I usually save these things for the Ask Matt Q&A, but I opened the following e-mail from Bill C shortly before watching this week's episode of Friday Night Lights, and it haunted me (and, frankly, annoyed me) throughout the episode, which I found to be one of the most accessibly and endearingly entertaining of the entire season.

Here's what Bill wrote: "Would it be a real tragedy if Friday Night Lights got canceled? It's not like we're talking about a show that, however good it is, does not [sic] match the consistency and creative heights of superior shows like 24, House and Grey's Anatomy."

Way to use the double negative there, a bit of a metaphor considering the disdain shown for one of the finest dramas network TV has produced in years.

In my world of TV appreciation, which has to be flexible enough to include everything from guilty pleasures to reality shows, there are two types of top-tier TV. First and foremost, there are the great entertainments, hours of sheer pleasure and excitement, a category to which 24 and Grey's Anatomy surely belong. ( House, on the other hand, I find to be a merely good show built around a great character.)

Then there's the sort of TV that transcends TV, the occasional series that jolts us into a higher state of awe as we are introduced to characters and settings that seem so real, living lives that are so openly and honestly portrayed, that you can't shake them from week to week. And regardless how long the show is allowed to survive, you know it's something you'll never forget.

Friday Night Lights is that sort of show. Right up there with the best of HBO ( The Sopranos in its glory years, The Wire any given season) and the best of the Herskovitz-Zwick dramas ( thirtysomething, Once and Again).

Would it be a tragedy if Friday Night Lights got canceled? Tragedy's an awfully loaded word. A tragedy is what happened to the people in Florida recently. Tragedy is what happened (and is still happening) to Katrina's victims. Tragedy is what's happening in Iraq.

If Friday Night Lights got canceled, it would be a shame. It would have been a crying shame if it had been canceled before completing its first season. Thankfully, it looks as if NBC is giving the show a full run to play this gem of a season out. If that's all we get, I can live with that. Because what we're getting is exceptional TV.

This week's episode alone dealt with issues of race, gender, family and personal relationships with an absorbing intimacy, honesty and range of emotions that I defy anyone to find anywhere else in prime time right now.

The tragedy, such as it is, is that more of America hasn't discovered this wonderful show. In years to come, when people discover this show on DVD, they'll wonder what they were thinking and where they were looking when Friday Night Lights was on its game. Which it is each and every week, at least for now.

[A note to loyal readers: If you don't see a new Dispatch for the next week or so, don't fear I've gone off my own game. I've merely gone away for a bit, to escape New York's deep freeze and to celebrate Valentine's Day in a warmer climate. I'll be back to catch up on the sweeps after Presidents' Day. Enjoy.]