Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton in Friday Night Lights by Bill Records/NBC Photo
What more can its devoted critics say about NBC's Friday Night Lights except to celebrate the fact that it's back for a second season, which means it has already beaten the odds, at least for now. Not that the odds aren't still incredibly steep for this eternal underdog in its new Friday time period: 9 pm/ET, when many of those who might savor this wonderful drama's small-town football backdrop are out enjoying their own high school football matches this time of year. No matter how you watch it - in real time, in your own time via recording or online viewing - you really don't want to miss it.

Friday Night Lights is powerfully entertaining drama, and returning to Dillon, Texas, is like going home again. The characters are instantly familiar as they recapture your heart, especially the Taylors. That would be Coach Eric and wife Tami, unhappily maintaining a long-distance relationship as he adjusts to a new college job while Tami copes with a new baby and their increasingly difficult teenage daughter Julie, who has begun to feel trapped in her relationship with nice-guy quarterback Matt Saracen.

As Eric and Tami, Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton nail every scene, establishing the most adult and perfectly imperfect married relationship TV has seen in ages. Their love is unquestioned, but they are exhausted, stressed, worried and confused about how to fix what circumstances have broken. When Eric is called back to work earlier than expected after he comes home to help with the new baby, his regret is mirrored in his wife's silent anguish. As Tami tries (and ultimately fails) to keep her composure in the face of this disappointment, Britton's performance is achingly real. As is Chandler's, when he finally gets some quality face time with his angry daughter, Julie (a superb Aimee Teegarden), and assures her that no matter how many mistakes she makes and whatever she decides regarding Matt, and no matter how far away his job takes him, she is still loved.

Once again, Zach Gilford as Matt Saracen is heartbreakingly fine, whether coping with his romantic setbacks, tending to his mentally addled granny or acting as a reluctant mentor for his nerdy pal Landry (the hilarious Jesse Plemons, coming into his own as a leading character this season), who's nervously wooing the bombshell Tyra ( Adrienne Palicki) while protecting her from an insistent, scary stalker. Spoiler alert The dark place to which this storyline takes this unlikely couple has already rattled many fans and critics with its melodramatic excess, but the actors pull it off with raw conviction. If you're not rooting for Landry and Tyra to survive this unfortunate subplot, you're not human.

Being a realist, I'm not entirely thrown by the notion that once in a while even a show as authentic as Friday Night Lights is going to need to succumb to a contrived only-on-TV cliff-hanger storyline. After all, this isn't a documentary, and I've often worried that in all the raves we give this show, we might make it sound too much like it's good for you, like it's medicine. Which it isn't. Friday Night Lights is also great entertainment: sudsy, sexy and funny while also working one's tear ducts into overflow.

I was actually more put off by the subplot that finds pouty princess Lila ( Minka Kelly) literally immersed in religion to ease the disappointments of last season (her ex-boyfriend Jason's crippling injury, her parents' split). I don't object to her embracing Jesus and joining a super-church - in fact, it makes perfect sense and is the sort of life choice you too rarely find in prime-time TV - but a scene in which she lectures her mom and new boyfriend midprayer feels overwritten in a way that's rare for a show that typically traffics in subtle understatement.

What I'm getting at here is an admission that Friday Night Lights isn't perfect. But it is sublime. No show moves or impresses me more from episode to episode, and I cherish the fact that for at least one hour a week, network TV is shining a light on ordinary people made extraordinary by the level of acting, writing and piercingly intimate direction. If one of the subplots this season borders on film noir cheese, it's not cheaply tossed off, as subsequent episodes dramatize the emotional consequences of good characters making a stupefying decision in the heat of a crisis.

And for those who actually like the football part of the show? That's also terrific this season, as a bull-headed new coach alienates most of the team in order to glorify the hot-dogging Smash ( Gaius Charles). How this conflict explodes on the field in the third episode is riveting, and it sets the stage for more pivotal life-changing moments in the lives of some of TV's most beloved characters.

Regardless of how the new night and the subsequent ratings play out, Friday Night Lights is a champ all the way, scoring one thrilling dramatic touchdown after another.

Watch it and weep. Miss it and we'll weep for you.