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Arts and Entertainment

Percy Jackson and the Olympians is nowhere near the “perfect adaptation” Rick Riordan promised

By Staff Writer Lucy Yao

The moment their eyes landed on the title of the first episode, “I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-Algebra Teacher,” Percy Jackson fans of all ages were collectively transported back to their childhood selves. Then from December 19, 2023 until January 30, fans watched on Disney+ as the first season of Percy Jackson and the Olympians unfolded before their eyes. With the show’s promises of a homey Camp Half-Blood and a hilarious blend of Ancient Greek Mythology with modern-day corporations, fans looked for what the series’ author, Rick Riordan, claimed to be the “perfect adaptation.” Unfortunately, nearly all of the action, characters, and even plot of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief were changed for the worse to fit the absurdly small season length, leaving a show that, while decent on its own, did not live up to a decade of fan anticipation.

Ultimately, the show simply couldn’t live up to the high expectations generated by years of existing fan works before the show’s release. Between fanfiction writing and viral animations, fans had already crafted their own visions of the characters and Camp Half-Blood. These expectations were only exacerbated by the fact that the show was given a whopping sum of $12-15 million budget per episode, along with direct input from Riordan in terms of the writing, casting, and alterations. Additionally, Riordan had spent the past decade bashing the previous attempt at a Percy Jackson adaptation: the movies made by the director of the Harry Potter movie series. Projected to be the next greatest book-to-movie adaptation series, it was instead riddled with egregious plot changes and improper casting that ignored the step-by-step instructions Riordan directly offered on how to improve. Therefore, going into this new Disney+ Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, Riordan established his dedication to maintaining the original story from the get-go. “I can tell you with 100% confidence that this season follows The Lightning Thief faithfully, although we’re adding a lot of interesting nuances, depth, Easter eggs and backstory … You have a lot of advocates in the [writing] room, demigods, including me,” Riordan said on his blog when the series was officially greenlit.

However, Riordan’s idea of “faithful” clearly changed the more the series progressed, with the biggest issue being the show’s writing. Everything from the characterization to the plot to the suspense is completely void of all the original fun and humor found in the original novel. Most notable is the shift of Annabeth Chase’s (Leah Sava Jeffries) character from a witty and passionate — but still impulsive and prideful — teenager in the books, to a much more stoic, inexpressive mentor to the titular Percy Jackson (Walker Scobell) in the show. The fault mostly lies in the dialogue and plot changes, which turns the original light-hearted and kid-like story of Percy Jackson into a dark, boring drama with the singular joke per episode. Part of this may be because most of the novels’ comedy comes from Jackson’s inner monologue; however, it doesn’t excuse the lack of original lines of humorous dialogue already in the novel. (As an example: “For I am the Mother of Monsters, the terrible Echidna!” “Isn’t that a kind of anteater?”) The dialogue also completely ruins the suspense of the show, opting to “tell” rather than “show.” The showrunners focus too much on making sure the audience understands the small details, forgetting that in a realistic situation, no teenager would recognize every monster and every weakness. The minute the trio enters any monster’s lair, they instantly recognize who it is, their entire origin story, and the tricks they use to lure their victim, killing all the suspense and possible plot twists that could have arisen from these interactions.

Although these changes may be due to the short eight-episode season and 30-to-40-minute episode length, it does not excuse the show’s additional issues with pacing and suspense. Certain scenes, such as Percy’s initial stay at Camp Half-Blood, speed by without even a montage sequence so viewers barely understand the emotional connection and skills Percy forges during his stay there. Others, such as the introduction of Procrustes, act more as fanservice than additions to the plot. Throughout the entire adventure, there almost seems to be no rush to catch the titular lightning thief and retrieve the Master Bolt despite the looming threat of World War III that will arise if the quest is not completed in time. In fact, many new fans on social media have struggled to even understand the importance of the quest in the first place. Rather, it feels more like a loosely connected chain of monster fights, which the books tried to avoid. Even the better attempts at establishing the tension and stakes fall flat when it comes to actual action. In Episode 4, where the trio is chased by a terrifyingly realistic Chimera for the whole episode, the final fighting sequence is reduced to the fearsome (and likely expensively CGIed) Chimera only getting a singular, slow swipe of the paw at our main character. This, along with an odd lack of music in fighting sequences and abundance of darkly lit scenes, leaves the audience fighting off sleep more than the characters are fighting off monsters. 

The actors and casting, despite their poorly written dialogue, end up being the most enjoyable part of the show and clearly tried to work with what they were given. For example, Annabeth’s tear-jerking exchange with Hephaestus to save Percy from becoming a gold statue and Grover Underwood’s (Aryan Simhadri) comic relief character stand as some of the most memorable parts of the show. Percy’s mother Sally Jackson (Virginia Kull) faithfully maintains her characterization in the books, even with the added flashback scenes. All of the gods’ castings are also accurate and entertaining. The late Lance Reddick’s threatening performance in the final episode as Zeus, King of the Gods, and Adam Copeland’s hilarious, yet terrifying rendition of Ares as a Twitter-flaming god of war fit their characterization and “godliness” so well, it’s easy to believe these are genuinely the gods ruling over our mortal realm. 

In the end, though, as much as Riordan wants to call this the most “faithful” adaptation of his series, comparing the two is like comparing apples to oranges. Too much is missing from the novels’ original intent, and the show only hits the bare minimum plot points, considering most parts were adjusted or skimmed over entirely. No matter how well the actors fit the essence of the characters, the writing completely limits them. More importantly, it fails to highlight the fun, humorous, and stubborn character of Percy, or the surprise of navigating an entirely unfamiliar world trying to rip him apart. With the confirmation of a second season, the show will likely attempt to dig deeper into these aspects to achieve a perfect adaptation. Unfortunately, its first season feels like a $100 million exposition dump of the Percy Jackson universe told by Peter Johnson, Annabell, and their goofy sidekick, meant more as inspiration to re-read your favorite childhood books than as a standalone series to expand audience enjoyment. 


Ranking: C+ 

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