It’s one thing for a character to become the ‘reactor’ in the viewers’ position who may appear clueless at times, and it’s another to become a ditzy blonde stereotype. In the case of The Big Bang Theory’s Penny (played by Kaley Cuoco), she unfortunately turned out to be the latter; similar to how The Good Place’s Jason Mendoza and Friends’ Joey Tribbiani, the ‘ditziness’ became ‘duuuh, what?’ Even the co-creator of the show, Chuck Lorre, regrets it and admits Penny deserved a better characterization.
One thing completely noticeable at the beginning of The Big Bang Theory series is the lack of other characters who are women. Penny happened to be Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Sheldon’s (Jim Parsons) next-door neighbor, or should I say, the ‘pretty girl next door’ archetype that Leonard eventually gets married to.
Given it’s a nerd-centric show about these scientists being ‘nerds and geeks’ about comic books and scientific theories, they could have easily made a distinguished characterization for Penny other than being the ‘pretty girl next door’ who simply becomes the love interest. Thankfully, as the show progressed, Chuck Lorre shared how they managed to improve Penny as the 12 seasons went on.
In The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive, Inside Story of the Epic Hit Series book, co-creator Chuck Lorre mentioned Penny being an ‘underwritten character’ and luckily, as the show went on, Cuoco was more involved in making choices for Penny. Read Lorre’s quote below:
“It was really obvious immediately that we hadn’t developed the character beyond the pretty girl next door, and Kaley was certainly capable of doing a great deal more than what was asked of her. We had to make the character more fully realized. Not just for an episode, but always. [Over time], Penny had an intelligence about people, about relationships, and about sussing out a situation and understanding the dynamics of what’s going on in a room.”
In the same book, Cuoco spoke about her character’s heartwarming yet disappointing ending. Penny had been quite clear about refusing to have children, and though Cuoco admits the ending of the surprise pregnancy was heartwarming, she still would have voted for not having children. Read her full quote below:
“I actually wished that they did not [make Penny pregnant], because I loved that message [of Penny not wanting kids] so much. It was cute how the writers did it at the end with Penny’s surprise pregnancy, and all in all I’m glad, but I was actually voting for her not to [get pregnant].”