Penny (The Big Bang Theory)
|This article relies too much on references to primary sources. (November 2013)|
|The Big Bang Theory character|
Kaley Cuoco as Penny
|Portrayed by||Kaley Cuoco|
Penny is a fictional character on the CBS sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, portrayed by actress Kaley Cuoco. She 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. Penny is the only main character of the show whose last name has not been revealed.
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's engine finally fails in Season 7, Leonard buys her a new one so she can go to auditions and pursue her dream of becoming an actress. In Season 8, after founding job as a representative at Bernadette's company, she obtained a company car and sold the one Leonard had bought for her, returning him the money.
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 the three of them play Twister, and when Bernadette initially fails to 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. Leonard noticed it and accused Sheldon of modifying her like Pavlov's Dogs . 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, or if he has bad a bad dream or is feeling unsafe; 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, and has developed to quote some science fiction shows (like Star Trek), and movies (Star Wars). 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, her general appearance 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, believing there is nothing interested in them, only to get into a huge heated argument about whenever or not only Thor could yield his hammer. 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 sometimes references science and technology-related ideas. In "The Codpiece Topology", Penny, having previously learned of Schrödinger's Cat in "The Tangerine Factor", is seen explaining that concept to her date. In the "The Beta Test Initiation", Penny references beta testing when he uses a software development analogy, to describe their attempt to start a romantic relationship again, although Leonard points out he was technically talking about alpha testing.
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 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", in "The Roommate Transmogrification" he has changed it to "Penny, get your own Wi-Fi", and in the episode "The Speckerman Recurrence", he has changed it into "Penny already eats our food, she can pay for 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.
Penny's financial situation takes a dramatic turn by "The Expedition Approximation". Having taken a job as a sales representative at the pharmaceutical company at which Bernadette works, she is now making enough money to be financially self-sufficient, but when she sells the automobile Leonard previously gave her in "The Friendship Turbulence" and gives him back the money for it, this bothers him, and leads to discussions on whether her future financial windfalls may prove difficult for him, given his insecurities. This situation has recently been exacerbated when it was revealed that Penny now actually earns significantly more than Leonard.
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, leading her to have father issues. 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 fourth 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, "and I want them to grow up on a house without wheels". 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.
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 clearly unsettles 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 at her local The 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, was initially meant to be a temporary job for her desired profession as an actress, although her expectations are somewhat high and naive at the beginning. She admits in season two that her plan was to waitress 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". Frustrated with her acting career, in the season five premiere, 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 season seven 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 did not realise had been uploaded to the internet until Sheldon revealed it was available online and the gang saw it on the day they met her.
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 become an actress.
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 season eight, Penny gives up her acting career and gets 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 estimates that Penny has dated 193 men, and had sex with 31 of them. 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 series premiere, Penny moves in across the hall from Leonard and Sheldon because of her recent split from her boyfriend, Kurt, after living together for four years. She says she still loves him even, though he cheated on her. Kurt makes two more appearances in the series.
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. 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 the first season episode "The Fuzzy Boots Corollary", Penny describes 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 breaks up with her boyfriend after he posts intimate details about their private life on his blog. This gives Leonard the opportunity to ask her out on a first official date. Although the date is successful, Penny becomes worries after she lies 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 asks her why she lied, she indicates that she is self-conscious about her comparative level of education. Leonard eventually learns the truth, but makes matters worse when he tries to encourage Penny to enroll in Pasadena City College, as Penny interprets his suggestion as an insult to her intelligence, and rebuffs him.
In "The Maternal Capacitance", Penny's introduction to Leonard's mother, Dr. Beverly Hofstadter, causes 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 dates Stuart, from the comic book store, but their dates do not lead to a relationship. The first time, Penny and Stuart are interrupted by Sheldon, who argues at length with Stuart over whether Dick Grayson or Jason Todd should be Batman's successor, while Penny falls to sleep. Their dating ends in "The Classified Materials Turbulence", when Penny and Stuart are kissing, and Penny mistakenly calls him "Leonard".
In the second season finale Penny finally shows strong romantic feelings for Leonard. When she discovers that Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, and Raj will be spending three months at the magnetic North Pole for a scientific experiment, she becomes sad and gives Leonard a Snuggie and a long hug, that Leonard perceives as unusually long. Although Penny dismisses the meaning into which Leonard reads the gift and the hug, she later admits 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 kisses Leonard immediately upon his return, commencing the first iteration of their on-and-off relationship, 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 for two months. Their relationship sours, however, when Leonard tells Penny he loves her for the first time, and an unsure Penny simply replied, "Thank you." This leads to tension between the two, which is exacerbated by Wil Wheaton, who successfully exploits their conflict in order to Penny during a bowling match against her and the men, and leads 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, after she realizes Leonard ruined her ability to tolerate and date unintelligent men.
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. This is further implied in "The Justice League Recombination" when she indicates to Leonard that her reunion with Zack, and Zack's decision to have the two of them join the men in dressing up as the Justice League for New Year's Eve costume party at Stuart's comic shop is made difficult by her history with Leonard. In "The Love Car Displacement", Penny and the rest of the cast attend an academic conference in Big Sur. She and Leonard share the same hotel room for the night 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 begin a romantic relationship. Penny appears to be initially accepting of their relationship, but is later discovered by Amy to be heartbroken over it.
In the Season four finale, Penny reveals to Raj that she regrets 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 leaving the apartment, deducing that they just had sex. In the Season 5 premiere, 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 due to her embarrassment over her encounter with Raj
In "The Ornithophobia Diffusion" Leonard and Penny go on a platonic date as friends, but after Leonard decides 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 imagines what getting back with her might be like. In "The Beta Test Initiation", their date goes well until Leonard asks about the status of their relationship. This causes conflict, due to Penny's subsequent admission that commitment frightens her, but they agree to take their relationship slowly. On a spur of the moment while having sex in "The Launch Acceleration", however, Leonard proposes to her, causing Penny great distress. After discussing the matter, Penny declines his proposal, while affirming her feelings for him, and her desire to remain with him. In the season 6 episode "The Date Night Variable", Leonard wants a reluctant Penny to define their relationship. In "The Decoupling Fluctuation", she wonders if she is really in love with him, but cannot bring herself to discuss it with Leonard. In "The Date Night Variable", Raj shows up unannounced at a private dinner of Penny and Leonard's, and inserts himself into their 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. At the end of the episode, Penny and Leonard discuss this, during which Penny casually mentions that she loves him, which Leonard notes is the first time she has said this to him. In "The Egg Salad Equivalency" Penny learns that Sheldon's attractive assistant Alex asked Leonard out to dinner and eventually admits to Leonard her own insecurity about their relationship. After an major argument with Sheldon, Leonard suggests moving in with Penny in "The Spoiler Alert Segmentation", but she indicates that she is not ready for this. In "The Tangible Affection Proof", Leonard again tries to propose to Penny on Valentine's Day, but she expresses that she is not ready for this, and is unnerved by that level of commitment. They resolve that when she is ready to get married, she can propose to him. In "The Bon Voyage Reaction", Penny deals with Leonard going off to Europe for a summer science assignment, resolving that they are more secure in their relationship.
In "The Hesitation Ramification", Penny, inebriated and frustrated over the state of her acting career, proposes to Leonard, who is hesitant to answer, given the circumstances. Though this further frustrates Penny, she admits in the following episode, "The Occupation Recalibration", that Leonard did the right thing.
By season 5, Penny has formed strong friendships with Doctors Amy Farrah Fowler and Bernadette Rostenkowski, and the three are often seen spending time together. However, Amy and Bernadette occasionally prefer to meet without Penny, and often tease her incessantly.
In the penultimate episode of season 7, "The Gorilla Dissolution", she and Leonard become engaged, after Penny realizes that it is not fame she wants out of life, but happiness with Leonard.
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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