Arts and Entertainment

Percy Jackson is Born Again!

Though it may be flawed, the new Disney+ adaptation has done a faithful job of bearing the Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ legacy.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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By Rhea Malhotra

Kids of the 2000s remember obsessing over a book series following a trio of preteen demigods on a series of quests to save humankind from war. Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series puts a modern twist on ancient Greek stories by setting them in contemporary New York. But for today’s kids, the Percy Jackson books have again become a relic of ancient history. Hoping to revive the vital series for new audiences, Riordan and Jonathan E. Steinberg have brought a television adaptation of Percy Jackson and the Olympians to Disney+. 

The eight-episode season focuses on Percy Jackson (Walker Scobell), Annabeth Chase (Leah Jeffries), and Grover Underwood’s (Aryan Simhadri) trek across the United States in search of the most powerful weapon in all of Olympus: Zeus’ stolen master bolt. They are given a deadline of ten days to return the weapon. If the demigods return without the bolt, another war will break out in Olympus. Percy Jackson, the snarky and misunderstood tween protagonist, is the son of Poseidon. He follows an archetypal “hero’s journey” throughout the season. From a rough introduction to his new home, Camp Half-Blood, to training with mentors, Percy’s arc is comparable to those of Homer’s heroes—for example, Achilles. The comprehensive exposition with entertaining and complex characters harmonizes with a captivating storyline that old fans have been eager to see on screen for years.

Though previous film adaptations of Percy Jackson have been released, none have done the series nearly enough justice. There are two Percy Jackson movies based on the first two installments of the novels, which are both considered insults to the source material. The response to the first movie Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (2010), which starred Logan Lerman as Percy, Alexandra Daddario as Annabeth, and Brandon Jackson as Grover, was overwhelmingly negative. The movie was entertaining and the general production was decent. Many viewers agree that the dialogue was humorous and the actors’ performances were enjoyable to watch. Specifically, the scene in the Lotus Casino with “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga playing in the background is still referenced by fans to this day for its genius execution. However, the script is poorly written, and the copious amounts of unnecessary altercations to the plot contribute to an almost unrecognizable story. Perhaps the 2010 movie would function better if it weren’t tied to the Percy Jackson franchise at all. Instead of a story about Percy’s friends learning to harness their identities as half-bloods to become heroes of the next generation, the characters lamely diverge from their book counterparts. For example, Grover, the timid and honorable satyr, is transformed into an unrecognizable “lady’s man.” Annabeth is made to be dependent on her friends, diminishing her role as the independent and intelligent female lead. Several of the main characters, such as Ares, are completely eradicated in the movies. Furthermore, the directorial decision to make the three lead characters significantly older than they were in the books muddles the dynamic between them and loses a key element of the Percy Jackson charm. Riordan acknowledged the outrage in 2020 by announcing the updated adaptation’s release.

From the beginning, the show’s executive producer, the author himself, and the robust cast of young yet seasoned actors set high expectations. Walker Scobell, who is known for his previous role as young Adam Reed in The Adam Project (2022), plays Percy. Annabeth Chase (Leah Jeffries) and Grover Underwood (Aryan Simhadri) become Percy’s best friends and accompany him on the quest. Despite their youth, Scobell, Jeffries, and Simhadri have incredible chemistry on and off camera. Though their acting is not immediately impressive, especially in the first few episodes, it was sufficient and emotionally consistent. Adam Copeland as Ares, the god of war, is a divine depiction of a crooked, intimidating, and slightly annoying higher power. Clarisse La Rue’s (Dior Goodjohn) demeanor as a belligerent and competitive daughter of Ares translates well to the audience. Overall, many fans were satisfied with the casting, which the previous movies failed to achieve.

Many critics of the show point out the painfully rushed scenes and the lack of pacing, which is likely due to the season only having eight episodes, each being about 30 to 40 minutes long. There is a certain satisfaction lacking in the show; the struggle of an awkward yet determined main protagonist reaching his full potential through training montages and harsh mentorship is unfortunately lost upon the audience. In fact, the majority of the episodes take place in various locations across states, leaving barely any screen time for Camp Half-Blood. The script is also overly saturated with “expo-dumping,” or telling rather than showing. Certain scenes are frustrating because the main trio conveniently knows the solution to every obstacle thrown their way. Tension and mystery are sacrificed to plainly reciting battle strategies or the identities of villains, and this style of “telling not showing” comes across as a glaring flaw. For instance, the seventh episode begins with Percy facing Procrustes, a lowly villain in Greek mythology while paraphrasing Procrustes’ backstory, and then defeating him easily without any prior knowledge, leaving the audience bewildered. Increasing the length of episodes would help fix this problem without leaving too much room for the viewer’s imagination.

There are, however, many features of the novel that the show has built on and beautifully captured. For example, the myth of Medusa is frequently depicted as the tragic story of an innocent woman who is punished by becoming a hideous monster. In the books, she is painted as a villain. In the show, it becomes clear that Medusa is more of a victim than someone to be feared—she is an icon of survival. The snakes on her head are less stigmatized as a curse but more as a gift. Additionally, when Percy arrives at Camp Half-Blood, he is separated from his mom, Sally Jackson, and left alone to wonder if she survived the Minotaur attack. The series emphasizes Percy’s connection with his mom, who had been his only parental figure thus far, by depicting a deeply emotional scene in which Percy burns blue candy, attempting to communicate with her. 

Though it is not perfect, the series is the epitome of a faithful adaptation. One criticism of the show is that it overly caters to younger audiences. The first season is currently rated PG, but this is not a flaw when considering the intent of the series. Not only does the adaptation bring satisfaction to the current fandom, but it also introduces a fantasy world to kids of today, who may not have heard of the “ancient” series until Disney brought it back to life. Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a timeless series, and the new adaptation extends its legacy.