Despite a slow opening, Percy Jackson and the Olympians' first season gives fans a gripping story that has the potential to become a new fantasy hit.
When Disney Plus first announced a new series based on the hit fantasy novels by Rick Riordan, titled Percy Jackson and the Olympians, it’s safe to say that fans (myself included) had sky-high expectations. It’s been ten years since the divisive 2010s movies that deviated from the novels’ original story hit the big screen, and with Riordan on board as a co-writer and executive producer for the upcoming show, there was a buzz of unsung promise that this time we’d get the adaptation that we’ve been dreaming of.
Thankfully, Disney Plus’s new Percy Jackson and the Olympians series is extremely faithful to Riordan’s work, dispelling the curse and issues the community had with the Percy Jackson movies of the past. Throughout the space of two 40-minute-long episodes, the fantasy series introduces us to the hidden world of Greek legends and modern-day heroes, setting up the basis for Percy’s first big outing with the Gods of Olympus.
But most importantly, (and unlike the old films) Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a coming-of-age story with a 12-year-old forced to fight through pre-teen angst as well as for his very existence.
For those new to Percy Jackson, the YA series follows the adventures of a 12-year-old Percy who has always felt out of place in the regular world. However, once he is attacked by a winged monster during a field trip, it’s revealed that the reason he is an outsider among humans is because he isn’t human at all. Instead, Percy is a demi-god, the son of Poseidon, and once he enters Camp Half-Blood (a haven for young demi-gods), he must embark on multiple quests to prevent war in Olympus from breaking out.
Season 1 of the Disney Plus show adapts the first book in Riordan’s novels, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, and sees Percy (played by Walker Scobell) discovering the truth about the world, entering Camp Half-Blood for the first time and receiving his first quest. As you can imagine, there is a lot to get through, and here is where the ‘strikingly faithful adaptation’ that we all wanted feels like a double-edged sword.
In episode 1, titled ‘I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-Algebra Teacher,’ world-building and character are primarily established through lengthy expositional scenes. Throughout the premiere of the TV series, we get hefty voice-over work as Percy introduces himself, his situation, and his best friend Grover (Aryan Simhadri), who will later be exposed as a satyr in disguise.
We also see exposition drag into emotional beats. In an effort to establish the deep connection between Percy and his mother, Sally (Virginia Kull), there are plenty of forced sentimental scenes that ultimately slow down the story. However, once Percy Jackson and the Olympians moves away from packed dialogue and setting up its foundations, the show captures your attention with a sense of urgency and thrilling action.
In fact, it’s in the episode’s last ten minutes where it truly comes to life, as soon as Percy’s Mother tells him the truth and a brutal minotaur pursues him to Camp Half Blood’s borders. By episode 2, titled ‘I Become Supreme Lord of the Bathroom,’ the somber tone and slow pacing from the prior expositional scenes shift into one of adventure, and you will be left kicking your feet in excitement as soon as Percy picks up his sword and starts swinging.
There is a distinct feeling that a new chapter is unfolding and that a hero has arrived, and director James Bobin expertly captures that sense of wonderment and promise in every scene of episode 2. The cinematography seems brighter, and the cast is more expressive as new characters like Annabeth Chase (Leah Sava Jeffries) and Mr. D (Jason Mantzoukas) are introduced.
The entire Percy Jackson cast also does an excellent job of capturing the seriousness of the show’s world-saving concept as well as its playful, fantastical side. As we see Percy and his new demi-god peers struggle with feelings of abandonment, having to walk in their parents’ massive shadows and fight for their lives, we are reminded of one of Riordan’s strengths as a writer.
Percy Jackson is a deeply human story that doesn’t try to emulate a stereotypical caricature of its young protagonist. We never see Percy spouting cheesy slang in an effort to be relatable or saying awkward one-liners to offset big reveals and heavy plot points. Instead of the toned-down and sometimes patronizing figures we see in shows targeted at younger audiences, Percy is simply a human who has had his world turned upside down, and the gravity of that situation is never undermined.
Yes, the special effects and mythological monsters are a standout in the series, but the dynamic fights and legendary beasts never overshadow the heart of the show, Percy’s journey of self-discovery, growth, and acceptance. While I did have my doubts on whether our collective dreams for a by-the-book Percy Jackson series would actually work out after seeing its slow start, I can honestly say that Disney delivered something special here.
The first two episodes of Percy Jackson and the Olympians aren’t perfect, but it’s a strong start that will capture the hearts of both longtime and new young fans who have a passion for fantastical worlds and are looking for a fresh franchise. We are in safe hands, and personally, I can’t wait to see the rest of Percy’s first journey.
The Percy Jackson and the Olympians release date is set for December 20, 2023, on Disney Plus. If you want to see what else is on the streaming service, you can read our guide on the best Disney Plus movies out right now.