Geek Review: Percy Jackson and The Olympians (Disney+)

This review is based on the first three episodes of Percy Jackson and The Olympians.

The battle between fans of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians book series and Hollywood has finally ended, as Disney+ and series author Rick Riordan have finally come together for a sophomore attempt at a live-action adaptation of the beloved book series. But instead of another feature-length attempt, the powers that be have finally opted for a more measured approach and the result is now worthy of its novel counterparts, – at least for the first book in the series, The Lightning Thief, which is what the 8-episode first season is based on.

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What helps with an extended episodic series, much like the many chapters in a book, is the ability to lean in more to the series lore, and be less focused on the action needed to fit within a film, which was what led to the lacklustre reception of Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief  (2010) and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013), and a lack of a third outing. 

The first book follows young demigod, Percy Jackson (Walker Scobell, The Adam Project, Secret Headquarters), son of Poseidon and a human mother, and his quest-mates Annabeth (Leah Jeffries, Beast, Something from Tiffany’s), daughter of Athena and a human father, and Grover (Aryan Simhadri, Spin, Cheaper by the Dozen), a Satyr, as they race across America, facing mythical adversaries, to return Zeus’ (Lance Reddick, John Wick, Resident Evil ) stolen bolt and prevent an impending war, all while grappling with Jackson’s new-found identity and lineage.

Alas, while Reddick is part of the series, he passed away earlier this year and has yet to appear in the first three episodes. Though there is no doubt with his charisma that many have already seen on-screen through his past films, there is no one better to don the intimidating role of the King of Olympus. The series is already building up to his appearance by the way other characters speak of him, and the weather reflecting his current displeasure with both his brother, Poseidon (Toby Stephen, 13 Hours, The Machine) , and nephew, Jackson. 

The most significant change from the films to the TV series is the significantly younger cast when it comes to the demigods, a much welcome change as they act like the preteens they are supposed to be in the books. It does wonders from the series right from the get-go in Episode 1, I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-Algebra Teacher, where we get a glimpse of how differently Percy sees the world and how alone he feels, the visualisation of how young he is to be feeling this way tugging at the heartstrings of viewers. This is supported by Scobell’s  phenomenal portrayal of Percy, his sass, and loyalty bringing the character right off the pages. 

Percy Jackson and The Olympians Walker Scobell

While Episode 1 does introduce us to various mythological beings, such as a Fury, an Automaton, and later a Minotaur, they take a backseat to the relationship between Sally Jackson (Virginia Kull) and Percy. Kull’s Sally Jackson takes on a much more assertive and protective role than her film counterpart when it comes to Percy, as seen in her interactions with Grover and Gabe Ugliano (Timm Sharp), her husband. Coupled with her deep understanding of Greek Mythology, it becomes clear why the Greek God of the Sea would break a major pact for her. The fantastic chemistry between Kull (The Big Bend, Gracepoint) and Scobell draws viewers into the dynamic of the mother-son duo, creating attachments that make the end of the episode all the more heartbreaking. 

Percy Jackson and The Olympians Virginia Kull

The consequences of trying to fit an entire book into eight episodes soon start to show in Episode 2, I Become Supreme Lord of the Bathroom, as it tries to fit Percy’s struggles in adapting to Camp Half-Blood, a meaty training sequence, the introduction of multiple new characters, and the backstory of why Percy is being chased by monsters into one episode. This leaves characters such as Chiron (Glynn Turman) and Dionysus (Mr. D) (Jason Mantzoukas) on the sidelines, diminishing the role they had (mostly Chiron) in mentoring Percy during his early days at Camp Half-Blood.

Something else that might throw fans a bit off is Percy’s ability in sword fighting, as he seems much more clumsy in his fight sequences than in the books, where he is known to have a natural talent for sword fighting. This could be intentional to emphasise how jarring this change in his life, of knowing he is a demigod, is and how it is taking him longer to adapt.

Percy Jackson

What can be applauded is the clever use of CGI in this episode, often in far away shots or under the cover of darkness, so that it blends better with the background and gives a tone of realism that viewers can feel as though these magical items and mythological creatures could easily exist in our world. Episode 1 did have such shots, but the few closer ones left a hope that the series would continue to improve over time.

The end of Episode 2 introduces viewers to a theme that carries over to Episode 3, We Visit the Garden Gnome Emporium, and likely the rest of the series – the sins of the parent fall on the child. 

Viewers are introduced to the unlikely trio of Percy, Annabeth, and Grover, with the first two immediately displaying their parentage by bickering from the start (for context, Athena and Poseidon are known to be rivals of each other), with Annabeth trying to lead them with strategize plan (as a daughter of Athena would) and Percy restless with having to follow a set plan (as a son of Poseidon would). Meanwhile, Grover tries to be a good middleman to balance the two, though he doesn’t always succeed.

Percy Jackson and The Olympians Medusa

With lore steeped in Greek mythology, several famous characters make an appearance, even if myth depicts them as being dead, and some reflected in a new light against what ancient stories show. The much-maligned Medusa is one, as the ancient Gorgon known to turn men to stone with one gaze, is given a more modern update and her characterisation here is much different from the books, with her portrayal in the series one that viewers can even sympathise with. This falls in line with how her tale has been put up for debate in recent years, especially on social media, and it fits in well with the series such that it does not feel out of place, even to those who have read the books. Jessica Parker Kennedy (Black Sails, The Flash) chosen tone of voice for the Gorgon, soft yet eerie, almost compels viewers to feel sorry for her, but yet can’t seem to get rid of the feeling that something is just not right.

The theme that the sins of the parent fall on the child is pushed to the surface during her speech to the trio, telling Annabeth and Percy that they have the choice to not be like their parents, but will have to suffer the consequence of being born the children of the Greek Gods should they not renounce their loyalties to their godly parent. It is something that hits a nerve with Percy especially, leading him to do something that could have disastrous consequences in the near future.

Overall, the first three episodes of Disney+’s Percy Jackson and The Olympians show a very promising start for the series, making it clear that the only way to produce a great book to live-action adaptation is to ensure the writers themselves are heavily involved in the project. Riordan co-wrote the pilot of this series, and serves as the show’s executive producer, which was something he never did for the films, which explains the deviation from the source materia therel, and why fans weren’t fans of it. The casting choices are near immaculate, with the exception of one Greek God who appears at the end of Episode 3 and breaks the fantastical immersion of this hidden world, and will have readers of the books falling in love with their beloved characters again. However, like with all fantasy book to live-action adaptations, there will be some pacing and CGI issues that fans can only hope will taper down as the series progresses.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians streams on Disney+ from December 20 with a two-episode premiere.



A great example of why it is important to have the writer involved, the first three episodes of Percy Jackson and The Olympians, though at times feel like an overcram of details, sets a promising precedent for the rest of the series and a good watch for both readers of the books and first-timers.

  • Story - 8/10
  • Direction - 8/10
  • Characterisation - 8.5/10
  • Geek Satisfaction - 9/10