Anyone who's been following CBS' powerhouse The Big Bang Theory — and judging by the ratings, that's just about everyone — knows what a hard time Sheldon (Jim Parsons) has when it comes to deciphering the formula of personal gift-giving. (A series highlight was his reaction to Penny's gift of a napkin used by THE Leonard Nimoy.) His dilemma is especially acute in a very enjoyable Valentine's Day episode (8/7c), as he turns to his long-suffering assistant to help fulfill this part of his "relationship agreement" with Amy Farrah Fowler (the hilarious Mayim Bialik). "I think she likes monkeys and the color grey," are his only clues. Some genius.
The other couples — Penny and Leonard, Bernadette and in-the-doghouse Howard — go on a double date that doesn't quite live up to "romance ninja" Leonard's expectations, while Raj convinces Stuart to open up his comic-book store to his chronically unattached clientele. Before each of these stories reaches their unexpected conclusions, especially Sheldon and Amy's, the studio audience can be heard going into "aww" overdrive.
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WASTED HOUR: As opposed to the "yikes" of eye-rolling derision that ABC's Zero Hour deserves. You'd think it was the end of the world, the way these characters go on about ... well, the end of the world. But relax, it's not really a conspiracy, just one of the dopiest conspiracy thumb-suckers to come down the pike in a while. Even in a year that has given us clunkers like The Mob Doctor, Emily Owens, M.D. and Animal Practice, it's tempting to declare Zero Hour (8/7c) the worst or at least silliest show of this or any other recent season.
A preposterously overwrought Da Vinci Code for dummies, this would-be thriller mashes up Nazi medical experiments, an ancient order of religious mystics and all kinds of clock imagery as we listen to comically portentous dialogue like "Twelve is both the beginning and the end of time." Or: "If you knew the real truth, you'd lose your mind." That's the warning from a notorious international mercenary who abruptly kidnaps the wife of milquetoast Modern Skeptic editor Hank Galliston (a slumming Anthony Edwards) before we really to get to know any of these flammably cardboard characters. Hank quickly grasps that his lovely wife's disappearance has something to do with an antique clock that contains encoded secrets, causing a man of the cloth to declare when he happens across remnants of a language dead since the 2nd century, "We're rewriting history books here, Hank."
The history of bad TV, maybe, as written with the sophistication of a middle-schooler on a sugar high. As Hank and various other colorless characters scoot off to the Arctic Circle and Bavaria to chase the hopelessly convoluted story's murky mysteries, we're told in a burst of clunky exposition that a "storm is coming." The storm's name: Zero Hour. More like Hour of Hokum, redefining the notion of empty-calorie TV. For this ABC put Last Resort in an early grave?
THE THURSDAY GUIDE: Elsewhere, after Fox's American Idol (8/7c) reveals the Top 40 contestants — 20 guys and 20 girls — who'll head to Las Vegas for next week's semifinals, Glee (9/8c) marks Valentine's Day by reuniting those well-traveled graduates with this season's newbies, all celebrating Will and Emma's wedding. ... After last week's jaw-dropping shenanigans on ABC's Scandal (10:02/9:02c), the story jumps ahead in time, which may explain why a jilted Olivia is ready to welcome a handsome new stranger into her messy life. The new guy is played by Scott Foley, and we hope things end better for him here than it did on Grey's Anatomy. ... Speaking of Grey's (9/8c), I hope they put this financial-crisis storyline to bed soon. ... The perils of keeping a show on the shelf for too long: NBC's Community (8/7c) presents its annual Halloween episode — on Valentine's Day. ... AMC adds two new reality shows to its roster: Freakshow (9:30/8:30c), about a family operating a sideshow museum of believe-it-or-not oddities on the Venice Beach boardwalk; and Immortalized (10/9c), a competition series for taxidermists. ... And for those who'd just rather flip off Cupid tonight, Investigation Discovery complies with 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover (9/8c), a special all about notorious real-life breakups, hosted by Tia Carrere. Way to kill the mood.