I think this episode was a nice character study for Penny, and ultimately one of the things I’ve appreciated about the show’s second season is that they’ve decided to treat Penny as a character rather than just window dressing. We know she’s not the most sensible person, so for her to be behind on her bills is not something out of character for her at all. And her situation is understandable: she’s behind on her rent because she had to take shorter shifts at the restaurant because her car broke down and she can’t afford to get it fixed. Sheldon, who really has no need for most of the money he possesses, decides to help Penny out by letter her have however much money she wants from his snake jar, and offers to let her pay him back whenever. The scene where she hesitates about taking the money (constantly taking a little more, and then putting some back, and then taking a lot more, and then putting it all back, and then taking some) is probably the funniest material Kaley Cuoco has ever been given, and it was refreshing to let the girl have some of the physical comedy for once.
Penny: Wow, you’ve got a lot of money in there.
Sheldon: That’s why it’s guarded by snakes.
But Penny had a lot more to do that just that. It turns out, she’s kind of psycho about borrowing money from people. Despite his protestations, Penny becomes increasingly worried that she won’t be able to pay Sheldon back the money she owes him in a timely manner, causing her to constantly defend anything she does, like the purchase of a beret or the decision to have takeout with the guys. (“I’ve been eating at the restaurant four nights this week. I can have take out if I want to! I deserve it!” And then taking her takeout to her apartment where she won’t be judged for eating it.) Noticing her bizarre behavior, Leonard goes to tell Penny that, truly, despite the numerous things Sheldon does care about (his seat on the couch, forks with four tines, the appropriate way to make friends, etc.), the one thing he really doesn’t care about at all is money. He goes through her bills with her and offers to help her find ways to cut corners, since the money Sheldon lent her only went so far as to pay her rent and buy her takeout that she returned home to eat by candlelight. While going through her bills, Leonard finds out that Penny is so in debt because she paid a bunch of her ex Kurt’s court fees and he hasn’t paid her back.
Ever the hero, Leonard sees this as his opportunity to help Penny and enlists his friends to help him politely intimidate Kurt into ponying up. Kurt’s first response is that Penny will get her money when she gets it, which is a good enough answer for Raj, Sheldon and Howard, who all bail, but Leonard stays behind to try to reason with the man once more, and winds up coming home with the words “I owe Penny $1,800″ sharpied to his forehead. But it seems Leonard’s method worked, as Penny pops up at their door the next day to give Sheldon the money he was owed. Out of the blue, she says, Kurt turned up with what he owed her and said he felt guilty. A beanie-wearing Leonard goads and prods to see if perhaps Kurt revealed why he had a sudden change of heart, but alas Kurt never said, leaving Leonard to be the unsung hero about whom minstrels will sing ballads. Even worse: Penny sees Kurt’s act of kindness as a sign that he’s turned over a new leaf and starts to date him again.
I actually liked this episode quite a bit. Giving Penny a plot and some comedy of her own was a pretty inspired move for this show, and what’s more is that the mechanics of her plot didn’t rely on Sheldon’s idiosyncrasies, something we all know the show relies to heavily upon. He had his funny moments, especially in the cold open when everyone leaves for the movie without him and he announces, brightly, “They were right. That was the only solution.” I wish I’d written down his ballad for Leonard at the end, though. It was pretty precious.
Other things I enjoyed:
- When Howard wears a yellow shirt with his yellow pants, he looks like the Man in the Yellow Hat. Minus the hat.
- It really is getting harder and harder to be a bad Jew when the price of MuShu pork keeps going up like that.
- A nice little meta moment from Penny about her fallback plan should the whole “being a movie star” thing not work out: “Being a TV star.”
- I especially enjoyed Sheldon’s aversion to Twizzlers. Thanks an article I read about the great Twizzler vs. Red Vine faceoff on YumSugar, I spent all of last summer surveying people from various areas of the country about their preference for either Twizzlers or Red Vines. Red Vines, the superior of the two licorice candies, is more popular on the West Coast, with Twizzlers being king on the East Coast. The Midwest varies due to distributors, but many people I surveyed from the Eastern Seaboard had never even heard of Red Vines. This totally blew my mind because it finally explained why my New York-raised father preferred those plasticy-tasting weird-ass Twizzlers over delicious, soft cherry-tasting Red Vines that my mother and I (both California raised) loved so much. If anyone wants to weigh in on which of these licorice candies they prefer, feel free to do so in the comments and be sure to identify which region of the country you’re from.