“Community” wasn’t really supposed to make it to Season 5.

Think about it: The show had a true series finale at the end of Season 3! That was followed by a critically-hammered Season 4 that lost the show its biggest name: Chevy Chase. Any normal series wouldn’t have a chance after all of that.

Fortunately, “Community” has never, ever been normal. And it’s starting to look like that may pay off with Season 5 being one of the series’ best.

We’re four episodes into a 13-episode season, so it’s hard to say for sure where everything is going to land, but these few installments are among the show’s strongest. After all, “Community” has rarely gone more than two or three episodes in a row without a dud in there. For every “Remedial Chaos Theory,” there’s an “Advanced Gay.”

Thus far in Season 5, however, we’re seeing none of that. “Repilot” managed to successfully restart a show that had driven itself headfirst into a creative wall. “Introduction to Teaching” established the series’ new working order and also investigated Nicolas Cage. “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics” turned “Community” into a dark crime drama (lens filters and all) before turning everything on its head again with the sudden news that Pierce Hawthorne had died.

And then “Community” dealt with Pierce. “Cooperative Polygraphy” could have been sweet or overly maudlin. We could have been subjected to a “greatest hits”-style episode or even Chevy Chase impressions. Instead, the show ripped out the heart of Pierce’s relationship with the study group — an antagonistic and angry, but ultimately insightful codependency — and laid it out on the Chang-defiled table.

“Community” could have offered no finer ode to Pierce than a drawn-out fight that led to truth.

It’s precisely because “Community” in Season 5 is willing to embrace its own need for darkness at the center of all hilarity that this year could prove to be the show’s best. Every one of the characters is a self-admitted failure, and they mostly need to be right where they are. When one of the gang, Troy (Donald Glover), departs in a few episodes, the dynamic will shift again. It should be fascinating.

Will this restored brilliance mean more of a future for “Community”? Are the fabled “six seasons and a movie” actually possible now that they are within reach? Viewing numbers will most likely be the biggest deciding factor there, but if quality has a say in anything, the show is in good shape.

“Community” is better than ever.

Posted by:Laurel Brown