Percy Jackson and the Olympians review: The adaptation fans have been waiting for – LSB

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Let me tell you a story about the first time I was really disappointed by a movie adaptation. The year? 2010. The place? An AMC theater packed with teenagers and pre-teens, all anxiously awaiting a screening of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.

Anticipation peaked when the lights went down—we were finally going to see Camp Half-Blood and all its characters come to life! But when the lights came back on, the atmosphere was not one of gleeful fandom, but one of confusion. Where were the characters we all fell in love with in the original Rick Riordan novels? Why was a whole new side quest to find Persephone’s pearls included in the movie? Sure, the film had some high points: Logan Lerman brought a heartbreaking energy to Percy Jackson, while the casino scene set in “Poker Face” was, dare I say, life-changing. However, it wasn’t Percy Jackson adaptation I wanted and my teenage heart was duly broken.


The trailer for Percy Jackson and the Olympians promises magic, myth and monsters

So when news broke that Disney+ would be producing a Percy Jackson series, I was cautiously optimistic — emphasis on cautious. Fortunately, however, I had little reason to fear. Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a blast of an adaptation, full of the humor and heroism of Reardon’s books (and a healthy dose of nostalgia for older fans).

What is Percy Jackson and the Olympians regarding?

A young boy in an orange Camp Half-Blood t-shirt walks through the forest with a backpack.

Walker Scobell in Percy Jackson and the Olympians.
Credit: Disney / David Bukach

Season 1 of Percy Jackson and the Olympians — critics were given access to the first four of a total of eight episodes for editorial review — follows the plot of The Lightning Thief, the first book in the series. We meet 12-year-old Percy Jackson, a self-described “problem child” with a penchant for seeing things no one else can, like Pegasus on the roof of New York City or an algebra teacher turned into a monster who tries to kill him on excursion.

But as Percy quickly learns, these are not hallucinations. Instead, they are glimpses of a magical world that exists alongside our own: the world of the Greek gods, who are actually a lot real. Percy can see these magical creatures because he is a demigod, the son of his mortal mother Sally Jackson (Virginia Cool) and an unknown Greek god.

Being a demigod means attracting deadly beasts straight out of Greek legend, like the Minotaur or the Chimera. So for his own safety, Percy goes to the demigod retreat (and assassin summer camp) Camp Half-Blood. There he learns that the gods are on the brink of an apocalyptic war and only he can stop them. He embarks on a journey across the country with trusted companions Annabeth Chase (Leah Sava Jeffries), daughter of Athena, and Grover Underwood (Arian Simhadri), his satyr protector. Together they will face ancient monsters, bravely overcome terrifying obstacles and become heroes that Perseus and Odysseus would be proud of.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians captures the magic of Rick Riordan’s books.

A young girl with braids wearing armor.

Leah Sava Jeffries in Percy Jackson and the Olympians.
Credit: Disney / David Bukach

From the very beginning, Percy Jackson and the Olympians takes advantage of the medium to give additional freedom to each step of Percy’s journey. Early episodes, especially the pilot, suffer from stifling expository dialogue and voice-overs, but once the series fully establishes its world, we’re off to the races with a solid adventure-of-the-week format. Get ready for high-stakes games of capture the flag, creepy encounters with monsters, and tons of tongue-in-cheek twists on Greek mythology.


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These twists are where Percy Jackson and the Olympians finds much of its amusement. Nowhere else on TV will you find a Minotaur wearing tights or a statue shop run by – who else? — Medusa (Jessica Parker Kennedy). Percy’s astonishment, confusion, and sometimes horror at these new developments mimics our own, only to be nicely balanced by Annabeth and Grover’s matter-of-fact understanding that this is just the way the world works.

Percy, Annabeth and Grover’s dynamic is an absolute delight.

A young girl and two young boys stand on a beach as clouds gather above them.

Leah Sava Jeffries, Ariane Simhadri and Walker Scobel in Percy Jackson and the Olympians.
Credit: Disney

Percy Jackson and the Olympians would have met a fate worse than Tartarus had the chemistry between its core trio not clicked. Fortunately, Scobell, Jeffries, and Simhadri prove to be perfect for their roles. Scobel embraces Percy’s brashness, not afraid to denounce a literal god if it means he can fight for someone he loves. As the wise girl Annabeth, Jeffries displays the intelligence that comes with being Athena’s child, as well as her exasperation at some of Percy’s rash moves. Rounding out the trio is Simhadri, whose take on Grover is sweet and funny in equal measure, especially in the moments where Grover does his best to keep slightly feuding Percy and Annabeth together. As these three grow closer, with hints of powerful heroism in their future, it’s impossible not to grow attached to any of the trio.

The fact that all three actors are younger performers adds an extra layer of authenticity Percy Jackson and the Olympians. The show’s many battles are often scarier because we see kids in danger, while scenes at camp or on a mission allow them moments to joke around. Witnessing Percy absent-mindedly dance in a moment of solitude or hearing Annabeth dabble in architecture provides solid character building opportunities that are as fun as they are true to the spirit of the characters in the books.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians not afraid to make changes from The Lightning Thief — but they work.

A young satyr standing on a rainy night.

Ariane Simhadri in Percy Jackson and the Olympians.
Credit: Disney/David Bukach

While Percy Jackson and the Olympians sticks pretty close to the events of The Lightning Thief, this is by no means a one-to-one adaptation. (It’s much more faithful to the source material than the movie, though.) Some events are shuffled around, while some characters get more time to shine. For the most part, though, these changes work.

Take the show’s treatment of Sally, for example. Already an important figure in the book, she becomes even more integral to telling Percy the truth about who he is. The more time we spend with her, the greater the emotional weight of Percy’s search becomes. Elsewhere, major twists in Medusa’s role allow for further interrogation of her myth, the selfishness of the gods, and how each demigod treats his parents.

The series is certainly intended for a younger audience, because Percy Jackson and the Olympians never fills Grimdark Fantasy Prestige TV. Still, these kinds of twists—as well as discussions of the pain of Annabeth and Grover’s shared history or Percy’s worries about never fitting in—help to Percy Jackson and the Olympians to pleasant contemplative places. Some of these nuances may go over the heads of younger viewers, but for fans who have discovered Percy Jackson as children, they function as a nice continuation (and at times deepening) of the beloved source material.

As one fan said, I’m watching Percy Jackson and the Olympians I felt like I had come home. Maybe not every dramatic beat or joke lands perfectly, but this is a series full of charm and magic and caring about the books that have shaped me and countless others. Watching Percy wander through the woods of Camp Half-Blood for the first time, or seeing him fight side by side with Annabeth and Grover, I wanted to go back in time to my disillusioned younger self sitting in that movie theater and I say, “Don’t worry, a better adaptation is coming. You’ll have to wait 13 years, but it will be worth it.”

The first two episodes of Percy Jackson and the Olympians premieres December 20 on Disney+, with a new episode every Wednesday.

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