The Big Bang Theory

One small gesture can be worth a thousand punch lines. This becomes clear in the last moments of The Big Bang Theory's funny and ultimately touching season finale (CBS, 8/7c), as the gang prepares to watch Howard Walowitz — or "Froot Loops," to his fellow astronauts (you'll learn why) — go into space. But not before hastily arranging an accelerated wedding for Howard and his beloved, Bernadette (Don't Call Her Ma), whose one condition is that no Klingon be used in the ceremony. To which Sheldon declares: "What do you see in her?"

The Big Bang Theory long ago achieved liftoff in the ratings, and the reasons are clear as we watch this geek parade rally to the occasion, while busting Leonard's chops for having blurted out a mid-coital proposal to Penny a week ago. She said no. But millions will say "I do" to one of TV's most robust and justifiably popular comedies.

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Among the night's other finales (unavailable for review): The CW's The Vampire Diaries (8/7c) wraps its third season with a device that's proving to be very popular this week: an origin flashback. (Revenge did it last night, and Scandal goes there later tonight.) As Elena looks back on when her parents — and poor Aunt Jenna — were still alive, the Salvatore brothers hit the road while their buddies the vampire (Caroline), hybrid wolf-boy (Tyler) and witch (Bonnie) each make fateful decisions. ... Robert California, we barely knew ya and never really liked ya. James Spader bids farewell as a dreary season of NBC's The Office (9/8c) comes to a close, with ousted boss Andy plotting a comeback as an undercover janitor. ... Much more promising is the climax to the election arc on Parks and Recreation (NBC, 9:30/8:30c), revealing whether dimwit Bobby Newport (Emmy-worthy Paul Rudd) or do-gooder Leslie (Amy Poehler) wins the city council seat. Knope FTW!

THE LOGJAM: There's little doubt that CBS' The Mentalist will dominate in the 10/9c hour — especially with a new Red John storyline, as the elusive fiend sends a message to Patrick Jane to taunt him on the eighth anniversary of his wife and daughter's murders, driving him to distraction and possible career suicide.

So consider this a DVR alert, because the two competing shows are airing what may be their juiciest episodes yet. I lost count of how many times my jaw dropped during this penultimate episode of Scandal's first season on ABC, as we flash back two years to President Fitz's campaign, when sparks first flew between him and Olivia, and we also see how she assembled her crisis team. More dirt is spilled about the nature of the First Couple's relationship, the origin of the sex tape, and who was on the other end of the phone when ill-fated intern Amanda Tanner went missing. The final twist is so lurid you may think you're watching Revenge — and I mean that as a compliment.

And while it will almost certainly be too little too late, I recommend all those who drifted away from NBC's fascinating and emotionally compelling (and perilously unwatched) Awake to check out this pivotal episode, which finds Michael (the tremendous Jason Isaacs) in his most perplexing situation yet. After collapsing during a carnival bungee jump, he discovers he's stuck in one of his realities, and no matter how many times he goes to sleep, he can't get back to the other side. His shrink insists this is a good sign — "Doesn't that sound like the end of a dream to you?" — and a symbolic indication that he's ready to move on. But for Michael, it's a nightmare, which only gets worse as he finds himself stalked by a mysterious mini-menace (Alias' Kevin Weisman) who seems as confused as Michael about why he's there: "You don't know what it's like not to be able to control what's in your own head," he says.

Of course Michael knows all too well, and this latest existential crisis triggers alarming flashbacks of the car crash that severed Michael's family ties, leading to an emotional catharsis (Isaacs tears it up) and some truly startling revelations. I don't care how poorly this show is doing, I'm hooked to the end.

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