Percy Jackson and Writing Wrongs


Jasmine Liang

Arts & Entertainment Editor

This article contains spoilers for “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” (2023) and “The Lightning Thief” (2010)

On Jan. 30th, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” (2023) — a young adult retelling of Greek mythology following the demigods Percy Jackson, Annabeth Chase, and their satyr protector Grover Underwood — concluded its first season. As a highly anticipated adaptation of the titular best selling book series, the show faced immense pressure to appeal to its extensive and dedicated fanbase. This was mounted by failure of the previous attempt at a film adaptation “The Lightning Thief” (2010), which the series’ original author, Rick Riordan, has since candidly voiced his disapproval of. The show’s finale begs the question: was this adaptation able to deliver?

The answer, in my opinion, is yes and no. The TV series definitely succeeded where the film blundered. As Riordan noted, not only did “The Lightning Thief” cut vital scenes for the screen, it reconfigured the plot into something unrecognizable. Instead of Poseidon gifting Percy and his friends pearls to escape the Underworld, the film has the trio seek Persephone’s pearls as a requirement of their quest. Percy duels fellow demigod Luke Castellan in lieu of Ares, and he fights the Hydra at the Nashville Parthenon rather than the Chimera at the St. Louis Arch. However, the film’s worst offense was aging up the characters from twelve to sixteen, alienating its young reader base in favor of a general audience. Shunned by the entirety of the “Percy Jackson” fandom, there is no doubt that the TV show surpasses the low standards the film set.

Unfortunately, it still leaves much to be desired. The main cast Walker Scobell (Percy Jackson), Leah Sava Jeffries (Annabeth Chase), and Aryan Simhadri (Grover Underwood) are age appropriate but lack acting experience in lead roles; most of their scenes feel stilted and awkward. The script’s trope-reliant writing exacerbates their clumsiness with almost every exchange following an overused template that never lands. Percy’s lines in particular lack the depth that the book is able to convey — shallow jokes in place of the book’s playful but witty rebellion. The end of the season teases the bubbling anger and defiance that characterizes Percy, but he needs a rework to reflect the traits that make him special.

The pacing, especially at the start of the series, is strangely rushed with a sample-size introduction of Percy’s struggles as a neurodivergent middle schooler being hunted by monsters. Most episodes leave the audience to linger with the uncomfortable feeling that something important was lost along the way. Exposition is spoon-fed to viewers in large bites yet details and nuance are lost, such as in Annabeth and Luke Castellan’s relationship and Gabe Ugliano’s abusive behavior toward Sally Jackson.

This time, these issues don’t stem from Riordan’s lack of influence on the story as he was “involved in person in every aspect of the show.” Since the show’s confirmation, he has championed it as the faithful adaptation that fans have been waiting for, and, all things considered, the show is remarkably loyal to the original material. To make a book suitable for the screen, cuts and changes are inevitable; no one expected a one-to-one match. But it seems as if the story was diluted to appeal to children without a proper balance toward the subtlety that even young audiences can appreciate. What many fans have lauded about the “Percy Jackson” series was its ability to handle difficult topics in an accessible way, and the TV adaptation missed that mark. 

But it’s important to take my words with a grain of salt. My critiques come from a place of love for the source material and belief that it can be pushed to its limits to produce an even more spectacular version of the story. Although I believe the show made a long list of mistakes, the greater diversity in the cast, the dedication to the source material, and Riordan’s involvement in the show convey a genuine care for the fanbase and the effect “Percy Jackson” has on its audience. 

Riordan is not a perfect author or person. His works previously lacked diversity, relied on stereotypes, and handled intertwining history with lore poorly. However, he has since incorporated a more diverse casting of characters across his books, denounced racism in the community, and omitted the strange historical inclusions in the show. While Riordan has revealed many of his misdoings, he has also demonstrated a commitment to learning that has continually been realized.

Even across the short series, the season improved with each episode, and I can safely say it delivered an entertaining albeit flawed experience. With a record-breaking reception, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” (2023) has already announced a second season. The writers have convinced me that they can continue to iterate on what they have succeeded on, and I will await the next season to see if they can deliver upon that promise.