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Faithful Almost To A Fault — Percy Jackson and the Olympians (TV Review)

5 min read
Percy Jackson and the Olympians

Written by Fatima Sheriff 

The media of this decade has been decidedly marked by nostalgia, with prequels and remakes and sequels aplenty, each to varying degrees of success. Fuelling our fixation with the past, Disney has bought up intellectual property left-right-and-centre in the hopes of striking gold, and a decade after two truly questionable though iconic live-action films with Logan Lerman at the helm, a second iteration of Percy Jackson is here. 

The original series of five books were often spoken of in the same breath as hit YA novels from the 2000s, represented in the bios of fan pages from Twitter and Tumblr bios with a Poseidon's trident to accompany the Mockingjay of The Hunger Games or the rune from The Mortal Instruments. But what set Percy Jackson And The Olympians apart was author Rick Riordan's unwillingness to pander to older YA audiences, reminding users who fondly call him Uncle Rick, that his character was originally created for his kids, squarely aiming his target audience at middle school-aged children. With the beleaguered author haunted by the performance of twenty-somethings pretending to be his beloved 12-year-old protagonists, this series gives Riordan a chance to bring his story to life the way he imagined. 

Titling the episodes to copy the funniest chapters of the book, the series starts off strong with “I Accidentally Vaporise My Pre-Algebra Teacher,” as young Percy's imperfect life at boarding school is turned upside down when monsters from Greek mythology start coming after him. His best friend turns out to be a half-goat protector, and his mother reveals his father was a God. Having protected him from his ancestry all his troubled childhood (demigods often present with ADHD and dyslexia in the human world), she whisks him away to Camp Half-Blood, a safe place for kids like him to hone their skills.  

With fresh but experienced young actors bringing to life the central trio, the casting is nigh perfect. Walker Scobell looks the part, with sandy curls and wide blue eyes that express Percy's personality, especially the humour, confusion, and stubbornness that marked him as such a beloved character. Though comparisons to Hermione being rewritten as Black in the Franchise that Must Not be Named are inevitable, the casting of Leah Sava Jefferies feels entirely organic. Her inscrutable expression and narrowed eyes perfectly express Annabeth's arc from irritated to endeared by Percy. Likewise, Aryan Simhadri eclipses his predecessor as Grover, reminding us how earnest and young the satyr is, but determined to help his friends. 

Though the adult casting fares less well Glynn Turman is done a CGI disservice as Chiron and Lin Manuel Miranda pops up unsurprisingly as Hermes these lapses are made up for by Virginia Kull as Sally Jackson, who to use incredibly online parlance, is Mother, and it's hard to imagine anyone better suited for such a comforting and iconic role.  The character design of the monsters is pretty incredible, with Medusa wearing a delicate lacy veil to cover her eyes, and Echidna as an ominous middle-aged Karen figure. 

However, the benefits of the accuracy fall short in the pacing and complexity of the show. As the kids begin their quest, the episodes give time and space for a brief run of monster-of-the-week style episodes, and the aforementioned girlboss villains do get to shine. But as the plot gets more knotted in later episodes, newcomers could lose their way in understanding this hasty portrait of a messed-up mythological family tree. Though Simhadri, Jeffries, and Scobell all ace depicting the layered emotions that come with grappling with the reality of their godly parents, and gradually building up a beautiful friendship, the rushed exposition in the script means viewers may be on a rocky foundation to understand their quest. Though the younger audience should be kept in mind before insulting the more telling elements of the dialogue, a few more episodes to smoothen the storytelling would have done a world of good. 

Readers often wish for author-led, long-form storytelling in the form of streaming series when it comes to adapting their favourite books. In practice, it can be hard to sustain interest from newcomers, making it a miracle that shows like Alex Rider are still in production, and that Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Events completed its three-series run. Though there are few flaws in Riordan's vision, with Bear McCreary's epic score punctuating emotional moments and the final appearance of the beloved Lance Reddick as Zeus being the cherry on top of a gorgeous production, the denouement like many Disney Plus shows, feels suddenly rushed. 

Streamlining the storyline in the final episodes could have served the story rather than opting for complete accuracy and likewise, though the weekly drop leaving gaps in time between episodes doesn't make following the plot any easier. Long-time fans of the books devoured Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief over a whirlwind weekend of reading so turning that experience into a two-month-long endeavour was a mistake, when a binge-watch would match that exhilaration much better. 

There is also something to be said about the almost entirely serious tone of the show, though Percy's questionable beginner driving is a light moment, sometimes these kids are just a little too serious. The two films may have had their flaws, but killing Medusa with the help of the mirrored back of an iPod Touch, and scoring the Lotus Casino to Lady Gaga's ‘Poker Face' dated the stories but also made them iconic. In an era of screenshots and memes, there is more room for one-liners in this straight-faced take. 

Hopefully viewers stay with Percy for the journey, and Uncle Rick gets to keep expanding this delightful televisual universe. In an ideal world — especially for fans of book 4 — the show gathers enough momentum to be renewed and continue Percy's journey, and its producers learn to iron out the creases in what is an admirable and exciting show for viewers to meet a much-beloved character.  

Stream Percy Jackson and the Olympians is streaming weekly on Disney Plus now. The final episode will air on the 31st of January.