“Percy Jackson and The Olympians” sinks or swims?

Was Percy Jackson’s newest adaption a success story or another failure?
“Percy Jackson and The Olympians” sinks or swims?

Disney’s “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” adaptation has been at the top of my list of things to look forward to. The original book series is a joy to read and has incredible sentimental value to me. Being so badly burned by the first filmic adaptation of the series, I didn’t want to get my hopes up. But, with this adaptation involving author Rick Riordan, who shared his frustrations with the first adaptation, as well as the inclusion of actors who seem to fit the roles necessary, I was tentatively hopeful. I think I still would have found some way to like the show even if it had been horrible, but thankfully, that was not the case; I think the series was quite successful. Now that the first season has ended, I want to talk about some of the things I liked, some of the things I think that they can improve on, and hopefully encourage more viewership. 

First and foremost, I have to commend the casting and their performances in this show. The main trio, Percy (Walker Scobell), Grover (Aryan Simhadri), and Annabeth (Leah Sava Jefferies) are arguably the heart of the show. If these three actors can’t play off of each other and embody the essence of the characters, the show doesn’t work. I think it’s pretty impressive that they somehow managed to find a group of kids who portray each character perfectly. 

Scobell evidently has so much love for Percy Jackson. He’s a fan of the books and understands Percy’s character so intimately. Throughout the show, it is clear that he knows why Percy is doing what he is doing and saying what he is saying. I think something that Scobell does particularly well is conveying raw emotion through his facial expressions, distinctly portraying Percy’s feelings. 

Simhadri, as Grover, was the perfect comedic relief to balance out the intensity of the show. He cuts the tension between Annabeth and Percy while still being someone they can turn to as a friend. He fits into the trio exactly where he is meant to be. 

Finally, Jefferies as Annabeth Chase. I’ve previously written about my thoughts on Jefferies as Annabeth. But seeing her in action only strengthened my belief in her ability to embody the role. Similar to Scobell, it is clear that Jefferies understands Annabeth; she is so good at playing little details that show what Annabeth is thinking or just producing this vulnerability that readers don’t necessarily get in the books. I think one cool thing about her portrayal of Annabeth is that, because the books are from Percy’s perspective, seeing the show in this visual format gives us more access to Annabeth’s world. This is something that Jefferies takes full advantage of, and it gives an already complex character even more body. I could probably write a whole article on the effective acting and casting decisions in this show. 

This show would not have worked without strong actors portraying the gods, Percy’s mom, and the villains. I think the potential for future roles of other demigods or gods is quite exciting as well. Overall, it was thrilling to watch these talented young actors at the beginning of their careers embark on a journey that could take them incredibly far, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what comes next. 

Another aspect that I think worked well in the show was the set design and the atmosphere that they created. The design of Camp Half-Blood was beautiful and created a world that so many of us imagined while reading the novels. It was designed in a way that was unique from the 2010 movie and that set Camp Half-Blood apart from the normal world. They did this by integrating details in the cabins and the reimagined activities the campers participate in like the dining hall or sparring. There was research and thought that is visible in the way the cabins are decorated with easter eggs to readers from the book and elements that represent the characters. Showing audiences the routine of their meals and other pieces of the Camp helped it feel real. 

One other design element that I thought was clever was picking and choosing which aspects they wanted to expand on and which aspects they kept minimal. For example, when Percy confronts Hades (Jay Duplass) and Zeus (Lance Reddick), he faces them in their respective territories, and yet, we don’t see the extravagance of Hades’ palace in the underworld or Zeus’ reign in Olympus. Instead of trying to use CGI or building an expensive set, the set design was fairly simple, which helped center the action and keep the extravagance focused on a couple of key moments. I will say, though, there were a couple of instances where the use of CGI was obvious and did take me out of the moment. I think this might come with the territory of extravagant storytelling, but it is something to note. 

Lastly, I wanted to touch on some of the changes that were made to the story for the show. I think one of the tougher endeavors for any “Percy Jackson” adaptation is translating all of the details from the books into a script that can be used for television. A common critique is that some of the writing felt a bit unnatural or stilted. I would agree that at times the dialogue felt unnatural, but it is a double-edged sword because there were also moments that were incredibly poignant or funny that worked well. To some extent, the writers might have to find their groove and balance in incorporating all the details for the story and being entertaining without being too much. 

I’ve seen some criticism about the changes that Riordan orchestrated in the narrative. I will admit it’s been a while since I’ve read the original series, but I believe that the heart of the original story remains. The majority of the changes that were made either supported translating the narrative to television or made sense for the story. In the past, I have been a purist when it comes to book adaptations. However, I think that when an author is closely involved in a project like Riordan was in this adaptation, there is an opportunity for growth for development beyond the source material. Riordan loves this story so much. It’s a love letter to his kid, so there is something special in the narrative for him; I think that this love is incredibly visible in this project. 

I relished this first season. I can’t wait to go back and rewatch it to pick up on more small details in the acting, costumes, and set design. I’m so glad that there gets to be a whole new generation of kids who grow up with this story. “Percy Jackson” got me into Greek mythology, spurred my love of reading, and taught me lessons about who I wanted to be. 

I want them to keep making this show for so many reasons – one of which is because it’s so important and cool to see a badass Black female main character. Or because Percy and Annabeth’s relationship is one of the best slow burns that I’ve read, and I deserve the chance to see their underwater kiss. But, also because the rest of the book series is equally as fun, and further adaptations will allow for more opportunities for representation and exciting television. I hope they continue to give it the love and commitment that it deserves. Here’s to 10 more seasons!

Grade: A-

Starring: Walker Scobell, Aryan Simhadri, Leah Sava Jeffries 

Image courtesy of  Disney+

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Laila Del Rio, Senior Staff Writer
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