by Elizabeth Jones
Now those people who know me know I am a huge fan of the Big Bang Theory. Seriously. I love it. I have seen all 150 episodes (so far) multiple times, and I am working on owning all of the seasons. I eagerly await each new episode to become available on Amazon Prime…and yet…I can’t stand Leonard. And while I should be used to it by now, whenever I tell anyone this, they are shocked! Which in turn surprises me. So I am writing this list to kind of explain my reasons.
1. She's a person, not a thing.
First of all, Leonard often treats Penny as an object. From the first moment that he and Sheldon see her, he is possessive of her, even calling “dibs.” Now I dislike the way Penny is portrayed in the first season and even some of the second. She is presented as “hot blonde” with little to no character development, only there to stir up the guys. So, I generally tend to give Leonard a pass for that first season. I chalk that up to poor writing and move on. But when Penny starts to become a real person, when she starts to have money issues and daddy issues and Sheldon issues, when she really starts to become a friend to the guys (she is the one to discover that Raj can talk to women when he is drunk and incidentally the first woman Raj talks to without the aid of alcohol)…Leonard’s perception and treatment of her never adapt. To him she is still that girl across the hall hat he really wants to bang. In “The Porkchop Indeterminacy“ (S1E15) when all the guys including Leonard start to pant after Missy, Leonard is still possessive of Penny, not wanting Howard to make a pass. Keep in mind this was even before they started dating.
Once they start dating there are some other pretty creepy instances of how possessive he can be of Penny, and how disparaging of her beliefs and intelligence. There are numerous references to his skepticism of astrology and his comments throughout the various phases of their relationship about his ideas on her education and intellectual competence, even sneaking out of bed in the middle of the night to read her homework, which she has clearly stated she does not want him to see. When Penny is working with a fellow classmate in a study group, Leonard becomes very jealous of the attention she is giving him, even confronting the guy and pretending to have gang connections. (S6E8). Keep in mind this is during the arc where Alex Jensen is hitting on Leonard at Caltech. He has a completely different standard of behavior for himself as he does for Penny. And while it could be said that he is clueless of Alex's feelings for him, Penny is aware of the possible implications of a relationship with a male classmate and has made it very clear to her study partner that she is in a relationship and is not interested in him. But Leonard does not trust Penny, and instead of talking to her about his feelings, he instead attempts to intimidate the other man. And in another episode, he's very upset about Penny's faux marriage to Zach. He is unwilling to enjoy the holiday until she resolves that marriage, regardless of the fact that Penny was unaware that the marriage was real and that she was perfectly willing to get an annulment after the holiday.
2. Women, am I right?
A second disturbing trait is that his interactions with the other women in the show are not that much better. It could be argued that Leslie Winkle is the only woman who he treats as an equal, possibly because her intelligence and her willingness to adamantly stand up for herself.His long-term relationship with Stephanie Barnett is begun when he literally cuts in to Howard's date with her. However Leonard realizes he is not interested in a long-term relationship with her and they end the relationship. All in all, this isn't the worst relationship he is ever in, but it does highlight his attitude towards women and sex and show his true feelings of friendship.
Leonard's interaction with Missy is especially terrible. He is not only completely willing to throw out the infatuation he feels for Penny at a moment’s notice, but he's also willing to manipulate his friendship with Sheldon in order to get sex with Sheldon's twin. And yes I am aware that the other two men were involved in that, but they did not instigate the conversation with Sheldon, and Leonard is supposedly held up as a really nice guy regardless of the fact that he just wants to have sex with whoever.
See Dr. Elizabeth Plympton as an example of this (S3E21).
During Leonard’s relationship with Priya, he almost has sex with the girl from the comic book store, Alice. And even Sheldon does not believe that Leonard can keep it in his pants, as seen in his comments to Leonard after Leonard’s wedding date with Amy (S5E3).
3. Oh, Sheldon...
I don't want to really get into talking about Leonard's relationship with Sheldon although I do have some issues with it in general. Yes Leonard does provide Sheldon with a sense of familiarity and routine, and I think that's a really good thing. However, the cutting comments and bitter witticisms that Sheldon doesn't really necessarily have the capacity to understand, I think are uncalled for and at times cruel. The single most egregiously inappropriate action that Leonard takes in the entire series is when he forages Sheldon's test results during the Arctic expedition and convinces Sheldon he has made a discovery when in fact it's false information. As someone who works in academia, I find this completely revolting. I know how important scientists take their research and take the results of their experimentation, and I know how devastating it would be to find out someone you trusted falsified your information. And I might have accepted that this was played as a joke or it was a writer’s mistake… except that Sheldon reacts the way someone would really react in this situation. He quits his job, he returns home to Texas, a place he very vocally does not like, does not have fond memories of, does not want to return to, and takes refuge with his mother who obviously cannot understand him and provide him with a fulfilling life. His life is destroyed by the arrogance and unfeelingness of the three men that he calls his friends. I cannot like a character who would not only go along with such an idea but actively promote it. And Leonard shows no remorse for this action even after he becomes aware of the extent that it devastates Sheldon’s life.
Although he can be a bit grating at times, I hesitate to say that Leonard's personality is something that makes me dislike him. I don't think that that's true. I do think that he is very intelligent, he's very funny, he can be quite witty at times, and I enjoy seeing these parts of his character. However Leonard’s home life and the issues that surround it, the terrible mother that he obviously had and his childhood being spent bullied, do raise some questions for me.
Leonard seems to be unwilling to admit when he's done something wrong. He doesn't apologize for the prank he pulls on Sheldon in the Arctic, he doesn't apologize for stealing Stephanie from Howard, he doesn't apologize for playing on Penny’s affection for him and concern over his mental issues in order to get sex (S7E4). And a lot of the pushback I get for my ideas of Leonard is that what he's a nice guy. That he's the most normal of our scientists. And I think that's true in some ways. However if I was to meet Leonard, I would not date him because he obviously has issues he has not dealt with in his personal life; it would make being in a relationship with him a huge mistake. And I think it affects his friendships as well as his romantic relationships. And people have told me to look what happens at the Halloween party where Penny’s really drunk and she comes on him, and he respects the fact that she doesn't really know what she's doing because she's drunk and lonely and sad so he does not take advantage of her. Also when she proposes to him when she's drunk and lonely and sad and he does not hold her to her words or accept her proposal because he knows she is not saying that from the part of her that he wanted that action to come from. However that is what normal, decent people do. Leonard doesn't get brownie points because he did what everyone should do. It just means he doesn’t take advantage of drunk women. (Something, however, I am all for.)
5. Poor Penny
Speaking of that, one last, last issue. I promise. In the recent season, season seven, there is a lot made out of the fact that Penny is alcoholic. It's part of the jokes. The woman clearly has a serious issue, and Leonard is unwilling to see that his partner needs help and to provide her with that help and support. Instead when she's feeling vulnerable about her job and her career, he is only thinking about himself. He wants to know what Penny’s change in career means for him and his relationship. When she desperately needs him to be supportive, he is not. Sheldon, who is clearly not a good model of a person in a relationship, is much better at supporting Penny and being there for her than Leonard. And when Sheldon is better than you at something related to being in a relationship…something is clearly wrong with you.