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Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Right Way To Adapt A Book Series

18 years after The Lightning Thief was published, Percy Jackson and The Olympians landed on Disney+.

In the vast landscape of YA fiction, Percy Jackson has always been overlooked as inferior to the giants that are The Hunger Games and Harry Potter.

Perhaps this is due to its disaster of a film duology, released in 2010 under director Chris Colombus. Being vastly different from the books in almost every conceivable way, it was slated by the box office and fans alike, resulting in the cancellation of the franchise. Rick Riordan is an open hater of these films, criticizing them openly on social media and beyond. There was some hesitancy surrounding this new adaptation. Still, with Riordan being involved heavily with the process, it’s proved to be a much better, and far more loyal, adaptation of the original book series.

Walker Scobell as Percy Jackson, standing against a background of trees with a shield, Greek armour and an orange Camp Half-Blood t-shirt.
Walker Scobell as Percy Jackson (credit: Disney)

The episodic framing of the narrative is far better suited than a film. Each forty minute episode flies by in no time, and it allows for a richer, far more expansive exploration of this complex series. Greek mythology is interwoven throughout, but presented in a way that makes it feel accessible, particularly to the younger audience that it’s aimed towards.

Whilst the humor and the storytelling can be perhaps interpreted as too juvenile or simplistic, it accurately reflects the age of the characters and the original humor of the books. It’s not quite as dark as other modern adaptations (think Shadow and Bone or Lockwood and Co., sadly both cancelled), yet this adds to its charm. The universe of Percy Jackson is not supposed to be brooding and dark. Similar to the much loved Harry Potter franchise, it ages with its audience. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Cast

From left to right: Leah Sava Jeffries as Annabeth Chase, Aryan Simhadri as Grover Underwood and Walker Scobell as Percy Jackson. Stood against a dark background and looking in the direction of the camera.
From left to right: Leah Sava Jeffries as Annabeth Chase, Aryan Simhadri as Grover Underwood and Walker Scobell as Percy Jackson (Credit; Disney)

The Main Trio

From the very moment the main trio was announced, things were already looking up. Walker Scobell, known for playing young Ryan Reynolds in the Netflix film The Adam Project, shines in every single episode. He perfectly understood the assignment of what it means to be Percy Jackson, hitting every emotional beat with tenacity and every joke lands exactly as it was written out for him. It’s hard to believe he’s only thirteen at the time of the show being filmed, as his talent far supersedes a lot of the Potter cast well into their franchise. He expertly radiates everything book Percy stood for, and I, for one, am extremely excited to see his skills develop as the series progresses.

Aryan Simhadri plays Grover alongside him, Percy’s somewhat awkward but extremely loyal friend. The bond the two share is apparent – “Something changed when I met Grover” – and Simhadri brings a light to Grover that I think we were all waiting for. He’s sweet and has all the best qualities of Grover, whilst still providing the comic relief that is sometimes needed when things seem a little dire for the three of them (The Consensus Song is a personal highlight).

Leah Sava Jeffries glows as Annabeth. She proves, single-handedly, with every single word she utters, that she is the only choice for this character. Annabeth’s vulnerability is showcased alongside her strength, and Sava Jeffries’ dedication to the character is apparent through the screen. Her and Scobell perfectly balance one another, nailing the childish, bickering relationship between the two characters as we watch it blossom into a real friendship. All three of them perfectly work off one another to make the heart of the narrative, and it’s refreshing to see actors who are actually the ages, and personalities, that they were written as.

Gods, Mentors and Monsters

Beyond the main three, they are also joined by a cohort of equally fantastic actors. Some highlights include Virginia Kull as Percy’s loving mother Sally, Charlie Bushnell and Glynn Turman as Percy’s respective mentors Luke and Chiron , and Jason Mantzoukas as Dionysus, the Greek God of wine. The casting for the entirety of the series so far has been praised heavily by fans, and the rich, much loved characters are finally getting justice.

Mantzoukas, who also plays Adrian Pimento on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, is a particular standout as Dionysus. Within minutes of meeting Percy, he proclaims him ‘Peter Johnson’, and attempts to send him on a mini-quest to achieve him a rare bottle of wine, after being banned from drinking by Zeus. He’s simply hilarious, juxtaposing Percy’s moments of emotional crisis with eye rolls and dripping sarcasm.

The Plot

The show follows twelve year old Percy Jackson as he attempts to navigate the murky waters of middle school. One often praised element to this series is the representation of being neurodivergent, with a lot of the main characters having ADHD and dyslexia. We see Percy struggling with school and bullies, but also with some more un-explainable things. He sees a Pegasus on the top of a roof in his home of New York (a nice little Easter eggs for fans of the series), and the first episode (I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-Algebra Teacher) sees his math teacher turn into one of the terrifying Greek furies.

Following this episode, he is thrown out of school (not for the aforementioned vaporizing, but for throwing a class bully into a nearby fountain) (yes, really), and, following a near-death experience, is whisked into the world of Greek Gods and mythology. Camp Half-Blood, a woodland sanctuary for half-bloods just like him, is an iconic element from the series, and it’s vindicating to finally see it in all its accurate glory.

He’s soon sent on a quest that spans the length of the US, with best friend Grover and Annabeth Chase, and the audience gets to see how the tense relationship between these two blossoms into something warm and genuine. The quest sees them complete a number of tasks on their way to the underworld including, but not limited to, a fairground built by one of the Gods, a casino (where they are joined by a familiar Hamilton actor…) and an encounter with Medusa (portrayed by Jessica Parker Kennedy) in her Garden Gnome Emporium.

Medusa

Jessica Parker Kennedy as Medusa, wearing a cream coloured dress and a hat that purposefully obscures her eyes.
Jessica Parker Kennedy as Medusa (Credit: Disney)

Episode three, when they visit said Garden Gnome Emporium, is an interesting twist on the original series. Following the current trend of reclaiming the stories of women in classical literature, there is an emphasis on Medusa’s role as a victim, as opposed to a monster. She tells Annabeth how her mother, Athena, is less than the omniscient, kind being that Annabeth wants her to be. Whilst I think that the intention here was certainly well-meaning, I think it is slacking when compared to other attempts at rewriting these classic myths. (Madeleine Miller I love you).

The idea of not everyone being as they seem is a good message to send to kids, don’t get me wrong. It also works well as a warning for Percy, Sally Jackson’s speech in the first episode is a very nice method of foreshadowing that fans of the series will very much be able to appreciate. But the notion that Medusa is a victim of the patriarchy and then… Killing her anyway seems to contradict itself quite heavily. Yes, she was evil and tried to kill them, but what was the point in doing this whole charade if you’re just gonna erase it completely?

Sally Jackson And Poseidon

Despite this, the series still holds up. One dynamic that is interesting to see is Percy’s relationship with his father, the God of the sea, Poseidon (portrayed by Toby Stephens). Contrasting the extremely close relationship he has with his mother with the non-existent one of his father, adds emotional depth to the story and really allows the audience to become sympathetic to Percy’s own struggle with his identity. It’s expertly written, with interwoven backstories that we don’t get to see in the books really adding emotional depth to Sally’s relationship with Poseidon.

Conclusion

Overall, it’s an extremely strong show. It blends loyalty to the source material with interesting additions that flesh out the plot and the characters, and Riordan’s involvement can be seen in all eight episodes. Weaving Greek mythology into everyday life is done with care and precision, creatively using special effects and makeup to transform the ordinary world into the mythical.

It’s an easy watch, with only eight episodes so far streaming on Disney+, and I highly recommend it to any fantasy/YA fans, or even those who have not ventured very far into the genre. It’s a wonderful introduction to it. I have very high hopes for season two.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Sue Barwise

    February 18, 2024 at 7:55 pm

    Brilliant Holly

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