The first time we saw Hugo "Hurley" Reyes, five minutes into the first episode of ABC's "Lost," he was standing, stunned but relatively uninjured, looking at the wreckage of Oceanic Flight 815 when he was called over by Dr. Jack Shephard to keep an eye on a very pregnant Claire.
Moments later, all three were running for their lives as a wing section fell and exploded. Thus we were introduced to the XXL, curly-haired and T-shirt wearing dude who says "dude" a lot, and who would become the most lovable character on a TV series that doesn't know the meaning of the word lovable.
The good dude
When Jorge Garcia, who plays Hurley, first went in to audition for "Lost," the producers happily recognized him from "Curb Your Enthusiasm," on which he had played a drug dealer with whom creator and star Larry David made a comically awkward street deal. In the two-minute scene, Garcia mostly played straight man to David's failed attempts to be cool, but he had made a very good impression on J.J. Abrams and company.
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But Hurley has far less in the way of street-smarts than that character, or the mischief-making dude in the diner he had played in the last season of Ted Danson's "Becker" sitcom, his only other regular TV role. Those roles were closer to the self-centered con man Sawyer, which was the role Garcia originally read for. And some of Hurley's most memorable moments have been confrontations with Sawyer, showing off the obvious differences between the two.
Hurley is, at his core, one of most decent of the show's characters. The drama of his pre-island past was not marked by deceptions, crimes or acts of violence, but rather his own insecurity. He's no rock star, addict or war interrogator, making him easier to relate to.
John Locke may have had an even more humble past and an obviously more dramatic revival on the island, but his headstrong search for purpose ultimately cost him his life, and the Man in Black is now using Locke's body, leaving Hurley, the unlikely hero, as the true heart and soul of the show.
If Hurley was intended as a comic relief character, he has been one to be laughed with, not at. If anything, he is recognized as the show's voice of common sense. From the beginning, while others were dealing with their various personal dramas, he was dealing with practical matters from the distribution of food to a census of the survivors, as well as trying to keep up morale. In the most lighthearted scene of the first season, he used a found golf bag to arrange (in his words) "the first — and hopefully last — Island Open."
His skill at making the best of a bad situation often asserted itself in very entertaining ways. After he time traveled back to 1977, he started working on a rewrite of the “Star Wars” sequels that hadn't been made yet. (Knowing Hurley, he probably would have done better than George Lucas did.)
And his confusion with some of the show's more outlandish plot twists mirrors that of the average viewer, and often has been used to prompt an explanation from a more authoritative character. His not-so-eloquent explanation to his mother of what had happened on the island sounded just like how many of us might sum up the first four seasons.
Making his own luck
Overcoming his fears has been a major recurring theme in Hurley's story.
His belief that the numbers he won a multimillion-dollar lottery with (4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42) were cursed was what placed him on the ill-fated Oceanic Flight 815 to begin with. But he put all that behind him after the crash (knowing what we know now, a courageous choice), at least until he realized that his numbers were central to the island's strange mythology.
When he revived the engine of an abandoned van as the vehicle rolled down a steep hill toward a wall of rocks, it was more than a cliffhanger — it was his opportunity to break free from the curse and make his own luck. That success led to an act of heroism when he used the van to help rescue three of the survivors being held captive by the Island's "Others."
And after being literally haunted by the ghosts of dead Losties during his time off the island, he has come to terms with his connection to the departed (even his "hallucinatory friend" Dave from long before the island may turn out to be a ghost). Hurley has become the conduit — and a central player — for the recently departed Jacob to fight the Man in Black in what will likely be the final confrontation.
If, as some theorize, the island is really hell, then it's clear that Hurley doesn't belong there. While many of the misfortunes of the large cast of characters are tied, directly or ironically, to their own sins, his misfortunes seem truly undeserved, adding to the sympathy toward him.
Most of the audience cheered him along when he found romance with tail-section survivor Libby, and her sudden and senseless death was one of the most shocking and tragic in the series. (So far, at least. The final few episodes are promising a high mortality rate.)
At least in the semi-parallel universe often referred to as the "flash sideways," in which the Flight 815 crash never happened, Hurley avoided the post-lottery curse and considers himself "the luckiest man on Earth." And that may be where he gets to live happily ever after with Libby, if the flash sideways universe has any "ever after" (and that's questionable, after what happened to Sun).
A second-season episode used the title "Everybody Hates Hugo" (referring to his insecurities rather than any real hatred). Now, a few weeks before the series finale, the producers have appropriately titled the last Hurley-centric show the more appropriate "Everybody Loves Hugo."
Whether intended as irony or just an homage to Ray Romano's old sitcom (not likely), for most devoted "Lost" fans, it's totally true, dude.
Craig Wittler is a media writer in central California.