Reason to cheer: After several weeks off, we finally have NBC's instant classic Friday Night Lights to kick around for several more weeks. The first of four new episodes that will close out the first (hopefully not the last) season begins tonight, and once again, it reminds us that Friday Night Lights is not just a show about football.

It's about family. It's about community. It is, also, about football. It's about a small town that lives for the game while also playing the game of life. It's about the sacrifice, hard knocks, hard work, hard truths, triumphs and joys, setbacks and sorrows, that make life so memorable, if not always easy to bear - or watch.

NBC sent me screeners of this and next week's episodes so late I was forced to screen them in the office, and while watching them, it was all I could do not to bawl in public, like that little girl on American Idol this week. Friday Night Lights moves me like no other show. It reminds me of where I came from and of what it truly means to keep one's eye on the ball. And yet, as wrenching as the show can be, it's also terrifically entertaining, with plenty of dry wit, edge-of-the-seat suspense, sexy romance and even the occasional laugh-out-loud moment.

The show's worth watching if only for the intimate relationship banter between Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton as TV's most believable married couple and, as it happens, the show's ultimate role models: coach Eric Taylor and his guidance-counselor wife Tami Taylor. I bet many of us had influences like this in our formative years. I especially relate to Tami, as she takes a personal interest in her students' turbulent lives, most recently the wayward Tyra Collette (Adrianne Palicki), whose desire to better herself and be the first of her family to go beyond a high-school diploma has turned a character that at first looked like the prototypical town slut into one of the richest in an already very rich ensemble.

The Taylors are also great if imperfect parents to Julie (Aimee Teegarden), whose mad passion for tongue-tied quarterback Matt Saracen (the invaluable Zach Gilford) has complicated the family's excitement over Dad's job offer from an Austin college. Watch Eric try to convince Julie that Austin is as "arty" as she is, and then later, watch him clear the air with his disgruntled daughter as they awkwardly attend a school dance together.

Eric's struggle to balance career advancement over family unity echoes the conflicts challenging nearly everyone we've come to know in Friday Night Lights' fictional world of Dillon, Texas. With few exceptions, they don't even feel like TV characters to me. They're as real as it gets, as authentic as the show's setting and tone.

Friday Night Lights is also a show about possibilities: Matt Saracen overcoming his insecurities and stressful home life to find love on and off the field; former star quarterback Jason Street (Scott Porter), paralyzed in the series pilot, who after yet another setback finds renewed purpose in these next episodes; running back Smash Williams (Gaius Charles), who's learning it's not all about him as he worries about whether he's capable of caring for his bipolar girlfriend; bad boy Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch), who's becoming a father figure to the hero-worshiping kid next door, and becoming who-knows-what to the fetching single mom who's just moved in. (Yes, there are times when even this resembles a mere TV show.)

Each week, like its characters, Friday Night Lights steps up, entertaining, surprising and moving us by bringing TV back to the basics of simple yet deep human drama. Next Wednesday's episode, one of the best yet, finds Coach Taylor also getting back to basics, building a football "field of dreams" in a cow pasture, where the all-important state semifinal game will be played: "football minus the crap," pure and simple. In pouring rain and slipping and sliding in a bog of mud, the Panthers play with grit and heart, and your heart will go out to everyone on the field and in the stands.

I don't know if this show can improve on its championship freshman season. But I certainly hope NBC gives it a chance to try.