‘Percy Jackson’ makes splashes, not waves

The Disney+ series, produced by Rick Riordan, waters down the source material’s original pacing, action, and dialogue to fans’ dismay.

Percy Jackson returned to the screen in December 2023, now played by actor Walker Scobell. The series’ first season concluded on Jan. 30. (David Bukach / Disney)

What do you get when you take a beloved book series and adapt it for television with questionable pacing and mediocrely written dialogue?

“Percy Jackson and the Olympians” on Disney+.

The series started off well when it premiered December 2023. Fans of “The Lightning Thief” by Rick Riordan were anxious to see how Riordan was going to correct the mistakes of the infamous movie adaptation in 2010 that scarred the fanbase for a decade. Because Riordan was significantly more involved in the production, viewers had high hopes that were seemingly met within the first two episodes.

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Hearing Walker Scobell, who played the titular role of Percy Jackson, speak the opening lines of the book immediately eased initial worries that the show was going to be the same heap of garbage that was served to fans about a decade ago.

Like any other pilot, the first episode was filled with exposition, which for a non-book reader could have been extremely helpful assuming some viewers were not too familiar with the concept of Greek mythology or, at least, Riordan’s take on it. However, it’s not surprising that book readers felt the exposition was unnecessary and wanted to get straight to the action.

The pilot, aptly titled, “I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-Algebra Teacher” after the first chapter of the book, held the first battle sequence of the Percy Jackson universe. The “battle” itself didn’t last for even two minutes. Some may argue that in the book, there never was an actual battle sequence with Percy not knowing how to fight at this stage of his journey. But actually, this duration is a pattern the series will unfortunately adopt as the episodes continue. 

Because the series is owned by Disney, the violence is definitely more watered down compared to the book. Fans should have seen this coming, given the series is tailored to a younger audience, but it doesn’t make it all the less disappointing when we don’t get to see Percy cut off Medusa’s (Jessica Parker Kennedy) head nor see Procrustes’ (Julian Richings) body get severed on a waterbed. Yes, the source material was gorey, but what more did you expect from the twisted nature of Greek mythology?

“The Lightning Thief” book has a plethora of memorable lines and references that fans celebrated whenever they spotted them in the show. Leah Jeffries’ delivery of Annabeth Chase’s iconic “You drool when you sleep,” while Percy was unconscious after fighting the Minotaur had fans gagged because it was a simple gesture that the movie denied them.

Speaking of the future romantic duo, the on-screen chemistry between Scobell and Jeffries was off the charts. It seems that people forgot, no thanks to the movie, that Percy and Annabeth were both only pushing 12 years old when they met and started as friends who grew to end up immensely caring for each other. “Percabeth,” as the fanbase coined their relationship, is one of the slowest burns in young adult fiction, and the show successfully took this to heart.

As if the casual mentions of “Seaweed Brain” and “Wise Girl” between the two weren’t satisfying enough, Riordan gave fans a Percabeth-centered episode with “A God Buys Us Cheeseburgers.” As in the book, Percy and Annabeth both head into the Thrill Ride O’ Love to acquire the god Ares’ (Adam Copeland) shield. However, instead of the terrifying mechanical spiders that they have to fight off, Riordan brilliantly alters the plot so that Annabeth has to choose whether to leave with Ares’ shield alone or stay and find a way to save Percy, who sacrificed himself to get the shield in the first place.

Not all changes were as welcomed, though. The long-anticipated Lotus Hotel and Casino scene heavily disappointed audiences. Throughout the series, fans have had an issue with the change of our heroic trio (including Grover, played by Aryan Simhadri) being “too smart.” For example, the three realized as soon as they walked through the doors that the Lotus Casino was a trap that froze time and kept people in there forever. Similarly, with the monsters they encountered, the three always seemed to be one step ahead when fans were eager to see oblivious kids figure out they were in danger almost a second too late.

This tendency of “telling” rather than “showing” frequently manifested in the show’s written dialogue. Because the trio was too smart, they always ended up blathering on exposition-style about how they knew what the danger was and how they needed to get out of there as fast as they could, which admittedly gave the show a pretty static quality. It’s amazing to compare how natural and casual Riordan’s original dialogue was in the book to how calculated and ultimately boring it was rewritten to be for the show.

In the final two episodes, fans saw that most of the budget went into the CGI for the Underworld and Olympus settings, which were visually appealing nonetheless. The highly anticipated final battle with Ares lasted, again, a total of maybe two minutes. The highlights were undoubtedly Sally Jackson (Virginia Kull) and Poseidon’s (Toby Stephens) brief but hard-hitting reunion that wasn’t in the book and Zeus’ (Lance Reddick) murderous gleam when Percy returned the Master Bolt. Luke’s (Charlie Bushnell) betrayal was expected but made more emotional with Annabeth witnessing it firsthand, unlike in the book.

With the way the season ends, showing Percy about to enter seventh grade, it’s no surprise that Riordan expects the series to be renewed for a second season to cover the events of the sequel “The Sea of Monsters.” Without a renewal announcement in sight and fans torn over the plot changes, viewers can only hope that the actors’ dynamic portrayals of the characters — main and supporting — were enough to keep people wanting more.

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