The series tells the fantastical story of a 12-year-old modern demigod, Percy Jackson, who’s just coming to terms with his newfound divine powers when the sky god, Zeus, accuses him of stealing his master lightning bolt. With help from his friends Grover and Annabeth, Percy must embark on an adventure of a lifetime to find it and restore order to Olympus.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians has had a storied journey from the page to the screen. Author Rick Riordan’s best-selling series back in earnest as a way to entertain his young son. When Riordan ran out of classical greek myths he invented his own to fill the gap. That first story, The Lightning Thief, was first published in 2005.
Just five years later the then 20th Century Fox brought the book to the screen. Without the blessing of its author. Despite solid direction from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone helmer Chris Columbus, the film took huge liberties with the source material. Despite warranting a sequel, Percy Jackson failed to set the box office alight and wash banished back to the children’s section of your local book store.
Fast forward an entire decade and, with 20th Century now under the ownership of Walt Disney, the franchise is coming to the small screen via Disney+. This time with Riordan and his producing partner wife Rebecca fully on board. The results of which are not just a faithful adaption of the source material, but also a compelling, cinematic series which is perfect for all the family.
For those new to the franchise. Percy Jackson (Walker Scobell) is like any other 12 year-old American boy. Only he isn’t. After several troubling years in public school he now attends Yancy Academy. Yancy is a home for kids who just don’t fit in but even at Yancy Percy struggles to find his place. He has a best friend, Grover (Aryan Simhadri) who does his best to keep Percy out of trouble. But when a field trip goes horribly wrong, Percy’s life begins to spiral around him.
The first two episodes of the eight-part season are the perfect pairing for a series’ premiere. They cover early chapters of Riordan’s first book, taking Percy from Yancy through to his first days Camp Half-Blood. The biggest change the series makes from the film’s is to recreate the characters at their original age from the book. The film’s suffered from accelerating all their storylines in order to inject more teenage drama in to proceedings. Taking this new TV series back to basics was a foolproof way to make the series instantly accessible to a younger audience. Parents need not worry about hormonal teen romance or the odd light swear. Percy Jackson and the Olympians is as safe as it is thrilling.
Showrunner Jonathan E. Steinberg has gone to great lengths to craft a series which is accessible. There are a number of intense action sequences in both of the first two episodes. Fans of the books will be anticipating the moment Percy comes face-to-face with a minotaur as well as the legendary capture the flag game at Camp Half-Blood. Each of these moments is given pride of place within the script. But the violence itself is carefully framed and executed so as to never shock nor scare the audience.
Likewise the series’ dialogue is carefully written to ensure all audiences are able to connect with the characters. The core trio of Percy, Grover and Annabeth (Leah Sava Jeffries), who makes her debut in episode two, perfectly represents the qualities Riordan’s stories seek to instil. Percy is the hero, Annabeth the brains and Grover the heart. Crucially the series has diversified several of the characters in order to make Percy Jackson and the Olympians feel inclusive and representative of contemporary society.
The final piece of the puzzle, one which is so easily overlooked, is the episode runtimes. The first clocks in around 37 minutes with the second around 43 minutes. Shorter than the average network television show and certainly nowhere near your average episode of Game of Thrones. Whilst both felt a little short to me there’s no denying they’re perfectly pitched for a younger – i.e. shorter – attention span.
The production is near faultless. Visual effects and creature designs are excellent. Creatures feel ripped straight from Riordan’s descriptions in the books. All of the series’ mythological iconography is also perfectly placed. It’s like a history lesson wrapped up in a blockbuster action-adventure. The aforementioned battle with a minotaur is the pinnacle of the series’ premiere and looked every bit as cinematic as it should. Camp Half-Blood feels a little more intimate than in the films but there’s no escaping the authenticity to the source material.
Score-philes out there will be ecstatic to hear that Bear McCreary is masterminding the series’ score. A veteran of series like The Walking Dead, McCreary creates as suitable mythical soundtrack for Riordan’s characters to inhabit.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a charming and faithful adaption of Rick Riordan’s literary series. Between its cool cast, quick-witted script and cinematic presentation, the series will be must-watch viewing for all the family.