It's baa-ack! And in more ways than one. NBC began airing new episodes of "Friday Night Lights" to little, okay zero, fanfare. It really is a shame because this pair of episodes marked not only a welcome return to the airwaves, but a return to form as well for this critics' darling.

The first episode, "There Goes the Neighborhood", instantly threatened to resume the Soap Opera-ish qualities that have heavily contributed to the show's sophomore slump as a tornado descended upon Dillon. Luckily, the town and viewers were spared any calamities as the tornado only did real damage to neighboring Laribee.

The twister did set in motion an arc that carried throughout both episodes: Laribee's football team is forced to share a locker room with the Dillon Panthers.

As one would expect, tensions ran high between the two teams, especially since they were to square off in the next game. Pranks galore reigned over the locker room, leading to several fights, including one started by Landry (Jesse Plemons) in the cafeteria. Laribee's coach seemed largely indifferent to the disturbances and even threw Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) to the ground when he went after one of his players.

This attitude carried over onto the field of play: When Riggins got into the open field for a game-winning touchdown only to be tackled by Laribee's coach in a moment that made Woody Hayes seem like Tony Dungy. Upon being confronted by Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler), he confessed that his wife only had months to live but conceded it was no excuse for his actions.

The Taylor household was entirely too full for the coach as Tami's (Connie Britton) sister continued to be a nuisance and Riggins crashed in the garage. Things came to a head when Taylor caught Julie (Aimee Teegarden) with her arms around Riggins in her bedroom, causing Taylor to angrily insist that Tim leave his home.

What the coach didn't know was that Riggins was depositing Julie in her bed after a night of drinking that nearly led to her sleeping with a guy from her English class. Julie kept this from her father for much of the two episodes, eventually confessing her misdeed which allowed the Coach to see Riggins in an entirely new light: as an honorable man.

It was too late for Tim at the Taylor's however, as he was forced to move back in with his brother, who owes $2,000 in back mortgage. They get the cash they need when they return to Tim's meth-dealing former landlord to retrieve Riggins' belongings and find a plastic bag containing $3,000 in cash.

The final arc developed in these episodes was Smash's (Gaius Charles) being recruited by an array of schools. He involves his girlfriend more in the process than his mom, leading to a rift between mother and son. Eventually, Smash eschews the advice of his girl and heeds the thoughts of his Coach, leading him to give a verbal commitment to the fictitious TMU. He immediately runs to tell his mother, roses in hand, and the two share an embrace fueled by their realized dreams.

Many touching, and realistic, moments dotted these episodes. The series is ignoring the ratings-grab and teenage-soap ploys of fall 2007 and instead is going back home to its roots of human drama and situations experienced by actual teens and adults.

The Tyra (Adrianne Palicki) and Landry drama was largely absent from these two episodes, and the only real relationship drama onscreen was Buddy's having to come to terms with his wife's getting engaged.

My only real quibble with these two episodes: No Jason Street (Scott Porter). I don't understand. Wasn't he the show's main character during the first season? Now he doesn't show up for blocks of episodes at a time. Maybe the NBC brass didn't like the idea of its attempted pretty teen drama headed by a guy in a wheelchair.

Despite it small flaws, the first two episodes of 2008 marked a welcome homecoming for the series that captivated its tiny audience during its inaugural season. It's a shame NBC continues to bury this show on Friday nights at 9 p.m., especially when it has four more new episodes in its arsenal, a batch that could easily be deployed against repeat-heavy competition on a more prominent evening.

NBC has squandered a golden opportunity to get this series some amount of exposure during the writers' strike, a misstep that will inevitably lead to the show's demise.

I guess the Dillon Panthers can't win 'em all.

Recap by Andrew Payne
Starpulse contributing writer