The long-awaited Disney+ TV adaptation of Rick Riordan’s bestselling young-adult series Percy Jackson and the Olympians is finally here. Fans of the beloved Greek mythology–inspired books, about a 12-year-old boy who is thrust into the middle of a long-standing conflict among the Greek pantheon after he finds out he’s the forbidden demigod son of Poseidon, have been waiting for a worthy screen adaptation since 2005, when the series’ first book was published.
They suffered through two cursed movies that failed to meet expectations of both the financial and fan variety. Now, with author Riordan having fought tooth and nail to be involved in the second adaptation attempt, fans are hoping they’ll finally receive the faithful series they deserve. Let me assuage the fears of all the Percyheads out there: The new show is the Percy Jackson we’ve been waiting for.
First, some ancient history: While no one can expect a screen translation of a novel to mirror its source material to a tee, fans of the series aren’t being dramatic when they say that the original films were a mess. Even Riordan has concurred: In 2018 the author published a statement summarizing his poor experience consulting on the production of the first film. He even included emails he had allegedly sent to the film’s producers in 2009, cautioning against aging up the cast, and criticizing the script.
None of his advice was heeded, as evidenced most clearly by the ages of the actors: Logan Lerman, playing Percy, was 17 when he filmed Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief and 21 when he filmed its sequel, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters. Alexandra Daddario, who played Percy’s love interest, Annabeth, was 22 when she starred in the first film.
Brandon T. Jackson, who played the satyr Grover—Percy’s best friend and sworn protector—was nearly a decade older than Lerman. Naturally, this aging up inspired a darker take on the story, a removal of much of the comedic levity, and the inclusion of not-so-kid-friendly language—all of which alienated the novels’ core audience.
Thankfully, Disney has learned from the mistakes of 20th Century Fox (which it acquired in 2019). With love to Lerman, who did the best he could with the material he was given, our Percy is finally here, in the form of Walker Scobell. Scobell, 14, is joined by Leah Sava Jeffries, also 14, and Aryan Simhadri, 17, who play Annabeth and Grover, respectively.
Not only are the actors the proper ages for their roles, but they also make up a more diverse ensemble than what’s represented in the books. (And to any of the fans who were angry about canonically blond Annabeth being played by a Black girl, I have to say: These characters are demigods.
Their parents are literally deities!) More importantly, they truly deliver the main trio’s personality traits: Percy is sarcastically humorous, Annabeth is headstrong and loyal to the point of hostility, and Grover is the lovable peacemaker of the three.
The rest of the ensemble is great as well—the character Luke (Charlie Bushnell), in particular, is given so much more room for development here than in the movies, in a way that does justice to his journey in the books. Fans will also be glad to know that the plot has been left blessedly intact, at least judging from the four episodes made available to the press.
So far, the show closely follows the order of the first book’s events. Scenes and storylines that were left out of the film—presumably for the sake of time, although the movie also bafflingly made up a whole new side quest about pearls owned by the goddess Persephone—are present.
Riordan’s intricate plot, which unfolds over the course of six book installments, is well suited to television, a medium that, by nature, allows for slower, more detailed storytelling. None of this is to say that an adaptation can’t make changes to or improve upon its source material, but in the case of Percy Jackson, it seems wise to finally give the fans what they’ve been clamoring for.
The journey of the entire series traverses some of the most complex years of one’s life: age 12 to 16. Normal kids go through puberty; Percy has to deal with that and make a decision that will either save or destroy the world. His youth is important: It underscores the gravity of the fact that these children are being roped into what becomes an actual supernatural war.
Sure, Percy Jackson is a fun adventure with whimsy out the wazoo, but it’s also about adulthood, friendship, loyalty, and morality, as all the best coming-of-age stories are. A lot was riding on this adaptation—not just fans’ sky-high expectations, but also Disney’s next big bet on a franchise.
The new series certainly isn’t perfect, but it succeeds in shaking off the specter of the earlier films; in a touching gesture, Lerman himself left Scobell a message of support and encouragement, from one Percy to another, as Scobell starts his journey down the hard road of embodying a character so beloved by (very loud, very opinionated) fans. Above all, 2023’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians promises to be faithful—and, coming from a longtime Riordan hive member, that’s the best thing it can be.