The series finale of “The Big Bang Theory” delivered a heartwarming conclusion for Penny and Leonard by revealing that they were expecting a baby. However, the show’s handling of the pregnancy storyline left much to be desired, especially considering the significant focus on the couple’s decision to have or not have children throughout the final season, which now feels somewhat redundant.
Uneven storytelling plagued the later seasons of “The Big Bang Theory,” with much of the attention being devoted to Sheldon’s story. Penny and Leonard, who had been integral characters from the start, were sidelined as secondary characters. When it was announced that Season 12 would be the show’s final season, fans expected the narrative to equally focus on all seven core characters in preparation for a proper send-off. Unfortunately, the sitcom doubled down on its imbalanced approach, spending the majority of its 24 episodes milking the Coopers’ Super Asymmetry/Nobel subplot, while giving the rest of the cast throwaway storylines like the Hofstadters’ supposed dilemma about having a child.
In Season 12, Penny and Leonard’s storyline revolved around their conflicting views on starting a family, which was introduced in episode 3 when Penny revealed her stance against having children. Leonard, on the other hand, had always expressed a desire for kids, even stating in the show’s premiere that he and Penny would have intelligent and beautiful babies. However, the issue was inconsistently addressed and took odd twists and turns. At one point, the show even hinted at Leonard donating sperm to Penny’s ex-boyfriend for his new wife’s baby. In the end, none of these developments seemed to matter, as Penny ended up pregnant anyway, seemingly reversing her position on having children.
To be fair, the pregnancy plot was likely conceived before the writers learned that they only had one more season left. With the show’s high ratings, nobody expected it to end, and CBS had expressed interest in greenlighting a 13th season if not for Jim Parsons’ decision to walk away from the show. Perhaps the original plan was to further develop the baby storyline as an overarching plot that would continue into another season. This way, the show could have better established the couple’s conflicting positions on having kids. Leonard had always been clear about his desire for children, while Penny’s firm stance against having them felt abrupt and out of character.
Despite the poorly established conflict, “The Big Bang Theory” proceeded with the Hofstadters’ arc. However, Leonard and Penny did not have extensive discussions about the matter. Leonard simply compromised and respected his wife’s choice with little pushback, which was the right thing to do. It was important for the series to acknowledge Penny’s decision not to have a baby, a decision that was emphasized throughout the show’s final year. Addressing her unconventional choice was crucial in a time where women’s reproductive rights are at the forefront of societal and political conversations. This was “The Big Bang Theory’s” opportunity to delve into a more serious matter, something it rarely did in its 12-year run. Unfortunately, the storyline reached a weak resolution without proper exploration of Penny’s true feelings about her accidental pregnancy.
The question arises: why introduce and dwell on the issue of having a child if it was going to be overturned at the last minute for a crowd-pleasing ending? While seeing Penny pregnant and deeply in love with Leonard may have provided a happy ending, “The Big Bang Theory” could have utilized its time better by progressing the Hofstadters’ storyline. The plot was dragged out, seemingly because the writers didn’t know what to do with it. Many fans disliked the baby conflict, but forcing Penny into something she had vocalized her opposition to sends the wrong message.
Instead of saving the accidental pregnancy reveal for the very last episode, “The Big Bang Theory” could have introduced it halfway through the season. This would have allowed the audience to witness how the couple dealt with the news, knowing they had differing opinions on the matter. It could have been a significant plot arc in the show’s final season, intercutting with Sheldon and Amy’s Nobel bid. Alternatively, the show could have taken a bolder approach by sticking with Penny’s decision not to have children, portraying the Hofstadters as a shining example that couples can be happy without offspring. In either scenario, a satisfying finale for the show’s original couple could have been achieved.
Overall, the one-hour series finale of “The Big Bang Theory” provided a satisfying send-off for the Pasadena gang through callbacks and fan service. However, the mishandling of Leonard and Penny’s pregnancy arc, along with Raj’s pointless story, was a glaring flaw. It appeared to present a perfect happily ever after for the couple but was actually problematic. It invalidated Penny’s original stance on having kids, sending the wrong message about women’s agency in decisions that will profoundly impact their lives. While it is true that people can change their minds, the show failed to address this sudden shift. Instead, viewers were only shown cliché pregnancy tropes and a passing comment about the idea of being pregnant not fully sinking in yet.
One might argue that it was too much to expect “The Big Bang Theory” to effectively depict Penny’s choice not to have children and the subsequent impact on her marriage, given the show’s comedic nature. However, it is not uncommon for sitcoms to tackle timely and sensitive issues. Shows like “Cheers” addressed alcoholism, “Full House” dealt with domestic violence and body image, “How I Met Your Mother” discussed gun control and sexuality, and “Black-ish” regularly incorporates social commentaries on race and police brutality. At the very least, “The Big Bang Theory” could have avoided tackling this sensitive issue altogether rather than rushing through it and mishandling the execution.