The Big Bang Theory’s Worst Character Change Wasn’t Sheldon Or Leonard’s Arc

Warning! This article contains SPOILERS for Young Sheldon season 7, episode 14.

SUMMARY

Penny’s forgotten dream of acting in The Big Bang Theory was a major failure that highlighted the show’s lack of focus on her ambitions.
The gradual diminishing of Penny’s dream contrasted starkly with the success achieved by the other main characters, like Sheldon and Howard.
Penny’s pregnancy twist in the finale further dashed her hopes of returning to acting, leaving her original dream unfulfilled and forgotten.

Although The Big Bang Theory made mistakes with every character, Young Sheldon’s series finale proved its greatest sin had nothing to do with Leonard or Sheldon. By the time The Big Bang Theory’s finale aired, it was clear that the show’s original premise had changed over the years. When it first began airing in 2007, The Big Bang Theory was about a socially awkward nerd falling for his glamorous neighbor and trying everything in his power to woo her despite his intense shyness. Thus, Johnny Galecki’s Leonard and Kaley Cuoco’s Penny were clearly The Big Bang Theory’s main characters.

In this setup, Jim Parsons’s Sheldon was the comic relief. An obnoxiously self-centered genius, Sheldon was a foil to both the carefree Penny and the insecure Leonard. Over time, Sheldon proved so popular that he effectively became the show’s new main character, especially after Leonard and Penny got together for good. Sheldon and Penny’s Big Bang Theory relationship turned out to be more intriguing and complex than Leonard and Penny’s romance, and the introduction of his love interest Amy and Howard’s love interest Bernadette made the show’s main cast larger. This resulted in one promising character detail being completely forgotten.

Penny’s Forgotten Dream Was The Big Bang Theory’s Worst Failure

The Hit Sitcom Forgot Her Acting Ambition

Big Bang Theory - Kaley Cuoco as Penny
Penny with messy hair gaming on her pink computer in The Big Bang Theory The Big Bang Theory Sheldon and Penny Talking
Penny smirking in The Big Bang Theory
Penny scowling on The Big Bang TheoryBig Bang Theory - Kaley Cuoco as Penny Penny with messy hair gaming on her pink computer in The Big Bang Theory The Big Bang Theory Sheldon and Penny Talking Penny smirking in The Big Bang Theory Penny scowling on The Big Bang Theory

Penny’s abandoned dream of becoming an actor was The Big Bang Theory’s biggest failure, as this plot exposed just how little the show cared about her life plans. When her career was last mentioned in the show’s final season, Penny had given up on her acting dream completely and was heading a sales team for a pharmaceutical company. Although this job paid well, Penny had repeatedly admitted that she didn’t care for the work and didn’t like flirting with customers to make sales. Despite this, Penny’s desire to pursue acting was quietly abandoned as the rest of the heroes excelled.

Since she never got to take the alternative job she was offered in The Big Bang Theory’s lowest-rated episode, Penny remained working as a pharmaceutical sales representative at the end of the series. It is worth noting that Penny only met the show’s heroes because she moved to California to work as an actor. She pursued this dream tirelessly for years, enduring humiliations like appearing in a low-rent horror movie, accidentally auditioning for an adult project, and having her only TV role cut before the broadcast. Penny took her work as seriously as the rest of the characters but never succeeded.

The Big Bang Theory Gradually Diminished Penny’s Dream

Penny’s Plans Contrasted Starkly With The Show’s Heroes

Johnny Galecki's Leonard and Kaley Cuoco's Penny kiss in The Big Bang Theory

Penny gradually gave up on acting in a way that none of her co-stars ever had to rein in their ambitions.

While it is fair that Penny never became a famous actor, it is galling that she never made a living off her passion or even appeared on TV. After her NCIS role was cut in season 7, episode 12, “The Hesitation Ramification,” Penny gradually gave up on acting in a way that none of her co-stars ever had to rein in their ambitions. Young Sheldon’s series finale revealed that she never lost her love of acting, which makes this even more galling compared to the fates of the other main characters. Within their company, Penny’s plan was comparatively practical.

Making a living as an actor is a tough thing to pull off, but it was hardly a uniquely lofty ambition in The Big Bang Theory. In later seasons, Howard went to space and Sheldon won a Nobel Prize, proving that the sitcom didn’t have any problem leaving its grounded roots behind for the sake of a character’s success. In this milieu, it is strangely striking that Penny didn’t even get to appear on television, let alone make a modest living from professional acting work. What made this even worse was The Big Bang Theory’s decision to change Penny’s plans.

One Big Bang Theory Finale Twist Made Penny’s Lost Dream Worse

Penny’s Pregnancy Made A Return To Acting Even Less Likely

Kaley Cuoco's Penny dressed as a cat and Johnny Galecki's Leonard dressed as a Hobbit in The Big Bang Theory season 1 Leonard and Penny in The Big Bang Theory's sex dungeon dream sequence
Kaley Cuoco's Penny and Johnny Galecki's Leonard standing at a funeral in The Big Bang Theory Penny and Leonard in The Big Bang Theory Penny and Leonard in The Big Bang TheoryKaley Cuoco's Penny dressed as a cat and Johnny Galecki's Leonard dressed as a Hobbit in The Big Bang Theory season 1 Leonard and Penny in The Big Bang Theory's sex dungeon dream sequence Kaley Cuoco's Penny and Johnny Galecki's Leonard standing at a funeral in The Big Bang Theory Penny and Leonard in The Big Bang Theory Penny and Leonard in The Big Bang Theory

When Penny was first introduced, all she wanted was to work hard as a waitress until she could become a successful actor.

Outside of wanting to work as an actor, Penny never wanted children. The Big Bang Theory’s finale revealed Penny was pregnant, a huge twist that made her original acting ambitions even more of a distant memory. This new life stage and its attendant responsibilities leave the infamously hard job of acting further out of reach than ever before, and Leonard and Penny didn’t even mention this in the finale. Penny’s Big Bang Theory pregnancy twist was criticized for undermining the character’s established personality, but this reveal also set in stone the end of her original dream from the show’s beginning.

When Penny was first introduced, all she wanted was to work hard as a waitress until she could become a successful actor. In contrast, all Sheldon wanted was a Nobel Prize and all Leonard wanted was his neighbor. Sheldon and Leonard’s dreams came true by the finale, while Penny’s was forgotten four seasons before the series even ended. Instead of the finale bringing back this ambitious life plan, The Big Bang Theory’s ending stuck another nail in its coffin by making it almost impossible for Penny to find the time and income to pursue her life-long passion while also parenting.

Young Sheldon’s Series Finale Made This Big Bang Theory Mistake Worse

Penny Never Returned To Her Abandoned Acting Dreams

Jim Parsons' Sheldon sits at a desk looking excited in Young Sheldon series finale

Even years later, Penny still harbored her original love of acting and it remained unfulfilled.

When Young Sheldon’s series finale referenced Penny and Leonard, the internet was ablaze with theories about Leonard’s possible death. The fact that Sheldon said Penny babysat his and Amy’s children without mentioning Leonard was taken as evidence that Leonard could be dead, but the more insidious implication of the comment was ignored. Sheldon complained that Penny’s babysitting influenced their daughter to pursue acting, but this felt surprisingly sad considering Penny herself abandoned that dream before The Big Bang Theory ended. This implies that, even years later, Penny still harbored her original love of acting and it remained unfulfilled.

The Big Bang Theory’s finale was never going to be able to give every character a perfect ending. However, ignoring Penny’s acting dream when she was one of the show’s main characters was egregious, and Sheldon complaining about her spreading her love of acting to the next generation was mean-spirited. This would not have been a problem if Penny had become as successful as Sheldon, Howard, or Leonard during the show’s run, but instead, her dreams were dropped while theirs came true. As a result, what should have been a cute nod in Young Sheldon’s series finale ended up drawing attention to one of The Big Bang Theory’s worst inequalities.

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