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REVIEW: ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’’ departures from the book are its biggest strength — and weakness

Young actors shine with new characterizations

The season finale of the highly anticipated Disney+ adaptation of the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” book series by Rick Riordan aired on Jan. 30.  

While the season was overall entertaining, the finale felt like a bit of a let down. The show was initially posed as a remedy to the disappointing film adaptation, but the series didn’t live up to its hype.

The premiere season of the Disney+ adaptation is based on the first book of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, “The Lightning Thief,” released in 2005.

Starring Walker Scobell as 12-year-old Percy Jackson, viewers follow Percy on his journey to reckon with his new identity as a demigod son of Poseidon, and complete a quest to stop a war between the Greek gods. He is accompanied by Annabeth, a spunky daughter of Athena played by Leah Sava Jeffries, and his satyr best friend Grover, played by Aryan Simhadri.

“The Lightning Thief” was previously adapted into a 2010 film and was widely disparaged by fans and people involved in the production  – including Riordan himself. The primary issues fans had with the film were its drastic changes from the book – such as casting adult actors to play 12-year-olds and changing major plot points. 

The TV show improves on accuracy – for the most part. 

The show’s depictions of the “Percy Jackson” characters are much more diverse than they were in the book or movie. Nearly every character is described as white in the original book, and if they are not explicitly stated to be white, it is often implied. 

The TV show’s main trio of Percy, Annabeth and Grover, on the other hand, consists of a white actor, Black actor and an Indian actor, respectively. Even Percy, who is white in every version of the story, does not appear in the show exactly as he is described in the book — meaning if someone were to take issue with the fact that a Black girl plays Annabeth in the show, should they not also care that Percy, the son of Poseidon, does not have his trademark sea-green eyes? The supporting cast is diverse as well, showing any child that they can be a hero. 

The overall acting in the show is another high point. 

Scobell is the most exciting of the main trio — his portrayal perfectly combines Percy’s bravery and loyalty. You can tell that while he’s willing to go fight the big battles, he’s also just a kid who wants to be with his mom. 

Jeffries and Simhadri also add to the viewing experience, and it’s hard to tell whether their shortcomings are from their acting choices, or from the writing. Some of the dialogue feels a little stilted and not how kids actually talk. Hopefully, a second season will improve on this.

In addition to the main trio, the supporting cast rounds out the show. 

Charlie Bushnell as Luke establishes himself as a mentor and older brother figure early on in the season. It’s a tough character to portray, but he makes this antagonist empathetic. 

And while her role is relatively small, Virginia Kull stands out as Sally Jackson, Percy’s mom. Her character is stuck in an abusive relationship and has held the burden of Percy’s true identity on her shoulders for his whole life — Kull carries herself in a way that reflects that. 

While the characters’ physical appearances is a strength of the show, some of the personality changes are weaknesses. 

The book is narrated by Percy, and he is shown to be generally clueless, and trusting to a dangerous extent. He is often the last to figure out what is going on, which helps keep readers in the dark as they try and learn what is happening. He also assumes the best of most people he interacts with, which gets him and his friends into more trouble — and fun. 

The TV version of Percy is almost too smart. In the seventh episode, “We Find Out the Truth, Sort Of,” Percy immediately identifies Crusty as a monster. In the book it takes a near-death experience and a whole monologue from Crusty for him to figure it out. 

The choice was likely made for the sake of time, but cutting the plot line would have made more sense as at this point of the series, Percy is just 12. There are four more books after “The Lightning Thief” where he stars as the main character, and the original series concludes when he’s 16. Percy is overly emotionally mature and quick to grow up in season one, and the show gets ahead of itself and risks causing continuity problems down the line, with nowhere for the characters to go.

While there are problems with the show’s changes to Percy’s character, he’s also more consciously self-sacrificial for the sake of his friends. 

For example, in the fourth episode of the show, Percy battles Echidna, the “Mother of Monsters,” atop the Gateway Arch after shoving Annabeth and Grover out of harm’s way. In the book version of the scene, there just so happened to be no room left in an elevator, leaving Percy alone by pure chance. Him making a conscious choice is a positive change — it accelerates the growing bond between the trio, and the scene serves as one of the best in the season (acting wise, at least).

Overall, the TV adaptation is an enjoyable watch, and will hopefully bring the nearly 20-year-old story to a new generation of children. It is certainly worth a watch for fans of the books – but if you’ve read the series recently, don’t expect 100% accuracy.

“Percy Jackson and the Olympians” is now streaming on Disney+.

This article was edited by Bailey Hobbs, Sara Winick and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks, Isabelle Kravis and Charlie Mennuti.

life@theeagleonline.com


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