There are some books, movies and shows that instantly bring me back to my childhood. Anything from the Harry Potter series to The Hunger Games to Spy Kids instantly triggers a wave of nostalgia that whisks me back to the 2000s and 2010s. But one of my favorite series, if not my favorite, was Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians.
I can still remember racing over to the library after school to check out the next book and then obsessively doing nothing else until I’d finished reading it. Riordan’s books were just special. They were engaging and quirky. They got me and pretty much everyone hooked on Greek mythology, and they were simply fun to read. The language felt authentic to the way we, as kids, thought and spoke.
So, when Disney+ announced that they would be releasing an eight-episode Percy Jackson series, the last episode having just been released last Tuesday, Jan. 30, I was thrilled. I hoped that the show would be able to capture the magic I felt reading the books for the first time and was excited that Riordan would actually be involved in the creative process. If anyone could replicate the way those books appealed to us as kids, it would be the author himself.
The television series, titled Percy Jackson and the Olympians, is an adaptation of Riordan’s first book in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, The Lightning Thief. In it, Percy Jackson (Walker Scobell) discovers he is a demigod (half-human and half-Greek god), son of Poseidon, with really cool water powers. After Zeus, king of the Greek gods and god of the sky, realizes his master lightning bolt has been stolen, Percy, his satyr friend Grover (Aryan Simhadri) and fellow demigod Annabeth (Leah Sava Jeffries) set off on a quest to retrieve it.
Overall, I think the series had its ups and downs. Visually, I thought it was really striking. Camp Half-Blood, the camp Percy ultimately attends with other demigods, looked amazing, and the computer-generated monsters looked pretty good as well. The great scenery really helped to immerse me in the world of the series, which I loved.
I also really liked the idea of casting younger actors as Percy, Annabeth and Grover because it could be interesting to watch the actors grow with their characters as the series progresses. A younger casting is also accurate to the books, as Percy is only 12 years old in The Lightning Thief. However, I think that this younger casting also casts the series in a more juvenile light than I was expecting. The acting and line delivery was a little shaky and suspect at times, but maybe that’s par for the course with younger actors.
Scobell also brought a charisma to the role of Percy that I appreciated. I was familiar with him from Netflix’s The Adam Project before he was cast as Percy, and he brings a little bit of the wise-cracking energy from that film to this series. He was really good at emulating Percy’s sense of humor, and I laughed at his playful dancing and antics during the capture the flag scenes.
I also think that Jeffries and Simhadri did a good job with their roles, which I was happy about, especially after the pushback the series received for casting Jeffries as Annabeth. I think Scobell and Jeffries played off of each other really well in their characters, and I can’t wait to see how that dynamic progresses with the show.
I was confused, though, by some of the plot changes that were included. For example, as Percy, Annabeth and Grover complete their quest, they run into a variety of monsters. In the books, they (read: Annabeth) first figure out the identities of the monsters they encounter, like Medusa or Echidna, to then figure out how to defeat them. However, in the series, Percy somehow instantly knows who these monsters are, which removes a lot of the suspense and stakes of the scene. I’m not sure if Riordan was just seizing his chance to make changes to his work or whether he thought that these changes would make for a better television adaptation, but I could have done without them.
I wasn't sure at first how I felt about the portrayal of the gods. In my head, a lot of the gods looked more imposing, impressive and just generally more godly. I could not get over the fact that Hades (Jay Duplass), the god of the dead and lord of the underworld, was essentially wearing a bathrobe. That was so underwhelming to me. However, I recognize that all the gods looked like ordinary parents, which did lend credibility to the dysfunctional parent-child relationships that gods have with their children.
On the other hand, I think Ares (Adam Copeland) and, surprisingly, Hermes (Lin-Manuel Miranda) were well cast. When I heard Miranda was going to play Hermes, I was getting horrifying visions of him spontaneously breaking out into a dance number, but thankfully we were spared.
If you’re like me and you were ever a fan of Percy Jackson, I would definitely recommend watching this series. It’s not perfect, but I’m hoping it will only get better from here. I can’t wait to see the direction the next season takes.