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“Percy Jackson and the Olympians” is another disappointing adaptation of the book series

The+performance+of+the+main+trio+in+Percy+Jackson+and+the+Olympians+is+underwhelming%2C+with+monotone+dialogue+and+a+lack+of+charisma.+From+left+to+right%3A+Annabeth+Chase+%28Leah+Sava+Jeffries%29%2C+Grover+Underwood+%28Aryan+Simhadri%29+and+Percy+Jackson+%28Walker+Scobell%29.
Courtesy of Disney+
The performance of the main trio in “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” is underwhelming, with monotone dialogue and a lack of charisma. From left to right: Annabeth Chase (Leah Sava Jeffries), Grover Underwood (Aryan Simhadri) and Percy Jackson (Walker Scobell).

Despite selling more than 180 million copies worldwide, the beloved children’s book series Percy Jackson and the Olympians has had a tough time making it off the page and onto the screen. The first attempted adaptation, the film “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief,” and its sequel, “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters,” received widespread criticism both from fans of the books and even the author himself for their many inaccuracies. Important plot points were either changed or omitted entirely, and the characters—who were between 12 and 16 years of age—acted like high school archetypes instead of kids with actual personalities. So when Disney+ announced that it was producing a Percy Jackson TV show with age-appropriate casting for the main trio, I had high hopes that fans might finally be getting an adaptation they could be excited about. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

The Disney+ show—also called “Percy Jackson and the Olympians”—does at least initially follow the plot of the first book, “The Lightning Thief,” more closely than the film adaptation did. Percy Jackson (Walker Scobell) is a 12-year-old boy with ADHD and dyslexia who always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s been kicked out of every school he’s ever gone to, despite his claims that he’s never the actual culprit, and that the real perpetrators are … shall we say, less than human. After yet another incident and expulsion, Percy and his mother take a vacation upstate where she explains to him the real reason for his troubles: he is the child of a Greek god who is being hunted down by monsters. Unfortunately, Percy doesn’t have much time to process this news when he and his mom are attacked by another mythological creature, the Minotaur, right as they are on their way to the one safe space there is for kids like him.

However, following the plot alone does not necessarily make for a successful book-to-screen adaptation. My biggest gripe with “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” is that neither the pacing nor the tone of the show do the book series justice. Even before Percy and his new sort-of friends Annabeth Chase (Leah Sava Jeffries) and Grover Underwood (Aryan Simhadri) leave on their quest to return Zeus’ stolen Master Bolt, the book is action-packed and leaves little downtime for anything other than exposition. In contrast, the TV show largely consists of conversations between its three main characters, and instead of sequences of Percy and his friends fighting monsters, the monsters simply appear on screen for a minute or two and dissolve after a single swipe from Percy’s sword Riptide or Annabeth’s dagger. Though these changes are likely due to budget constraints instead of poor decisions in the writers’ room, they still don’t make for an enjoyable viewing experience.

The pacing of the individual episodes, however, is a choice that I don’t quite understand. The first two episodes—one for Percy’s time at boarding school and another for when he trains with other godly children at their sanctuary, Camp Half-Blood—are both incredibly rushed, whereas episodes 3–6 are astonishingly slow. Percy’s time at camp, which gets five whole chapters in “The Lightning Thief,” should have been allotted more than a single episode. Meanwhile, the third episode, titled “We Visit the Garden Gnome Emporium,” encompasses only two chapters, and like many of the other later episodes, it includes many unnecessary talking scenes that were not in the book series. Not only do scenes like this add nothing and continue to derail the pace of the show, they actively take time away from what were important conflicts in the book.

The final (fatal) flaw of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” is, unfortunately, its leading trio, which suffers from both incomplete characterization and poor acting on the part of its young performers. Percy, whose internal monologue in the book is funny and full of heart, lacks charisma in the show for both of the aforementioned reasons. In fact, almost all of the humor from the books is nowhere to be found on screen. I don’t want to pick on children too much, but all three of the leading actors often deliver lines in a complete monotone—it’s a hard watch. Simhadri’s Grover is probably the least at fault, often stepping up to add comic relief where Percy falters, but Annabeth’s portrayal is also not my favorite. Important aspects of her character from the books, such as her love of architecture, have been left out of the show entirely. Like Percy, she too feels flat to me.

I will say that in spite of my disappointment, I hope that Disney+ renews the show for another season or two. I think that as the actors grow older, it’s likely that they’ll improve their craft and grow into their characters. It’s a bigger ask for the pre-production team to restructure the show, but if they can up the ante enough, they could probably produce something that actually feels like the Percy Jackson books. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

 

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About the Contributor
Kate Gordon, Life Editor
Kate Gordon (she/her) is a third-year student double majoring in communication sciences and disorders and cognitive science, and minoring in Spanish. Her favorite part of The Observer is being able to share her passion for movies, television, music and pop culture as a whole. When she isn’t writing or editing she likes to spend her time reading, thrifting, sipping boba and bothering her roommates.

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