling alley". In the Season 5 premiere, frustrated over her lack of success as an actress (as well as damaging what was left of her relationship with Leonard), she briefly considers returning to Nebraska until landing a part in a commercial for hemorrhoid cream. In "The Monster Isolation", Penny is seen performing the role of Blanche DuBois in her acting class' production of A Streetcar Named Desire. In this episode Sheldon, who attended the show along with Leonard and Amy, is impressed with Penny's ability to memorize lines. In the seventh season premiere, she was revealed to have had a topless shower scene in a low budget horror film named "Serial Apeist" when she first moved to California, which she never thought made it to the Internet until Sheldon revealed that Howard looked it up right after they met her. Despite the hardships she encounters along the way and having to revisit her ideas about acting, Penny is tenacious in her pursuit of her dream profession. Despite expressing occasional irritation with her waitressing job, she usually kept up a cheerful front, held down the job and got on well with others working at the restaurant. She originally met Bernadette at the Cheesecake Factory.
In the season seven episode "The Hesitation Ramification", Penny believes she has finally found stardom when she lands a brief role in NCIS. She is devastated when her scene is cut, but later decides it is time to focus solely on acting; she quits her job at the Cheesecake Factory to devote herself to it full-time.
Despite usually going to her neighbors for technical assistance when she has problems with her computer, Penny does have some mechanical skills of her own. When she was a child, she rebuilt a tractor engine on the farm where she grew up and competed in a junior rodeo.
During the eighth season, Penny will give up trying to pursue an acting career and get a job as a salesperson at Bernadette's pharmaceutical company.
Unlike the rest of the main characters, Penny is very outgoing and assertive, and has many romantic relationships over the course of the series. She often dates and in one way or another all the men have gone to her for dating advice. In the fourth season opener, Sheldon uses probability and extrapolation calculations to estimate that Penny has dated "193 men... give or take 8" since she started dating at age 14, and slept with "30.96" of them (rounded up to 31). Penny strenuously denies it was ever that many, but her subsequent expression indicates shock and resignation to Sheldon's correct estimate. Amy asks Penny in the same conversation if, in light of her sex partners, she considers herself a slut, Penny responds unsure, "No. No. ... No?"
In the first episode of the series, Penny moved in across the hall from Leonard and Sheldon because of her recent split from her boyfriend, Kurt, after living together for four years. She said she still loved him even though he cheated on her. Kurt makes further appearances in the series trying to get back together with Penny just to use her, and is usually confronted by Leonard.
From the beginning, Leonard's infatuation with Penny becomes the major force that drives the series. Howard also shows interest in her (primarily sexual), but he is always rejected abruptly due to his unsettling approaches. Raj is secretly attracted to Penny as well, but does not interact with her a lot due to his inability to talk to women unless he is drunk. Although Penny occasionally teases Raj for his inability to speak to her, she is sympathetic and kind towards him, and as with Sheldon, she almost always overlooks his idiosyncrasies and appreciates that his intentions are good.
In an early episode, Penny described her approach after a failed relationship: she picks up an attractive man to have rebound sex with over the course of a 36-hour weekend, then leaves him.
In the first season finale, Penny broke up with her boyfriend after he posted intimate details about their private life on his blog. This gave Leonard the opportunity to ask her out on a first official date. Although the date was successful, Penny became worried after she lied to Leonard about graduating from community college (it is mentioned in a later episode, "The Cohabitation Formulation", that she was enrolled in one, but dropped out). When Sheldon asked her why she lied, she said she did not want Leonard to see her as a "stupid loser". Leonard eventually learned the truth from a drugged Sheldon but made matters worse when he tried to encourage Penny to enroll in Pasadena City College. Penny interpreted his suggestion as an insult to her intelligence and did not want to see him again.
Some time after, Penny's introduction to Leonard's mother, Dr. Beverly Hofstadter, caused Penny and Leonard to seek comfort in each other. They nearly have sex, but when Leonard comments in bed that she was attracted to him because of a psychological need to be closer to her father, her revulsion at this causes her to rebuff him.
Afterwards, Penny dated Stuart, from the comic book store, but their dates did not lead to a relationship. The first time, Penny and Stuart were interrupted by Sheldon who argued at length with Stuart over whether Dick Grayson or Jason Todd should be Batman's successor, successfully putting Penny to sleep. On another occasion, when Penny and Stuart were kissing, Penny mistakenly called him "Leonard".
It was in the second season finale that Penny finally showed strong romantic feelings for Leonard. When she discovered that Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, and Raj would be spending three months at the North Pole for a scientific experiment, she became sad and gave Leonard a Snuggie and an unusually long hug, which Leonard described as lasting for "five Mississippis". Leonard asked her what all this attention meant and she lightly dismissed it. After Leonard left, she sighed and said to herself that it meant that she did not want him to leave.
In the third season premiere, after the men returned from the expedition, Penny kissed Leonard right away when he arrived at her door, commencing the first iteration of their on-and-off relationship, with lasts for two months. Initially, Leonard and Penny feel uncomfortable with their new relationship, and they agreed to remain only friends, but are unable to maintain this resolution and remained a couple. Their relationship soured, however, when Leonard told Penny he loved her for the first time, and an unsure Penny simply replied, "Thank you." This tension was heightened due to comments made by Wil Wheaton to Penny about regretting having been in a similar situation. Though Wheaton's comments were likely fabricated, since he was trying to distract Penny during a bowling match against her and the men, she took them seriously and this eventually caused her to break up with Leonard. However, they remain friends and even sleep together once after breaking up after Penny gets drunk following a bad date with Zack Johnson. She realizes Leonard ruined her ability to tolerate and date unintelligent men. However, this only caused more confusion about the status of the relationship for Leonard.
In the fourth season, Penny reveals to her friends Bernadette Rostenkowski and Amy Farrah Fowler during a "Truth or Dare?" game that she has still not moved on from Leonard, though this is not the only time that she hints about her feelings. This was further implied in "The Justice League Recombination" when she told Leonard that he was one of the reasons New Year's Eve became unpleasant, and the two exchange awkward looks as Penny kisses Zack (with whom she had reunited after their breakup in order to have a date on New Year's Eve). In "The Love Car Displacement", Penny and the rest of the cast to an academic conference in Big Sur. She and Leonard share the same hotel room for a time and they almost have sex until Raj walks in on them. The next day, bored with the conference, Penny accepts a ride back to Los Angeles from Professor Glenn, Bernadette's tall and attractive ex-boyfriend. When Raj's sister, Priya, returns in the episode "The Cohabitation Formulation", Priya and Leonard resume their old relationship – they had dated in the past whenever she was around. Penny appears to be initially accepting of their relationship, but is later discovered by Amy to be heartbroken over it. In the following weeks, she began to realize that she still has strong feelings for Leonard.
In the Season 4 finale, Penny reveals to Raj that she regretted breaking up with Leonard. However, even though she and Raj both agree to be friends, they get drunk and wake up in bed together, apparently both naked, the next morning. Leonard, Sheldon, and Howard discover Penny and Raj walking hurriedly out of the bedroom, an apparently naked Raj wrapped up in a blanket next to Penny with her messed-up hair, clutching her heels – implying that they just had sex. In the Season 5 premiere, it appears that Raj and Penny had intercourse, but Raj confides to her that they had not consummated their encounter, prompting Penny to refer to Raj as "Quickdraw" because of that. She spends the rest of the episode with Amy, avoiding the men in an attempt to apologize for her encounter with Raj.
In "The Ornithophobia Diffusion" Leonard and Penny go on a platonic date as friends, but after Leonard expresses the opinion that he does not have to pay for everything or defer to her because they are not a couple, they end up bickering and sabotaging each other's attempts to socialize with members of the opposite sex. Penny realizes that she finds Leonard's more assertive demeanor attractive, but when he regresses to groveling in order to have sex with her, she rebuffs him.
On the spur of the moment in "The Recombination Hypothesis", Leonard asks Penny out on a date after he imagined what getting back with her might be like. Their real date ends successfully and they agree to take their relationship slow in "The Beta Test Initiation". They hit a few rough spots at the beginning of the episode, but then learn to accept what they each want and make up afterwards. When Leonard asks how the beta test (referring to their relationship status) was looking, she replies, "it's looking pretty good" and they share a kiss. In "The Werewolf Transformation" Leonard teaches Penny to play chess and Penny beats him even without learning the standard names of the playing pieces.
During her renewed relationship with Leonard, she has dismissed comments about him ever leaving or dumping her or about worrying about his unfaithfulness around other women and strippers as in the episode "The Stag Convergence". After Penny suggested having sex in "The Launch Acceleration", Leonard breaks the mood by proposing to her. They later meet and Penny does have the courage to tell him "no" and not break up with him as she did two years previously when he told her that he loved her. They finish season 5 watching Howard being launched into space while holding hands to comfort each other. With the start of season 6, Leonard wants a reluctant Penny to define their relationship in "The Date Night Variable". With her girlfriends, she wonders if she is really in love, but cannot quite discuss it with Leonard, in "The Decoupling Fluctuation". Also, in "The Holographic Excitation", she reveals that she has a selfish perception of how a relationship works – saying that Leonard's job is "to make her happy", and her job is "to let him make her happy".
In the first episode of Season 6, "The Date Night Variable", Penny and Leonard are having a 'stay-at-home date' at Leonard's apartment when Raj shows up (having been ejected from the date between Amy and Sheldon where he was a third wheel). He inserts himself into Penny and Leonard's discussion of where their relationship is headed. When Leonard complains that Penny has yet to say "I love you" to Leonard, Raj attempts to get her to say it, causing Penny to eject him from the apartment.
In "The 43 Peculiarity", Leonard becomes jealous of Penny's classmate, an attractive Englishman and attempts to scare him off. When Penny learns of this, she is angry with Leonard, who fears that he has again damaged their relationship. Leonard casually seeks advice from Alex, Sheldon's attractive graduate student assistant, while having coffee in the University cafeteria. Alex flirts with Leonard, though he is seemingly unaware of her attraction to him, laughing it off. At the end of the episode, Penny and Leonard encounter each other in the hall outside their apartments, where Penny expresses her frustration with Leonard's jealousy saying, "You're the one I'm with, and you know that I love you." Both then realize that this is the first time she has declared her love for him openly, and Leonard asks if they should act "like it's no big deal". Penny tells him that they must do so, or she will start crying and so will he. They part awkwardly as Penny has to go to work. Inside his apartment, Leonard smiles and says to himself, "She loves me", but then gets a text from Alex telling him that she would like to get together again, though Leonard still does not realize her intent is to be more than just friends. In "The Egg Salad Equivalency" Penny learns that Sheldon's assistant Alex asked Leonard out to dinner and she did admit to Leonard her insecurity about their relationship. In "The Bakersfield Expedition" Leonard says that he loves Penny, but he cannot share his Comic Con make-up with her which he is using to dress as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation. After another blow-up with Sheldon, Leonard tries to move in with Penny in "The Spoiler Alert Segmentation" however she is not ready yet for them to live together. In "The Tangible Affection Proof", Leonard again tries to propose to Penny on Valentine's Day and she ends it quickly. She admits to being very happy with Leonard, but she has commitment issues. The thought of being married "forever" really "freaks" her out. Leonard then tells her that when she is ready to get married, she can propose to him. In "The Bon Voyage Reaction", Penny sends Leonard off to Europe for the summer, missing him, but secure in their relationship.
In the Season 7 episode, The Thanksgiving Decoupling, Penny reveals that she got drunk with Zack in Las Vegas and they had one of those 'little fake weddings', which the gang points out to be real. Under pressure from Leonard, Penny quickly has the marriage annulled. In "The Hesitation Ramification"; Penny is frustrated about her acting career and while inebriated proposes to Leonard who does not know how to answer a tipsy girlfriend. She gets even more frustrated and leaves though next week in "The Occupation Recalibration", she admits that Leonard did the right thing.
By season 5, Penny had formed strong friendships with Doctors Amy Farrah Fowler and Bernadette Rostenkowski, and the three have formed their own group, spending time in Penny's apartment, going out together and supporting each other emotionally. However, Amy and Bernadette occasionally prefer to meet up without Penny, and often tease her incessantly.
No reason has ever been given why Penny tends to be withdrawn about her inability to commit to a relationship though she does admit it in "The Tangible Affection Proof". She does however, overcome her inability to commit in the penultimate episode of season 7 "The Gorilla Dissolution" where she and Leonard are engaged.
In the original, unaired pilot of the series, the conception of the female lead was very different. She was called Katie, and was envisoned as "a street-hardened, tough-as-nails woman with a vulnerable interior". Sheldon and Leonard would "approach her with honesty, to draw the real, sensitive Katie out". The role was played by Amanda Walsh. However, the test audiences reacted to the character negatively, seeing her as too mean. Because of this, the character was changed, and the role was recast.
Tom Jicha of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel says of Cuoco, "Her character had the potential to be a bimbo but she has developed it into a fully fleshed-out woman, who isn't as book-smart as the other characters but is wiser in so many ways. She's also a great straight person, who can get off zingers of her own".
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