Disney Plus’ Percy Jackson and the Olympians series had both an incredibly easy and thoroughly impossible task: Adapt a book series and do it better than last time.
Adapting beloved book series that many grew up with is never easy, but then again, surely anything would be better than the creator-disavowed infamous 2010 movie adaptation. Expectations were high, especially with author Rick Riordan heavily involved in every step of the process and promises that this show would get it right.
Maybe that’s why, in the end the first season, Percy Jackson and the Olympians feels a little empty. It checks all the boxes, but it’s almost like the show is trying to get out of its own way, frantically scrambling to keep ahead of the viewers who are familiar with the source material so that the showrunners can finally adapt parts of the books that didn’t get a chance at the big screen. It’s a shame, though, because there’s a sprinkling of wonderful things throughout the show that almost make it amazing — and it’s those sparks that fueled the flame of the fandom throughout it all.
[Ed. note: This review contains spoilers for Percy Jackson and the Olympians.]
The first season of Percy Jackson and the Olympians adapts the first book in Rick Riordan’s series of the same name, where troubled preteen Percy Jackson (Walker Scobell) finds out that Greek myths are real and he’s actually the son of Poseidon. Along with Annabeth (Leah Jeffries), daughter of Athena, and his satyr friend Grover (Aryan Simhadri), Percy embarks on a cross-country quest to recover Zeus’ stolen lightning bolt and (more importantly to him) save his mom.
Every adaptation changes some elements about the source material, and Percy Jackson and the Olympians is no exception. In this particular case, though, a lot of the changes feel like deliberate updates to make the story keep up with the times. Some of these updates make sense: The casting, for instance, is way more inclusive than the first Rick Riordan series. There’s no bad jokes about girly-girls made at the expense of the entire Aphrodite cabin. And of course, there was the whole “the Greek gods follow the light of Western civilization” bit in the books, a very Eurocentric notion that’s thankfully been retired for the show. These are all small, superficial things that definitely help softly update the books to translate better with what modern fans expect. Which is why the change that feels most directly targeted at the audience that grew up with the book robs the show of most of its fun.
The original Percy Jackson books were very much designed to give young readers an introduction to Greek mythology, but now, some of those young readers are older, and the franchise has taught them the ins and outs of the gods and monsters. In the show, this translates to Percy and his friends immediately clocking what threats await them and savvily avoiding the same hardships of the book. Sure, you can explain away how this makes sense — this is the world Grover’s known his whole life, Annabeth’s been doing the monster-fighting schtick forever, and Percy grew up with his mother telling him Greek myths as bedtime stories — but what’s the fun in having characters one step ahead of everything? There’s not as much tension, not as much sense of discovery. It also cuts down on a lot of the action, and it feels like the characters are telling us what’s going on instead of experiencing it for themselves.
Instead, there’s a weird sense that the showrunners are pressing fast forward, trying to get as much of the story out of the way as possible so that they can get ready for the next book entirely. I get it; fans of the book series (like myself) know the plot beats of The Lightning Thief. They already have the 2010 movie, for whatever that’s worth. They want the next thing, want to see their favorite characters and plot points, want to see the whole series on screen instead of the beginning part over and over again. But the first season feels like an echo of the story, like it’s counting on so much on the audience to be OK with a SparkNotes summary, when it should be the methodical foundation that sets up future seasons.
The most frustrating part of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, though, is the glimmering moments of when it does work, because it shows that the showrunners do have a sense of what a television adaptation needs. By the virtue of being narrated directly by Percy, the book series didn’t really dabble in deeper backstory moments for the other characters. But a television adaptation can. The conversation between Ares (Adam Copeland) and Grover at the diner, for instance, was actually a great way to showcase Grover’s savviness about the workings of the gods. Yes, he’s figuring something out, but there was a clear method and escalation behind it, instead of him immediately clocking a threat. (Not to mention, it just gave a new interaction with Copeland’s pretty dang wonderful Ares.) The best example, however, is the tender, poignant moment between Sally (Virginia Kull) and Poseidon (Toby Stephens) at the end of episode 7.
The entire episode had many flashbacks to Sally’s struggle as a single parent of a troubled kid who just so happened to be the son of a god, and it culminated in probably the best scene in the show. That entire flashback helped shed some light on this complex world of gods and monsters, expanded Sally’s character and her relationship with both Percy and Poseidon, and also gave Poseidon some deliciously human angst. The final scene was beautifully bittersweet, and an aggravatingly tantalizing example of how the showrunners utilized this distinct medium to do what the original source material couldn’t.
Which is ultimately the most vexing thing about this adaptation: There’s nuggets of a great show in Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Everything about Sally Jackson is done so thoughtfully and really helps flesh out the world. Scobell, Jeffries, and Simhadri have an easy and engaging on-screen chemistry and a great command of their characters, and their added interactions really help hammer their bond home. Copeland delivers as Ares, walking the line between goofy and menacing with finesse. Hopefully, with the first book out of the way, the showrunners can thoughtfully dig into the great moments in the next season, and home in on what works instead of just trying to speedrun their quest.
All episodes of Percy Jackson and the Olympians are available on Disney Plus now. Here’s everything we know about season 2.
Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts
As an expert and enthusiast, I can provide information and insights on various topics, including the concepts mentioned in this article. However, I have access to the specific content of the article itself. I can provide general information on the concepts mentioned in the article, such as adaptation, book series, source material, casting, updates, tension, action, character development, and television adaptation.
Adaptation refers to the process of transforming a work from one medium to another. In the context of the article, it refers to the adaptation of the Percy Jackson book series into a television show. Adaptations often involve making changes to the source material to suit the requirements and constraints of the new medium.
A book series is a collection of books that are related to each other through a common theme, storyline, or set of characters. The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, written by Rick Riordan, is a popular book series that follows the adventures of Percy Jackson, a troubled preteen who discovers that Greek myths are real and that he is the son of Poseidon.
Source material refers to the original work or material that serves as the basis for an adaptation. In this case, the source material for the Percy Jackson and the Olympians television series is the book series written by Rick Riordan.
Casting refers to the process of selecting actors for specific roles in a production. In the context of the article, it mentions that the casting in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series is more inclusive compared to the previous movie adaptation. This means that the show includes a more diverse range of actors in its cast.
Updates in the context of adaptations refer to changes made to the source material to make it more relevant or appealing to a contemporary audience. The article mentions that some of the updates in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series include removing Eurocentric notions and avoiding stereotypes.
Tension and Action
Tension and action are important elements in storytelling. Tension refers to the build-up of suspense or conflict in a narrative, while action refers to sequences of events that involve physical or dramatic activity. The article suggests that the show may lack tension and action compared to the source material, as the characters in the show are portrayed as being one step ahead and avoiding hardships.
Character development refers to the growth and change that characters undergo throughout a story. The article mentions specific moments in the show that contribute to character development, such as the conversation between Ares and Grover and the interaction between Sally and Poseidon. These moments provide deeper insights into the characters and their relationships.
A television adaptation is the process of adapting a work, such as a book series, into a television show. Television adaptations often involve making changes to the source material to fit the episodic format and to engage the audience visually and narratively.
Please note that the information provided above is based on general knowledge and not specific to the content of this article.